Practical Pistol Low Light Skills

Three different levels of light the eyes have to work in.

Directed Vision

The eyes provide us with information, screening out what’s non-essential and processing information our minds think is essential at the moment. Very little of the eye is the high-resolution fovea, central eye, responsible for directed vision and identification of details and things like faces. The fovea is for a high-resolution focus on what’s important to us. Each of the cells in the fovea requires thousands of support cells in the visual cortex to manage the beginning stages of seeing something. Most of our vision is low resolution and peripheral, giving us a generalized view of an area and picking up movement. We filter what peripheral vision picks up and then point the fovea at what we think is essential and requires direct focus and attention.


So, what is essential in a low-light defensive situation?


Visual Tasking Priorities

We need to prioritize what we direct that high-resolution vision at for self-defense. I recommend first and foremost the hands and waist of a potential unknown subject or unknown contact. The hands hold and operate weapons that can kill us or someone else. Those who mean us harm carry guns and knives on the waist-line just like good guys do, and law enforcement often wears badges on the waist-line. Does what the unknown is wearing matter, like a ski mask? Sure, it might provide information pertinent to the situation, but it’s not the priority that requires directed vision at first contact.


lowlight pistol

Two different targets, two different use of force decisions. Direct vision and light at what matters to make a good use of force decision.


More Light, Better Information

The more light we can direct at the visual priority, the better we can collect essential data. Without enough light directed at the visual priority (hands and waist), the high-resolution part of the eye doesn’t focus, slowing the identification process—diminishing use of force decision making. Less light means straining to see and hesitation due to uncertainty or, worse, a rash decision based on what we thought we saw. “He had a mask on, so…..”.


Shooting vs. Fighting

Shooting in low light is learning the mechanics of shooting safely, accurately, and fast in combination with light. Fighting combines those mechanics with a use of force decision based on accurate information. If we don’t prioritize visual tasking in low light, we will look but not see what’s essential to a possible life or death decision. Prioritizing and processing what matters at that moment is preferable to attempting to see everything at once. If we understand what to direct our vision on, we can see-process-decide and act faster and more accurately.


A few lights to consider from $ – $$$

I’m NOT a fan of multi-output lights, but Streamlights TEN-TAP programming allows setting this light on one output.



I carry this SF Stiletto on a daily basis – the flat design tends to ride better in pockets.


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