The Laser/Light Controversy
To add a light or not to add—that is the question. Whether it is wise to have a light on one’s gun or not!
There are of course occasions best suited for lights attached to your weapon and those where it is tactically inadvisable. And, as
one might expect, the layman is not always cognizant of which occasion is suitable.
The two kinds of lights in question are the laser and the white-light flashlight. The concept is simple: manufacturers make it possible
to mount lights on your firearm with aftermarket products and even by providing an integral rail under-mount on many firearms.
Lights have many practical applications when associated with various kinds of shooting sports and martial applications; but these
are not necessarily consistent with what is seen in Hollywood productions or even on some commercial websites.
Both search-beam flashlights and laser pointers find a practical use in a sport like varmint hunting, but they are often tactically
unsound in defensive and even some offensive operations.
The following are lists of various pros and cons for different applications.
The use of lasers in varminting, contrary to popular belief, is not for aiming but for range verification. The primary reason for this
is simple physics and trigonometry. Laser light does not bend and the ballistic path of a bullet does. Any range at which one might
‘zero’ a laser point will match bullet impact only at that point.
If, for example, the laser point is zeroed at 200 yards the shooter can expect the bullet impact to be at point of aim only at that
distance. Just as he would with an optical sight zeroed at that distance, he would still have to compensate for bullet drop and rise.
A 190 grain match .308 bullet traveling at 2700 feet per second and zeroed to a POI (point of impact) at 200 yards would impact
1.4 inches high at 100 yards and drop 8.2 inches at 300 yards—one inch above where the red dot strikes the target at 100 and more
than eight inches below where the red dot strikes at 300.
Lasers then are not for aiming but serve the purpose of quickly verifying range. They provide the advantage of letting the shooter
know very quickly how to compensate for bullet drop. It is therefore important to pick a useful aiming point for both optics and
laser that allows point blank aim (the range of distances at which the shooter can aim with cross hairs on, rather than above or
below, the target).
Things to consider in making this determination are the maximum effective range of the cartridge, the accuracy of the load, the size
of the prospective target and the general conditions under which the typical shot will be taken.
The aiming point chosen for point blank shooting is largely governed by the typical size of the target. If you are going to shoot
prairie dogs at five hundred yards then you must take into consideration that the average prairie dog is 12 and 16 inches long,
including the short tail and weighs between 0.5 and 1.5 kilograms (1 and 3 lbs), with a head 2.5 to 4 inches in diameter and a vital
area averaging about five inches in circumference. It is best then to consider a five inch circle as optimum target size and pick a
cartridge and aiming point to fit the occasion.
Perhaps the premier varminting cartridge for prairie dogs is the 22-250 Remington. Loaded with a Hornady #2275 HP (ballistic
coefficient, .271; sectional density, .171 and bullet weight, 60 grains) travelling 3600 feet per second, this cartridge is expected to
hold within a five inch circle between the zero point and the next one hundred yards out to about 300 yards. But, from 300 to 500
yards the bullet drops 22 inches, well outside the five inch standard.
At this point you have several choices:
1) Zero at 500 yards—which will put bullet impact 12 inches high at 200 yards and 13.2 inches high at 300 yards, making
substantial ‘hold-under’ necessary out to around 400 yards.
2) Zero at 200 yards—which will put the bullet impact 4.8 inches low at 300 yards and over 30 inches low at 500 yards, in
both cases causing the need for substantial holdover.
3) Reassess the point blank range of the cartridge—zero at 250 yards, giving you point blank aim to 350 yards; and be willing
to holdover to compensate for bullet drop beyond 350 yards.
The choice is one of preference, each one being a feasible choice. If you choose to zero at 500 yards the bullet strike will be within
an inch or so of the prairie dog’s overall dimensions. Using the laser point as a reference, it is a simple matter of dropping the aim
point an inch or two, or about the diameter of the prairie dog’s head, and compensating for bullet rise. The opposite may be said of
reassessing and zeroing at 250 yards—simply a matter of approximately the same amount of hold-under out to zero and holdover
beyond. A 200 yard zero is feasible, but you would have to raise the aim point twice the length of a prairie dog, essentially shooting
at ‘air not hair’ at five hundred yards.
The best advice then for using a laser in conjunction with a good optical sight is to consult a ballistics chart, consider the external
ballistics of the cartridge and choose zero accordingly.
1. Weapon-mounted Flashlights are capable of lighting the room with a quick flash of light. This is an advantage to entry teams
because it robs assailants and bad guys of their night vision while allowing operators to maintain their own night vision. But, in
reality, entry teams rarely use a sustained beam of light during a search because it gives away their location to an enemy whose
position is not always apparent. The quick flash is used most often for the above reason rather than to paint the target with a
sustained beam. Dynamic entry is of course a different matter (see summary below).
2. The same is true of red/green lasers. Most operators use a flash of the beam to confirm target acquisition, drop the beam
switch, move and make sure they do not stay in one place long enough to get acquired.
3. Beam lights are helpful in quick target confirmation when using the flash and shoot concept.
1. Under certain atmospheric conditions, all lights create a sustained beam that washes back to the operator. This is particularly
true of weapon-attached flashlights and under-mounted lasers when there is moisture or dust in the air.
2. All an opponent has to do is follow the beam and shoot at the perceived end of it to acquire the user.
3. Light beams make target acquisition of a user who would not otherwise be seen under ambient light conditions apparent and
4. The light or beam is useless until it finds the target or lights up the opposition. Until that time in marks the user.
5. Lights of all kinds can be seen at great distances at night and may locate the user for an unseen enemy yet unencountered
and whose presence the user may not be aware of.
6. It is tactically unsound to use a light until the enemy has been located. See the Archive version of 'Afghanistan: When the
Moon Sets, Watch Out' by Michael Yon.
Solutions to tactical use:
1. Use any weapon mounted light intermittently.
2. Use any weapon mounted light only after the enemy is located and spotted.
3. Use any weapon mounted light only to confirm aim, not to aim with.
4. Use any weapon mounted light with quick detach mounts so they can be used tactically to confuse the enemy. Detach the
light and place it on a position away from your body to draw enemy fire; or, toss a flashlight attachment across the door jab to light
the room without exposing yourself to danger.
Other Uses for the Laser:
One application in which the gun-mounted laser shines is as an instrument of training. The laser does not lie. Once installed and
bore-sighted a laser will reveal your every quiver and quirk.
Turn on a laser and point it at the target. Try to hold it steady while pulling the trigger free-handed or off-handed. By the time
the sear breaks, the laser point will have broken as much as an inch or two to the strong side--having the exact same effect on the
bore and therefore the impact of the bullet fired from it. Although you cannot prevent this from happening, you can learn to
minimize its effect with concentrated practice. Once you have established your 'minimum offset' (the minimum movement to the
strong side during trigger pull), you only have to practice off-setting that much each time you aim to have consistent bullet impact
in the desired point.
Such practice promotes awareness, strengthens trigger pull, polishes technique and builds muscle memory. Most of all, it saves
ammunition and money and it provides a safe, easy way to practice your trigger pull--almost anywhere.
To help prevent damage to the firing pin, purchase or make your own 'snap caps.' Insert them into the chamber, turn on the
laser and practice.
To practice your trigger pull:
1) Clear the weapon (walls, house plants, pets and people do not respond well the fast moving projectiles)
2) Put a snap cap in the chamber
3) Turn on the laser
4) Sit or stand in front of the TV and practice acquiring villains on the screen with the laser, projecting the proper lead when they
are moving across the screen and squeezing the trigger.
Tip: the essence of such practice is to pay attention to where the laser dot is when you start pulling the trigger and where it is after
the sear breaks. Practice, practice, practice...the body and its senses will do the rest.
Make your own snap caps:
Make your own snap caps by punching the primer out of a spent case and trimming a pencil eraser to fit in the primer pocket.
Make it a tight fit and press the eraser into the pocket with a wooden dowel or other instrument.
Or, obtain commercial snap caps here:
And find snap caps at many other fine distributors by 'googling' "snap caps."
Note: An added advantage to practicing with a laser is that the more you pull a trigger, the smoother it becomes. When parts rub
together they smooth and burnish the parts they rub against, the same thing a good gunsmith does when he does a trigger job.
Most armed encounters occur in low light. The operational terms here are ‘low light,’ not no light.
Tactically speaking the worst thing one can do is to take what will be a tense situation for anyone and make it worse for the ill
trained by complicating it with too many choices—like having to wrestle with safeties and light switches. Several things taught at
the law enforcement academy seem apros pos here:
Few situations call for a light of any kind to be on constantly. You can see as well as anyone else in the ambient light, you know
your own house better than any thief and your night vision needs to be preserved. If the bad guy doesn’t have his light on, neither
should you. Use all of your other senses to identify potential targets. Use your flashlight, holding it well away from your body at
arm’s length, to flash (just a quick push of the actuator button) areas that are so dark you can’t see someone who might be hiding
there, then—and this is the important part—you move! Flash and move.
The only time a light should come on for more than a fraction of a second is when a potential target is located and must be
identified before firing. That’s when the Harries technique is employed, at which time you either use the light to blind the assailant
and shoot or flash and use persistence of vision to shoot. Until that moment, the safest way to carry your firearm is pressed flat
against your chest, with the index finger of the firing hand parallel to the muzzle outside the trigger guard and the muzzle clearing all
parts of the body. No part of the firearm or light should pass a threshold before the toe of your lead foot or before sweeping
potential threats ahead and without ‘slicing the pie’ to clear the fatal funnel.
The same is true of lasers. They should only be used intermittently and then only by the highly trained. The appropriate uses of
weapon-mounted lasers are varmint hunting and mounted on the weapons of the one, two and three man of a six man S.W.A.T.
entry team--or to practice your trigger pull.
One should hope that all his future opponents have weapon-mounted lights and keep them on continually. The end of a red beam
and/or the apex of a cone of white light both make excellent aim points.
Like white light flash lights, lasers should be used intermittently (preferably via a toggle switch that does not lock in) to verify that
you are on target.
Tactically, it should be noted that a S.W.A.T. dynamic entry and the typical home invasion encounter are two very different
situations. The SWAT team depends on dynamic entry, flash-bang grenades, smoke and team work to dispatch bad guys. It is
essentially an offensive operation that depends on confusion and quick action for success. Leaving lasers and flashlights on during
such an operation is tactically sound because those on the receiving end already know where the team will be making its entry.
Therefore, there is little need for SWAT team members to disguise their positions. They brave the inherent danger with bravado, the
right equipment for the purpose—ballistic vests, shielding and automatic weapons—and the tactics necessary for success.
In a home invasion, the situation is actually reversed. The home owner has a good general idea where the assailant is or will
appear from, giving them the tactical advantage—provided they can keep their whereabouts unknown until they get ready to fire
their home security weapon. All lights should stay off until a potential target is located and then should be flashed either to identify
the target, to deprive an opponent of his night vision or confirm aim or all the above.
The best advice is to retreat with all family members to a designated safe room, with a telephone, call authorities immediately, wear
ballistic clothing if available, barricade in behind cover and be prepared to protect yourself.
If you have no choice, make sure only one version of the story is told.