Tips for Shooting Firearms at Night
Here are some lessons learned from a night shooting competition, applicable for home defense, conceal carriers, and competitors.
Shooting with firearms at night is a very different experience than shooting firearms in the day. (Shocking statement, I know) However, the actual shooting of the firearm isn’t the hard part. Sight alignment, pulling the trigger, and recoil control are all the same at night as they are during the day. What’s different about night shooting is primarily moving from position to position, identifying targets, and random other minutiae of shooting firearms.
These lessons are from a recent run and gun competition I had the opportunity to participate in.
Putting shots on target is the same at night as it is during the day
Shooting at night ups the stress factor, mainly if you don’t have much experience shooting at night. The targets seem smaller and farther, so shooters often struggle to hit targets at night when they would have been just fine with those targets during the day.
Movement and target identification is the hard part of night shooting
There’s a reason why there are entire shooting classes devoted to night shooting – and it isn’t the shooting, it’s the things involved in getting in position to take the shot. Thankfully in a competition environment, identifying the target is incredibly easy. But in a real life self defense encounter, identifying the target is much harder at night, as is safely (and quietly) moving around.
Movement and target identification really are in depth topics in their own right, so we won’t get into detail on those here. I strongly encourage you to go take a night shooting class. Not only will you learn a lot, but they are a lot of fun.
Brighter lights are better
Having enough light to properly illuminate the target and have enough flood to avoid substantial tunnel vision makes a huge difference. Even when we were shooting at static steel, people with dim lights struggled to identify targets at 30 ish yards. And that’s just static steel – that isn’t humans who may or may not be a threat.
The bright light with ample flood light also was very helpful when navigating during a stage as well as transitioning from target to target.
I’ve been using the Streamlight TLR-1 HL for a few years now, since before I even started Locked Back, and I really like it. Great weapon light, bright center, with plenty of flood.
Weapon mounted lights are much easier to use than handheld lights
This is another hotly debated topic that could warrant its own video and article. But let’s keep it simple for the sake of this video.
Getting shots on target is substantially easier using a weapon mounted light than it is using a handheld light. It’s kinda obvious when you think about it. Which is more accurate, one hand on the gun or two hands on the gun?
With a quality bright weapon mounted light, it’s very possible to search for threats without flagging unknown people by pointing the light at the ceiling or ground and using the flood and bouncing of the light to illuminate the area. I can light up my entire living room by bouncing light off of my ceiling. But again, that’s a very in depth topic deserving of its own video. Just keep in mind, the first person to get shots on target usually win.
Illuminated reticles, such as pistol and rifle red dots are helpful
I did some experimentation that weekend with my newly mounted red dot on my P320 X-Five. I tried using a handheld flashlight, head mounted flashlight, and weapon mounted flashlight. Iron sights are not nearly as easy to see and use as a red dot is, even when the front sight has a fiber insert. I did manage to snag a fellow competitor’s pistol with a tritium insert, and while that helped, it still wasn’t as good as a red dot.
Illuminated red dots really are king when it comes to night shooting. I even had my Leupold DeltaPoint Pro cranked up to full brightness and it wasn’t a hindrance on getting my sights on target.
External sources of light can be negatively distracting
When you’re in a dark environment, lights being pointed at you can negatively impact your ability to identify targets. Most lights aren’t catastrophically impairing though, just an annoyance and distraction. However, a bright 800 lumen light pointed directly at your face can be devastating.
Dirty ammo creates clouds
Shining a light through a thick cloud of smoke makes it difficult to see the target. Dirty ammo creates extra smoke. The obvious conclusion is that dirty ammo is not ideal for night shooting.
Ammo selection matters.
Night shooting is a stress amplifier
Stress is not a skill amplifier. Stress reduces your capabilities to the lowest common denominator. Shooting at night, particularly shooting at night for the first time, is quite the stress amplifier.
This is one of the many reasons why it is important to practice shooting under stressful situations. Shooting under stress really is a skill in of itself. Try taking a force on force class or go to a shooting competition and work on this important skill. It will make a big difference, really quickly.
Conclusion – don’t let a defensive encounter be your first experience with night shooting
In many ways, night shooting is just the same as shooting during the day. But at the same time, there are many completely different components of shooting at night. These new components of shooting can negatively impact a shooter’s ability, particularly if it’s their first time encountering these new components of shooting.
If you are a defensive minded shooter, go take a night shooting class. Don’t let a defensive encounter be your first experience shooting at night.
Written by Brian Purkiss - always a student, sometimes a teacher.
I don't consider myself a competition shooter - I think of myself as a performance pistol shooter. I am all about performing at as high of a level as possible. Towards that end, I am obsessive about learning how to perform. I spend a lot of my life learning from the best across the entire firearms world and even into other areas of performance and other sports. I am a USPSA Carry Optics Grandmaster, currently working towards my second GM title in the Open division.