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The Beam of Life

Until recently, I never really thought that much about flashlights. I use 'em for hunting, rooting around for lost socks and trying to see if my steak is rare or medium rare on those post daily savings winter grill nights.

In 2005 I got my hands on a Surefire tactical flashlight and was impressed with its beam strength and durability. I used it on night raids in Iraq as my as my first line of defense against an AK-47-toting bad guy waiting for me in a darkened room.

It wasn't until this past week at the Blackhawk media seminar that I learned how a properly employed beam can really be a big benefit in a low light gunfight.

Vaughn Baker, Blackhawk's flashlight guru, explained some of the technology that goes into making a tactical flashlight. There's a difference in performance with the lower priced models since they use Xenon bulbs, which throw less bright light a shorter distance. They work well, but when you step up to the LED bulbed models, that's where the beam is so bright it'll almost strip paint.

As Baker puts it "you can pole vault with that kind of flashlight."

I had no idea that the LED lights are programmable -- they have an electronic chip that regulates the amount of power transmitted from the battery to the bulb. The topest-end lights have several settings, one that shoots a hard bright, constant beam, a flick of the finger delivers a duller beam so you won't flash out your eyes if you need to look at a map or write some notes and another flip delivers a strobing beam on the highest power. Blackhawk's Gladius light can be customized by the user to deliver the desired brightness on each of the settings.

But its when Baker took us to the blackened shoot house that I really saw how flashlights -- when employed with newly developed tactics -- really help.

[Please excuse the darkened videos...there's not a ton to see, but you can hear Baker give a short lesson on how to -- and not to -- use your light]

Baker runs another company called Strategos International which has a two-day low-light training course designed to teach operators how to make the most of their tactical light.

According to Baker, 80 percent of police shooting fatalities happen in low light conditions and the vast majority of those happen within 10 to 20 feet. And oh by the way, on average the engagement lasts 2.5 seconds.

That's why to Baker it's critically important to learn how to leverage that flashlight to your maximum advantage in confrontations at night, or in darkened rooms. My experience with US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated to me that while the troops had the flashlights on the end of their rifles, they weren't using them in any sort of "tactical" manner...in other words, they used them to light things but didn't use them in ways that would confuse their targets or mask their own movement.

The long and the short of it is, Baker says, hold the light away from your body with your off hand and flick it on and off in different places so an adversary can't get a fix on where it's coming from. Make sure to aim the light at the opponent's eyes when you do beam in on him and Baker's secret weapon is the strobe function. As he demonstrated on us, peripheral vision and balance are dramatically reduced when a bright as hell strobe is popping you in the face.

It was a truly fascinating look at not only the technology that goes into these highly sophisticated lights, but also how new techniques on their use can really give you an edge when you find yourself at the pointy end of the spear.

-- Christian

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