Mounting a light on a weapon, whether long gun or handgun, is a necessary option for every bug in and bug out scenario. The light is not just for discriminating among potential targets, but also to light the escape route, to light the impromptu medical theater, and to signal others as needed. I can easily imagine that more than a few muskets were raised in the presence of nothing more than candle or lamp light.
By Doc Montana, a contributing author
But gunfighting with a left hand full of lamp oil is like chasing a bad guy with a lit Molotov Cocktail in your fist. Thinking about it further, I imagine the classic off-axis FBI flashlight hold has roots in holding up a candle in the vain attempt to illuminate a bump in the night since a spherical light source like a candle in between good guy and bad blinds both with prejudice towards the closer candle holder.
Once torches moved from flame to battery, it was inevitable that flashlights would be taped, bolted and otherwise affixed to shotgun barrels. Rifles were a pipe dream given that the excruciating low lumen count made targets more than 10 yards away remain forever in the shadows.
Look Ma! No Hands!
As duct taped flashlights became the glow dejour those in the lighting industry took notice. Even though the number of lumens was somewhere between few and pitiful, the mechanics of mounting and powering weapon mounted lights grew legs and started to walk. But even before LEDs could run, the roots of local lighting while gunfighting were well established and there was no turning back.
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In the distant past there was a body-mounted light in the form of a two-D cell 90-degree flashlight affectionately known during WW2 as the TL-122 and later the MX991/U during following conflicts. Ignoring the heavy weight and underpoweredness of the lights, they required not just the head to be on a swivel but the whole body. Only where there is a correlation between gun barrel output and major light axis does the pair become the perfect team to control the dark.
A quick divergence here is that I have an LED light that is somewhat exceptional. It takes its cue from the 90-degree lights of the past but this little beauty not only rises to the top of LED general lighting but also flashes the sharp blue and red colored impulses of the Good Guys. Although my “First Light Tomahawk LE” works well conventionally as a flashlight, I don’t intend to run the light as a light, but instead when needed I plan on making it do the red/blue light strobe dance across the neighborhood walls before engaging the bump in the night. I can use the blinking light to spray strobing red and blue photons throughout the inside of my house, or hit the white side any nearby house, or light up my backyard with enough red and blue light to create an abundance of legal confusion.
The Dust Has Settled
The amazing technological advances in portable lighting and battery power has pushed weapon-mounted lighting into a new world order of lighting. By dumping Thomas Edison’s wiggling filaments, LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) forever pushed us into the triple and quadruple-digit lumens ultimately gaining my loyalty to the tiny green squares of chemical magic. The massive brightness, hours of runtime, and durability beyond belief has made weapon-mounted lighting an essential component of being prepared even if it’s cost routinely runs north of two bills.
Also Read: Compact Flashlight Comparison
As a reality check, what must be kept in mind is the timestamp on the information you believe. Anything weapon mounted lighting advice that predates LEDs is worthless. Even early generation LED intel is sketchy at best. Way too much of the misinformation about weapons lighting floating around is based on filament-based solutions of the past. Today, the light spill alone negates any aiming issues, and the massive battery power of the CR123 Lithium cells makes dated knowledge not only useless but dangerous. The old days of pointing your gun in order to point your light are gone. Today’s triple-digit lumen counts compared to the low double-digit lighting numbers of the past make gun lights completely non-specific. In fact, to further negate the FBI flashlight hold, the über bright WMLs (Weapon Mounted Lights) of today not only blast light across the landscape, but also spill so much excess light in all forward directions that you will be illuminated at best and silhouetted at worst. Therefore the historical concern of your light being a target of the bad guy is a fallacy since aiming a gun at the modern gun light is like staring at the sun. Most likely an offhand shot might be taken at the light, but it similar to keep your hand in a campfire. It’s just too much to tolerate with any accuracy.
DIY your LED
So unless your talents, training and needs lean towards the Spec Ops side, you don’t need much more than a high-end flashlight bolted to your gun. Leave the pressure switches, strobes, and ungodly brightness to the Delta Force boys. For general bug out needs, simple is better and better is effective.
Count to Ten
Here are ten observations to help organize weapon-mounted lighting choices since in the entire history of the world there has never been more weaponlight options than there are right now. And a little bird told me there would be more tomorrow.
1. Get a weapons mounted light. If it’s not appropriate to use, then don’t use it. But if you need it, there is no substitute for a WLM. None. Period.
2. Three hundred lumens is a nice round minimum give or take 100. The light must be bright enough for target ID at a short distance through spill alone. If you need to read a map, then use something else or cover the light with your fingers. Remember, use the right tool for the job and always err on the side of the primary use. I have weapon lights from 150 to 1000 lumens. Although more is usually better, don’t let lumen levels keep you from preparing now.
3. Having the combination gun and light frees up 50% of your hands for other things. Do not discount that simple fact! If you have to holster your sidearm or sling your rifle in order to enter new territory, then you just made your first mistake. Well, second actually (see point #1).
4. Choose batteries for specific use. If the light will be stored, then use CR123 cells since they have a 10-year shelf life and plenty of immediate power even in sub-zero temperatures. Double-A batteries are great if you want to use the light often, and only use the odd ducks like CR2 batteries if extreme light weight or a tiny size is needed.
5. Avoid using the weapon light for a light. Use the weapons mounted light for a weapons-mounted light. Use a flashlight for flashlight use.
6. Any light mounted behind the muzzle will cause a shadow opposite the barrel with it’s size proportional to the distance back from the muzzle end. On a rifle, consider moving your BUIS back a few inches and mounting the light on the top rail forward of the sight. This will force the shadow under the barrel which will then give you full lighting spill when carrying at low-ready.
7. Strobes can disorient both sides of the muzzle. Avoid them for bug out lighting or use them sparingly. They can also make people sick, induce headaches and even Epileptic seizures, and cause balance issues as well as increase fear for everyone involved. The threat of lead poisoning should be enough.
8. Practice turning the light on and off. You don’t want to struggle in the darkness trying to remember how to turn it on. Some lights allow both a screw-tailcap and a tail pressure switch. Some click. Some twist. Some toggle. Some have complex user interfaces with feature cycling while others change with each button push or with the duration of depression.
9. Many dedicated weapons lights have only one gear so off is the only battery-saving option. Runtime might be in minutes to an hour at full blast, but hopefully with diminishing brightness before blackout. To save energy avoid using the mounted light for non-weapon scenarios.
10. Always have a hand flashlight or two (or three) as well. Weapon mounted lights are on weapons so the same gun safety rules now apply to the light.
Consider this twist:
1. Treat every weapon light as if it were a gun that can fire.
2. Never point your weapon light directly toward anything you don’t want to destroy.
3. Remember that what’s beyond your light is not beyond the reach of your bullet.
4. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
Oh, and one more thing. Do practice with your light especially live fire because the harmonics of your gun may be influenced by a WML. Many of the polymer rails on autopistols could be susceptible to feeding or cycling issues when a WML alters the flex of the frame during recoil. Hopefully it will be a non-issue, but shoot a few hundred just to be sure.
Stay tuned for part two.
All Photos By Doc Montana