A Shot in the Dark

by Drew Beatty

Criminals like the dark. It hides their behavior and gives them an advantage to exploit over their victims. It is entirely possible that, if you ever face a critical incident, it could be at night, or at least low light. Have you ever practiced shooting in total darkness? What are the differences between shooting in broad daylight and shooting at night? I can tell you that there are stark differences.

If at all feasible, you should experiment with night shooting. If you can, make it a once or twice a year part of your regular practice. For some, this may not be an option at their local indoor shooting range, or in an urban area where no wilderness is available. Additionally, some wilderness areas have restrictions on shooting. I recommend you do whatever you have to do to get out at night and go shooting.

There are huge differences between shooting in daylight and shooting in total darkness. During my first night shooting practice I was shocked at how confused my senses were, and the extra time it took for my brain to adapt to performing typical aiming and firing training in darkness. Targets look extremely different at night, assuming you can see them at all. Depth perception is altered. There is little to no contrast between the surroundings and the target. Darkness made a huge difference.

I would also advise that you bring along your flashlight and weapon mounted light to experience the impacts these have on your night shooting. When I employed a flashlight, I was surprised how blinded I was by the sudden burst of light, and how my night sights were completely washed out. The night sights were very bright in the darkness, but the second I switched on the flashlight it took a moment to re-acquire them after they were no longer glowing – a moment I wouldn’t have in a real-life situation. This was an important takeaway for me.

As an aside, flashlights, when used in a gunfight, are referred to as “bullet magnets.” If you are battling for your life, an adversary can locate exactly where you are by focusing on the flashlight. For that reason, I recommend you also practice moving while using the flashlight, and switching the flashlight on only when you are trying to locate the target or are firing. Making this tactic a subconscious habit could be very valuable in a real gunfight.

I’ve often read that personal defense ammunition has specially formulated powders that reduce muzzle flash. It’s true. When shooting a magazine staggered with practice ammo and defense ammo, I noticed a remarkable difference in muzzle flash between the two loads. Even though defensive ammunition has less muzzle flash, it’s still shocks your vision when shooting, and it takes some time to for your eyes adjust – another lesson learned from night shooting practice.

Night shooting is a valuable skill to add to your training regimen. Just like shooting with gloves, drawing from concealment, shooting with your non-dominant hand, and all other practice techniques, there are valuable lessons to be learned and skills to hone to perfection while shooting in the dark.

Drew Beatty is a 52-year-old lifetime resident of the great state of Colorado. He is a long-time firearms enthusiast as well as a strong advocate for The Second Amendment.