Handheld Flashlight Techniques

As readers are no doubt aware, SureFire got its start in 1979 as Laser Products, producing the world’s first commercially available firearm-aiming laser.  An LAPD request related to the 1984 Olympic Games provided the impetus for the first Laser Products WeaponLight, and the iconic SureFire 6P handheld flashlight was not far behind.  The 6P set a new standard in compact, powerful illumination tools. The small, high-intensity flashlight has been a staple item in the tactical toolbox of armed professionals and private citizens ever since, and it played a vital role in the development of various handheld flashlight techniques to be used in conjunction with a handgun.

Statistically speaking, most armed confrontations in a civilian context occur in low light and darkness.  This holds true whether the shooter is a law enforcement officer or a responsible citizen.  This simple truth provides the raison d’etre for SureFire illumination tools and is why we never cut corners when it comes to engineering or production.  When life is on the line, only the very best equipment will do.  Of course, using this equipment in an optimal manner for the situation at hand falls to the user.

Whenever possible, it is desirable to use a shoulder weapon or handgun equipped with a laser and or weapon-mounted light.  These devices allow you to use your normal shooting technique for superior accuracy and speed.  That said, to be truly competent you should also master one or more techniques that pair a handheld light with a firearm, for those occasions when a flashlight is all that is available.

When I first started training seriously in the mid-1970s, the only weapon-mounted lights commercially available were hose-clamp improvisations for full-size flashlights.  The British SAS used this setup on their MP-5 submachineguns.  Most of us made do with a handheld alkaline light and a pistol or revolver.  As noted in the first paragraph above, Laser Products changed all this in the 1980s.

Coincidentally, my first formal combat shooting instruction consisted of several private lessons in 1977 by former Marine NCO Michael Harries, who invented the handgun-flashlight technique that bears his name.  We’ll get to that method shortly but first, let’s look at the most common technique that preceded it.

Handheld Flashlight TechniquesFBI Technique

For decades after its inception, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was the primary source of expertise on law enforcement gunfighting in America.  To address deadly force confrontations in low light and darkness, the FBI taught and recommended a technique in which the pistol or revolver was fired one-handed and the light held as far as possible away from the body.

Their logic was that an adversary would shoot at the light source.  Hence it was deemed desirable to maximize the distance between the shooter and the illumination tool.  The primary downside to the FBI technique stems from shooting with one hand unsupported:  Recoil control suffers compared with a two-handed technique.  Also, because the light is held with the arm at full extension, aligning the beam and the weapon can be problematic.

Handheld Flashlight TechniquesHarries Technique

As with many things related to combat pistolcraft, the Harries Technique traces its roots to the efforts of John D. “Jeff” Cooper.  USMC veteran Michael Harries shot in the South West Pistol League founded by Cooper and later worked as a Gunsite instructor.  He developed his two-handed flashlight/pistol technique to maximize his advantage in nighttime shooting matches.  The technique has subsequently been proven combat worthy in countless gunfights.

Handheld Flashlight TechniquesThe Harries Technique uses isometric tension between the back of the shooter’s wrists to serve the same purpose in stability and recoil control as the fore-and-aft pressure of the Weaver Stance.  (Harries shot and taught the Weaver.)  To assume the Harries, extend the handgun to the eye-to-target line first.  Holding the flashlight with the bezel protruding from the little finger side of the hand, pass the light under the gun arm and press the backs of your wrist together.  A common mistake is to rest the light on the support arm, as opposed to creating active isometric tension. Your elbow should point to the ground, not to the side.

Handheld Flashlight TechniquesRogers/SureFire Technique

A third common technique was developed by former FBI agent Bill Rogers and is best employed using a SureFire CombatLight with grip rings and a protruding tailcap switch.  The CombatLight was developed specifically for use with the Rogers-SureFire Technique, in which the light is held between the fingers like a syringe.  With the fingers of the support hand extended, you can use your normal two-handed stance, whether Weaver or isosceles. Handheld Flashlight Techniques

I remember receiving a prototype CombatLight from Dr. John Matthews. It consisted of a standard SureFire 6P that had its body turned down forward of the tailcap.  Standard O-rings served the function of today’s molded grip rings.  I still have that light in my collection, marked “Laser Products 6P” on the switch end.  (SureFire trivia:  the CombatLight was the father of the E-series body that survives to this day in LED models such as the Tactician.)

Handheld Flashlight TechniquesNeck Index Method

Lastly, you may wish to consider the neck index method pioneered by the SureFire Institute.  Like the old FBI technique, the gun is fired with one hand unsupported.  However, instead of holding the flashlight with an extended arm, the light is brought close to the body, alongside the shooter’s neck or jawline.  This technique works especially well when moving dynamically since, unlike the FBI technique, the support arm is close to the body.

Which of these handheld flashlight techniques works best?  The Rogers-SureFire is superior to the others for quick and accurate shooting but requires a CombatLight or similar configuration.  As noted in the previous paragraph, the neck index method works best for many while moving quickly.  The Harries will work with almost any hand-held light, so you probably want this one in your bag of tricks.  The bottom line?  Evaluate each technique with a realistic accuracy standard and a shot timer, and be sure to incorporate movement into your testing.

Whatever method you prefer, be sure to practice it until you can perform at a high level of automaticity, without conscious thought.  Ultimately, success in a gunfight depends on your ability to perform technical shooting tasks on demand in a tactical environment, interleaved with other motor skills plus real-time decision-making. This, in turn, will require relevant training plus sufficient repetition over time in practice, with strict attention to detail. There is no shortcut to proficiency.