I recently (5/19/2019) had the pleasure of attending the Green Ops Low Light Pistol clinic in Fairfax, VA. This was my second time at this particular class. While I am admittedly a big fan of their other classes, the low light pistol clinic always stands out in my mind as an example of what a “signature” class looks like – it teaches you skills you’re unlikely to acquire or practice elsewhere. We learned a variety of handheld light with pistol techniques, practiced some fundamentals in the dark, and even got a few reps in on our weaponlights. It was a really good time!
Full AAR after the break!
Green Ops is a training company in northern Virginia run by Mike Green. Mike is a military vet who was in SF for a while, did some contracting, etc. Not only can you get some background at the Green Ops website, there was a recent article at arbuildjunkie with a pretty great interview of Mike with some history on the company. You should definitely read it! Suffice it to say, the instructors are pretty legit; they have been there and done that, have been to a lot of shooting schools, and perhaps even most importantly, know how to teach. They’re also some of the friendliest, most humble guys you’ll ever meet.
As you can imagine from the subject matter, this class had a high instructor to student ratio of 1:2, or more precisely, five instructors to ten students. Since the students were in two relays, this was de facto a 1:1 ratio (higher if you count the presence of three NRA RSOs who were keeping an eye on safety as well). The instructors were Mike, Fred, Chris, Josh, and Ace. All of them had extensive military backgrounds with Fred being (I believe) the sole person with any LEO experience. This gave the instruction more of a flavor of “here’s how we did crazy stuff in the dark in crazy places”, which definitely helps keep your attention on how some of these techniques can be used effectively and creatively.
The class took place at the NRA HQ range in Fairfax, VA from 6-10:30PM. The NRA HQ range is one of my favorite places to shoot; it’s convenient, it’s clean, and the RSOs manage to have a light touch while keeping things safe. It has 15 50yd lanes, so you can even get a decent zero on your modern sporting rifle (not that we used rifles in this class). Green Ops hosts a Sunday evening class there about once per month, so there’s lot of opportunities to train.
As previously mentioned, there were ten students in the class. It was quite diverse, including a woman. Shooting skills varied somewhat, but everyone was safe, which I think is priority number one for a class like this. I didn’t have a chance to do a full run-down of the guns, but eight people brought WMLs, and I think about 4-5 people were running optics-equipped pistols (more on this later). No one suffered any hard failures of their gear, which was nice to see.
For my part, I brought my “Fauxland Special” PF940C Glock-a-like build with TBRCi comp, older Streamlight TLR-2, and Trijicon RMR01. The gun itself performed with distinction, except for a couple ejection failures late in the class that MIGHT have been related to a slight amount of pin walk. I need to hit it with some green Loctite one of these days to see if that stops it, or perhaps I’ll just suck it up and upgrade to a pre-drilled PF940C frame. It might also be due to not enough lube or similar; I didn’t lube it right before class, which is a recurring mistake of mine. Ah well. I have some more specific thoughts on the RMR01 and TLR-2 that I’ll share later. The setup ran in my RHT competition holster, and I used a Bladetech double mag pouch to hold my mags. I did zero reloads of necessity during the class due to my 21rd Glock pmags holding enough to get through every drill.
My handheld light was a Sure6P with upgraded LED head, stuffed in an admin pouch. I had no problems with the light, but I think I’ll be buying a Surefire V85 light holster at some point; I had to store the light bezel up, which made it rather annoying to pull out during drills. Little things matter when it comes to gear!
To orient you, dear reader, to the class, here’s the description from the website:
This course is designed to teach the student proper use of the flashlight and other methods in conjunction with the handgun in low light situations. The goal is to develop confidence and skills with the handgun in low light techniques, target identification and light scanning/searching techniques.
- Flashlight techniques for shooting
- Identifying targets in low light and darkness
- Principles of low-light tactics
- How to choose and use the tactical flashlight
- Searching/scanning techniques in reduced light
- Using hand-held flashlights and mounted lights with firearms
I think it’s a pretty good selection of important skills for operating in low/no light environments.
As mentioned in the lead-in, I’ve taken this class before, and have an AAR over at MDShooters. Here is my assessment of my skills from the last time I took the class:
I was on the jagged edge of having enough training, and as a result, I was probably the weakest shooter there. This was because I had not practiced one-handed shooting enough, and one-handed shooting is a serious requirement for this course. Being weak on that means trying to have to make that happen while you’re simultaneously trying to make it happen with a light. This isn’t to say I couldn’t basically hit what I was aiming at, but it manifested in a lot of “just-outside-the-box” misses.
A year later, I’m a fair bit faster from the holster, and I am MUCH better one-handed. Doesn’t hurt that I was using an optic-equipped pistol, either. I bring this up because it turns out that your mastery of these fundamentals is crucial to being able to execute some of these flashlight-usage techniques.
The class begins with about 75 minutes of classroom instruction. Unlike the defensive classes, the lecture in this one is all about skills, tactics, and equipment selection. There’s a safety and medical brief as well.
One thing I liked about the brief is that it didn’t overhype the importance of the class. Mike cited a Tom Givens study on shootings amongst his students, and it essentially turned out that low light gunfighting wasn’t a make-or-break factor in any of them. One simple reason: in urban and suburban environments, there is a ton of environmental lighting around, especially now that architects and urban planners have figured out that dark places are magnets for crime. On the other hand, power outages are a thing, so counting on environmental lighting isn’t always the best plan.
The review of commercially available flashlights was pretty good, too. I am relatively familiar with what’s out there, but it’s always interesting to hear other perspectives. The course is “low light pistol”, so there was no discussion of rifle lights – I feel like that would have been good, if only to highlight some of the more interesting choices from Cloud Defensive, modlites, etc.
Finally, like with all other Green Ops classes, they send the notes out afterwards. In this case, those notes are a massive 164 page PDF that covers this subject area in a ton of detail. Incidentally, it also contains quite a bit on how to do good training, and why it can even be legally important to some organizations. It is absolutely a significant value-add that I suspect a lot of the people taking the class aren’t going to even notice.
After the classroom, it’s range time! All of the shooting in this class is at 3-5 yards. I am not sure how I feel about that – it feels like pretty close range – but I will say that the stress of being in darkness and trying to manipulate a handheld light at the same time can degrade shooting performance significantly. Also, encounters in the dark would seem to be short range events (unless one side has night vision and IR lasers, in which case they’re simply short events).
The shooting started with a qualification, just to make sure you could safely shoot and perform at a relatively proficient level. This was some basic stuff – drawing and firing freestyle, strong hand, support hand, with a reload, etc. against a large A-zone, usually with a timer. I shot it clean, which was a nice improvement over my previous performance, and I believe I was the only one in the class who did so. The comp almost made shooting one-handed feel like cheating;
The entire course, including the qualification, used the standard tell-show-do method of teaching. The instructors did a great job of explaining (“tell”) and demo’ing (“show”), which made “do” pretty straightforward. Fred, Chris, and Mike all took turns doing demos, and had confidence that flowed back to the students.
There was minimal downtime in the shooting portion of the class. I only remember a single water/bathroom break timed to coincide with a target change. This is A Good Thing ™ and deserves to be pointed out.
Once we got through the qualification, the lights went out, and we did the low light techniques “for real”. A quick list of the techniques we practiced:
- Harries two-handed (the classical police technique)
- Side-by-side two-handed
- Syringe two-handed
- FBI one-handed
- Neck/temple index (“Surefire method”) one-handed
I am pretty reasonable with Harries, but found it completely incompatible with an RMR01. The RMR01 is Trijicon’s “self-adjusting brightness” RMR, and it turns out that Harries causes it to become far too dim to use effectively. I did not have this problem with any of the other techniques; maybe it has to do with where the light sensor on the RMR is. In any event, I have to admit, I would have preferred an RMR02 (adjustable brightness) or Holosun HS507C (battery mode) at high brightness instead. I’m not saying to never buy an RMR01, but I am saying that I now have some more concerns about it in certain situations. (The truth is, if you’re not running a WML or handheld light, which is not uncommon, it’s perfectly fine.)
The other “fun” thing with using an optics-gun is that you need to be careful not to point the flashlight at the optic, or you’ll also cause it to become unusable. This caused serious problems with the neck index hold, which forced me to modify it from a “neck” index hold to a “temple” index hold. I am good with this technique, but the fact that it’s creating a bright aiming point near your head makes me really nervous about using it.
I still hate syringe – maybe I’ve got the wrong flashlight. FBI works great for me now that I’m not horrible at shooting one-handed. I have no strong opinions on side by side, other than “it doesn’t seem much different than shooting one-handed”.
After the flashlight technique drills, we did some reload drills. There was this long discussion about tucking your flashlight under your arm, and I just found it totally unnecessary – I could grab a magazine with the flashlight still in my hand, slam it in, and if necessary, use my strong hand to drop the slide. I think I got away with this because my magazines were slightly extended – I don’t know if this is a well-explored concept, but it was the first time I had ever gotten a real advantage (besides capacity) out of longer-than-normal magazines.
What I also enjoyed about the reload drills was the freedom to experiment with the various light-handling methods on my own. It became readily apparent to me that I really did like the FBI and temple index methods quite a bit, and could live with Harries (sans the washout issue).
This was then followed “press checking in the dark” and malfunctions drills. I’m not a big “feel the chamber” guy, so I think press checking in the dark was interesting for me, at least. I didn’t find malfunction clearing terribly different than doing it in the light.
We got a few reps in on our WMLs. WMLs are awesome. My TLR-2 – I believe it’s an original 120 lumen model – was a little dimmer than I remembered, which made identifying the “down zero” circles on the IDPA-style targets rather difficult compared to my ~600 lumen handheld. The controls also banged on support my thumb more than I guess I thought they would during recoil. If there was ever a take-away from this class, this is it: you can never have too many lumens. I may be replacing it with a TLR-1 HL as a result of this class; validating gear is always a good thing.
The class concluded with some discussion of how to use a light behind barriers, including a demonstration of the “Kick-Ass” technique of putting a light down as a distraction while you run away/kill everyone. The thing to remember is that people are drawn to light; if you need to draw them away from looking at/for you, giving them a nice shiny light to look at instead is a pretty good plan. There was some barrier shooting from standing and kneeling positions; most people used their WMLs, but a few went handheld.
I have to say I was really disappointed we didn’t do the target identification exercise from last time. This was essentially the barrier drill, but with the added stress factor of trying to determine whether the target had pasted-on hands holding a weapon or some other innocuous object. It was pretty amazing to see how difficult it was, and I thought it provided some very valuable feedback. Admittedly, we were already running a little low on time.
Like all Green Ops classes, this one concluded with a brief certificate ceremony at the end. I like ceremonies; they bring together the group and give a sort of formal conclusion to the class.
I really, really cannot stress enough how amazing this class is and how much I recommend it; it is an experience that is difficult to get anywhere else outside of the rare low-light IDPA match. It’s a little more expensive than the normal clinics, but the high instructor ratio makes it more than worth it. There’s twenty students a year who get to participate in this course; for civilians like myself, it’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up.