As noted in part one of Bug Out Gun Lights, 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. In part one, the generalities of WMLs or weapon mounted lights were explored. In part two of Bug Out Gun Lights we will consider long rifle implications, shotguns, and specific lights.
By Doc Montana, a contributing author
This article is Part 2 in a series on Bug Out Gun Lights (Read Part 1)
Have vs. Want
The next time I get mugged, it will be in broad daylight, under a noon blue sky, inside the lobby of a police station, during SWAT open house, while POTUS is in attendance, and I just happened to have started my demonstration of how to load an MP5 with live ammo.
Unfortunately statistics are not on my side. Most violent encounters in the US happen after the sun is well on it’s way to China. In other words, it’s dark. So training with a weapon mounted light is an important piece of the survival puzzle. FBI stats have shown that over 50 percent of LEOs that were killed in the line of duty met their end during the hours between 8pm and 6am. And even worse, 92% of all assaults on LEOs occurred between those same hours. While you might not be a LEO, the risk of assault, robbery, and pretty much everything nasty in between is more likely to happen at night. Thus the need for a WML. But also the responsibility of the gun owner to absolutely know his target. Wandering in the dark is ignoring 80% of the input the brain prefers to use to process a situation. Sight is our dominant sense, and light is essential for sight.
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Not all LEOs were giddy about dedicated weapons lights when they arrived. In fact, it was the K9 officers who were first in line to adopt WMLs. With one hand perpetually attached to a dog leash, they had only half the number of available upper torso appendages to begin with. By making gun and light one unit, the K9 cops could move around more like their unleashed brethren.
Location. Location. Location.
Now that WMLs are powerful enough to be practical on a rifle, it really is only a matter of time before you get one. But where to put it? Many modern ARs have three linear feet of rail or more, but only the final two inches near the muzzle will work for a light. If you have a fixed front sight, you probably don’t want to mount the light on the top rail since the photons will hit the first object they encounter the hardest (the front sight) and under maximum intensity it causes an unacceptable hotspot that will compromise your vision and aiming. If you are right handed, you might want the light opposite your support hand’s grip (the left side). That leaves the bottom rail and the right side as good choices. A bottom mount behind the muzzle will create a shadow above the gun, while a right mount will create a left-side shadow and can cause issues when rounding corners just as a left-side mount will.
For forest and ranch work, I don’t mind the under barrel mount on my AR. In this case I would rather have a clean view of the ground for safer travel. But a simple twist of the carry position moves the light into the 9 or more likely the 3 o’clock position minimizing any forward shadowing when needed.
Most mounting choices lock-in the light in one of the 90-degree positions: 12 O’clock, 3, 6 and 9 O’clock. The two things to consider are light activation by the support hand, and preferred shadow position opposite the light.
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If an intermediate option to the four standard coordinates is desired consider options such as the Daniel Defense light mount or the Magpul offset light mount. A downside to the Magpul mount is that it is screwed onto the rail (two bolts), and the flashlight is attached to the mount (two more bolts), so switching between using the light in-hand and-on gun takes time and tools. The Daniel Defense option is much simpler but three times as expensive. It uses a single large knob to attach the mount to the rail with the light held to the mount like a scope in a ring.
Muzzle blast and recoil can damage lights and coat their lenses with light-diminishing debris. Some lights like my now-discontinued Leupold have synthetic sapphire lenses to deal with the harsh life of living next to muzzle blast. Other lights might seem tough at the store, but a few mags later are crying for mommy. While I thoroughly appreciate the effort Leopold put into their now-defunct MX modular flashlight system, it should have been built for continuity with interchangeable LED modules since the lens, battery barrels, and switches are good for decades but the LEDs are evolving faster than the Avian Flu. So much good tech has gone to pasture due to fixation on the present.
Lights must be strong enough to shake off gun recoil. While LEDs usually ignore impacts, the circuits, switches, battery contacts, and lens components can get their bell rung. Batteries have mass and thus prefer to remain still when the rest of the light is accelerated in a direction opposite of the bullet. Simple Newtonian mechanics. This can lead to compression of the springs and contacts that normally ensure a complete circuit that keeps the electrons flowing. Darkness falls whenever there is a break in the circuit causing the light to blink or go out all together. And sometimes the electricity never flows again. But this is a double-edged coin to mix my metaphors. Any working light will work until the trigger is pulled. So basically you have at least one shot with any WML. Good lights will keep running. Weak lights…well, you need to move to plan B.
Most good lights have O-ring seals at all material interfaces. But that won’t necessarily keep the light from unscrewing itself over time or during repeated fire. Keep an eye on the connections between components, and give the light a good shake every once in a while to listen for parts rattling around inside the tube.
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And speaking of moving parts, the design of the switch on paper is completely different from the operation of the switch in a human hand, especially when contacting that wonderful opposable thumb we’ve been taught separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. The thumb switch should have the right amount of resistance and tactile click to talk back during the activation. Of all my lights, there is just something about the Surefire and Fenix lights that have that proper click. Although you might have noticed that Fenix does not make any WMLs. That’s because they do, but they are marketed under different brand names and non-competition clauses will prevent Fenix from selling any for at least a few more years.
Toyota spends millions on the feel of it. And so does Geissele, Magpul and Daniel Defense. You see there are very few places on a weapons light that involve human interaction so those companies that pay special attention to the human-flashlight interface are those that I prefer. The reason for stressing this particular tangent of weapons mounted lights is that when the S hits the Fan, your pulse spikes, adrenaline is dumped into your bloodstream, and your vision tunnels, the operation of a WML must be like every other human reaction that has evolved over millions of years. Not time for memorized luminosity sequences. No time to wonder, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, if a click is just a click.
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Another area to consider is the composition of the lens. Super-high-end lights use sapphire glass material, the same stuff in your Rolex watch crystal. Moving down in price is impact resistant glass of sufficient thickness, followed by glass. Then polycarbonate plastic. Then plastic of unknown origin. But anything near the business end of a rifle should not be made of a meltable oil-based material like plastic.
Mounting solutions run from simple to complex, and cheap to expensive. If the light has a built-in rail mounting option, then the rail slots must match the light’s size. On full-sized autopistols like the Glock 17, small form-factor lights may generate a substantial gap between trigger guard and light. A raw fact to keep in mind is that if a solidly mounted light extends further forward than the pistol’s barrel, it will be possible to jam the gun into the perp without concern of a misfire due to the slide being pushed rearward and out of battery while the business end of the gun squishes into the flesh of the bad guy. To put a friendly face on this important fact, there are notable events where a LEOs bacon was saved by the perp punching their unlighted muzzle into the cop’s belly or forehead and jerked the trigger but no bang followed. All possible by the lack of a slightly-forward mounting of a WML.
On the other side of the coin, if you have a light such as the Surefire x300 Ultra you can enjoy the ease of switching the light between guns, hands or pockets. Do note, however, that the x300U fires up quite easily in the hand and pocket compared to traditional dialed-in flashlight designs due to its pressure activation in addition to its switch rotation. I’ve also fired up my x300 just by grabbing the gun out of a case. If done in the dark, you just shot your night vision all to hell. Just food for thought.
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Inexpensive and versatile mounts include the ExtremeBeam Weaver mount. For $14, you can mount any one-inch diameter light to almost any gun. The mount can grab standard rails, or use the included rail mount to secure it to a barrel. I have used this mount on a 20 gauge Remington 870 shotgun in addition to ARs. There are almost no aftermarket tactical accessories for the 20GA 870 platform since it seems the entire rest of the world only cares about the 12 gauge so I was on my own to find a light mount. Lately I’ve settled in on using the rail mount of the ExtremeBeam Weaver to hold a Streamlight TLR-4 light/laser to my house-bound blued pump blunderbuss.
1000 Is The New Black
For a WML, 500 or more lumens is a great number for a pistol these days. But for a rifle that might breathe some fresh outdoor air once in awhile, 1000 lumens is my new best friend. Surefire makes some triple-cell lights under the Fury name. I have both the tactical version and the regular one. The P3X Tactical Fury has a no-click tail cap switch, but instead just a pressure button that fires the light as long as the rubber is held down. The Tactical only has one setting…full blast, which limits its general usefulness as a flashlight. To keep the light on, the tail cap must be rotated clockwise. I like to mount this light on the nine O’clock position so I can fire the light easily with my support hand thumb while keeping a tight grip on the handguard. If I want the light to stay on, I just grab the tail switch like the cap on a beer bottle and give it a twist.
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The regular P3X Fury has a two-stage tailcap click switch that fires first a 15 lumen beam, the a thousand lumen one if clicked again within a second. I prefer to pocket carry this Fury since most of the time I use it in first gear.
The Dust is Settling
At the moment, we are at an intellectual transition about weapon-mounted lighting. Much of the negative press and skeptical opinions are based upon old knowledge, old designs, old filament lights, and old tactics. Where modern bug out wisdom diverges from conventional law enforcement procedures is with duration of use, location of use, and situational use. Plus, in a bug out you are hopefully not running towards trouble like the LEOs are paid to do. In a true WROL, I will skew the rules in my favor. As they say, a fair fight is any fight you can lose. I know there are risks to using a weapon-mounted light, but frankly we’ve said the same things about so many other aspects of personal safety until the next generation’s embrace of the technology proved our historical concerns to be no longer founded in 21st century reality. So light it up.
Got a weapon mounted light and/or advise about your use of it? Tell us about it in the comments below.
All Photos by Doc Montana