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Old December 3, 2008, 03:01 AM   #1
JohnKSa
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Night Sights & Low Light--An Experiment

I had some questions about the utility of night sights after acquiring and installing a couple of sets at a very good price.

My initial take was that they were useless in any situation if there was enough light to see the sights (you could simply use normal sights and get the same effect) and useless in any situation when there was not enough light to see the target (aligning your sights carefully is useless if you can't see the target). It seemed that an experiment was in order to verify the hypothesis given the support that night sights have from the shooting community.

Most ranges are not amenable to having people shoot when there is inadequate light but fortunately Double Naught Spy made Horn Hill Range available for an experiment.

At the appointed time 4 shooters convened at Horn Hill Range. I provided two very similar guns (both Glock 17s) one with night sights and one without. All the shooters used the same ammunition, WWB, to eliminate that variable.

The course of fire involved shooting at IPSC style targets (roughly life-sized targets shaped like an armless human torso with a head) made of steel and placed 15 yards from the shooters. Hits & misses were scored as were the times for each shot string. Shot strings began from low ready, the shooter raised the gun at the buzzer (set on a random interval) and engaged a target with a 5 shot string.

The first series was shot in normal light to provide control numbers to compare to the later low light numbers. The average shot string time was 2.96 seconds with a miss rate of about 9%.

The second series was shot at dusk (sunset was at 6:41PM and the series was shot between 7:05PM and 7:17PM) and was broken into two different tests. The time selected for the dusk/low-light series was chosen such that the targets and the night sights were clearly visible but the iron sights were not. One test was shot each type of sights and a second test using a flashlight with each type of sights. All shooters used a variant of the Harries technique and were allowed to select from a variety of flashlights available in order to find one that provided the best fit for them.

Shooting at dusk without a flashlight resulted in times that were 40% slower than the control strings shot in daylight. There was no appreciable difference in the times shot with the night sight gun vs the plain sight gun. BUT, the miss rate was much different. With night sights, the shooters actually improved their accuracy over the shot strings shot in daylight by a small amount--perhaps because the glowing sights forced the shooter to focus on the sights. But with plain sights the misses TRIPLED. Night sights really shine (sorry) when there is sufficient light to see the target but insufficient light to see the sights.

Shooting with the flashlight incurred a time penalty of approximately 65%. This is probably due to the fact that using one hand to hold onto the flashlight means that hand isn't available to hold on to the gun--slowing down recoil recovery.

Using the flashlight at dusk resulted in a degradation in accuracy compared to the control strings shot in daylight. Misses increased by about 100%. There didn't appear to be any significant difference in the type of sights used in low-light/dusk when the flashlight was employed. If anything the plain sights may have had an advantage.

So what about total darkness? It was pointless (even dangerous) to shoot either gun without a flashlight since the targets were completely invisible. Initial testing showed no difference between the two sight types in total darkness. In both cases there was the same time penalty for using the flashlight (about 65%) and misses increased over the daylight shot strings by about 100%. Pretty much the same results as shooting at dusk with a flashlight and not any significant difference between the sight types. When using a decently bright flashlight there was enough light reflected off the target to provide good backlighting to allow effective use of either plain or night sights.

However, the shooting didn't stop there. Given that we still had some ammunition and the batteries were still working in the flashlights we did a bit more experimentation on a less formal level.

All the shooters noticed during the formal testing that the smoke from the discharge was very distracting when a flashlight was being employed. Although the smoke was invisible during the daylight shooting, trying to shine a light through it made it not only visible but annoying and a hindrance to accuracy. The effect was something like shining headlights through fog and got worse the brighter the flashlight was. Some experimentation revealed that the most effective technique to combat this effect was to shine the light, not on the target, but rather onto the ground in front of the target where the light scatter would illuminate the target. That didn't leave much illumination to backlight the sights so the night sights were required for that technique.

This technique effectively transformed the situation back into the dusk scenario. The scattered light was sufficient to see the target but not sufficient to see the sights. With some practice this technique was quite accurate but there was still the typical time/accuracy penalty associated with the flashlight use.

Moving to a weapon mounted light would help with the time penalty associated with holding a flashlight in the weak hand (per the Harries technique) but wouldn't allow the shooter to aim the light to minimize backscatter from the discharge smoke.

Conclusions
If you use a weapon mounted light then night sights aren't going to provide a significant benefit except as a backup.

If you don't have a light (either weapon mounted or separate) your weapon will be useless when it gets really dark even if you have night sights.

Night sights provide a tremendous accuracy benefit in low light (when normal sights are not visible but the target is visible) but no detectable benefit in normal light. They can provide a benefit in darkness if used with a flashlight to indirectly illuminate the target. Without a flashlight or when the flashlight is used to directly illuminate the target night sights provide no benefit in darkness.

If you have a weapon mounted light or try to directly illuminate the target with a handheld light held close to your firearm, expect to have some difficulty with light reflecting back from discharge smoke after your first shot. This effect is worse with a brighter light.

If you use a separate light, shine it directly on the target for the first shot to provide a distraction to your opponent and to provide maximum illumination for backlighting your sights. You can make hits this way regardless of whether your sights are night sights or not. After the first shot, if you have night sights, you'll improve your accuracy if you shine the light down and use the scattered light to illuminate the target without reflecting back in your eyes from the discharge smoke. If you don't have night sights you'll have to keep illuminating your target directly to keep your sights backlit--and you'll just have to deal with the distraction of the reflected light from the discharge smoke.

Finally, if you've never had a chance to shoot in low light you should make every effort to do so. Simple little things like keeping the switch on the flashlight depressed can get lost in the mix of things that need to be done. I found myself in darkness a couple of times for a brief instant wondering why I had no light until I realized that I had released pressure on the flashlight switch.

Many thanks to Double Naught Spy for providing range facilities and to Ken W. and Mark R. for providing willing assistance in this testing & experimentation.
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Old December 3, 2008, 07:51 AM   #2
Billy Sparks
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My wife and I took a DTI pistol class years ago where they did something similar. They had steel targets and illuminated them with flashes of light. You got enough light to see and ID the target but then the light moved off the target. (I am probably not explaining it well) Those of us with night sights where able to consistenly make hits where those that did not have night sights didn't.

Also as to the night sights less usable in the daytime. It depends on the brand, IMHO. I prefer Trijicon's with the white outline. For my computer ravaged eyes they jump out at me during the day. Some manufacturers night sights are MUCH harder to see due to not having a white ring.

Edited to add: If you get a chance try night, dusk and early morning shooting. It is very eye opening as opposed to when most of us go to the range.
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Old December 3, 2008, 09:34 AM   #3
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This makes me glad to have an outdoor range at my disposal almost any time of day. Low light shooting is a lot of fun, and a good thing to practice IMO.

Very good post John, thanks for the information.
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Old December 3, 2008, 10:50 AM   #4
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Great wite up John, I knew my night sights were good for something.
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Old December 3, 2008, 11:10 AM   #5
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Very informative write up, kind of stuff that I like to read. Thanks
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Old December 4, 2008, 10:16 AM   #6
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An excellent report, thanks for taking the time to do all that (admittedly fun) research ... one reason I have night sights on my home defense 1911 is that it makes the gun very easy to find and index in the dark ... I put the gun in the same place every night, but it's so much easier to locate with those sights glowing in our otherwise all-but-pitchdark bedroom ... I don't have them on any of my carry guns because I can't imagine a situation I would be in where it would be so dark I couldn't see the sights ...
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Old December 4, 2008, 10:54 AM   #7
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ive been hunting for years with night/light gathering sights/scopes.

it provides a huge advantage at dawn/dusk.

lighted reticles, and red dot scopes help alot as well.
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Old January 27, 2009, 10:20 PM   #8
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That is absolutely amazing research. Good work guys. Any plans to throw fiber optic sights in for comparison?
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Old January 27, 2009, 10:48 PM   #9
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Quote:
Any plans to throw fiber optic sights in for comparison?
Not at this time. I don't have access to any handguns with fiber optic sights for one thing.

I'd like to do a comparison between all of the following in various lighting conditions.

Regular sights
Night sights
Fiber Optic sights
Mounted lights
Handheld lights

It runs into some time & money though, even with volunteer help & free range access.
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Old January 28, 2009, 01:06 AM   #10
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I'm curious as to what flashlight technique you utilized in this test? If you are using the Harries technique, I would agree with your assesment. But, if you use the Good technique, it really doesn't matter if you have night sights or not. I use night sights on my own guns. But, if you have a light and know how to use it, I have never seen a difference in shooting speed or accuracy between pistols with or without night sights.

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Old January 28, 2009, 03:13 AM   #11
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All shooters used a variant of the Harries technique and were allowed to select from a variety of flashlights available in order to find one that provided the best fit for them.

Could you please describe what you are calling: "the Good technique"?
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Old January 28, 2009, 07:30 AM   #12
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Quote:
But, if you have a light and know how to use it, I have never seen a difference in shooting speed or accuracy between pistols with or without night sights.
Yeah, I have seen SWAT guys train as well. Neat. However, few people train enough in low light conditions to have the same level of proficiency regardless of sight type unless they are just doing absolutely bad or are taking so long that they are doing absolutely good.

However, I see that you are in Texas. Where? How about you come participate the next time we do this and you can show us what is what? Bring some friends who know what they are doing as well. It would be very educational to watch people with such proficiency.
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Old January 28, 2009, 09:12 AM   #13
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Thanks, good research.
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Old January 28, 2009, 12:28 PM   #14
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In basic terms put the light next to your head, eye level in the weak hand. When you work the light you essentially flash through the front sight into your target. Thus, you get a good sight picture with or without night sights. Another reason that I prefer this method is that with every other technique, I would often turn on my light and find it illuminating the ground in front of the target area. The Good technique puts the light right on track with your eyes. It is a very simple, fast, and safe (no chance of crossing your weak hand in front of the muzzle) method. In my opinion, it is the easiest method to master and offers the best sight picture.

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Old January 28, 2009, 12:57 PM   #15
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Very good read.

I have a trillium front sight on my S&W40V with regular rear and I have found that it does help at night (I have a friend who has a range set up on his 40+ acres so we can practice in all light conditions). I am currently looking for one for my 5" 1911. Over on e-BAY I found a guy who sells stick on photoluminescent dots that with a good charge (10 minutes of sunlight, 20 minutes of close lamp light, or 5 minutes of Ultravoilet light) will operate for up to 6/8 hours. So for $10 I'm going to see if they are worth it. Why not.
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Old January 28, 2009, 01:48 PM   #16
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Interesting experiment and seems to be fun.

Long ago I discovered that night sights are next to useless and that one is much better off using ambient light and point shooting. If there's little ambient light then a flashlight used properly is a plus.

But the absolute best night and lowlight targeting is done with a laser sighting system.
When used properly and sometimes in combo with a flashlight and/or ambient light, laser sighting is 'the' most effective lowlight/night-sighting system.

No need to even think about using sights. Just place the dot and you'll hit that spot.

Doubt what I'm saying?
Then watch Ken Hackathorn and other experts demonstrate reality: http://www.crimsontrace.com/Home/Vid...7/Default.aspx
.
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Old January 28, 2009, 02:00 PM   #17
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Skyguy, I'm not arguing the effectiveness of a laser. But, there had better be a second option if it goes down. I think they are great for experienced shooters. I think they are potential death traps for new shooters who become reliant on the laser. I all but the poorest of lighting, I am actually faster without a laser.

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Old January 28, 2009, 02:45 PM   #18
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Thanks for the post and the testing, John. I've been contemplating getting night sights and did not know if they really provided an benefit or not.
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Old January 28, 2009, 03:14 PM   #19
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Thanks for the very informative post. I debated on whether or not to get night sights ($100 over standard sight), a tactical light w/ laser ($300 and up locally), or go with standard sights and a flashlight. I read threads that gave mixed reviews of lights and lasers strong and weak points.

In the end I opted for night sights and strategically placing battery operated night lights to illuminate areas a BG might enter or travel through. I figured night lights should provide sufficient light to identify a target and the night sights should help acquire a good sight picture without having to use a flashlight that might give away my position. Of course the bright flash and loud noise will be a good indicator after the first trigger pull .
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Old January 29, 2009, 03:52 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ranburr
But, if you use the Good technique, it really doesn't matter if you have night sights or not. I use night sights on my own guns. But, if you have a light and know how to use it, I have never seen a difference in shooting speed or accuracy between pistols with or without night sights.
Quote:
Originally Posted by ranburr
In basic terms put the light next to your head, eye level in the weak hand. When you work the light you essentially flash through the front sight into your target. Thus, you get a good sight picture with or without night sights.
The Harries technique, while not illuminating the sights DOES allow the weak hand to provide some level of useful support for the gun. So while you lose the benefit of a light shining on your sights (compared to the Good technique) you gain the benefit of a better supported shooting hand.

In other words, the Good technique will cost you support to your shooting (and therefore speed and accuracy) compared to the Harries technique but will give you the ability to see non-illuminated sights.

Your assessment that you "have never seen a difference in shooting speed or accuracy between pistols with or without night sights." may be correct, but it ignores the fact that your flashlight technique costs you shooting speed and accuracy by making your flashlight hand completely unavailable to help support the handgun.

Night sights and a technique like the Harries technique lets you see your sights and still allows your flashlight hand to provide some level of useful support for the handgun.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Skyguy
Long ago I discovered that night sights are next to useless and that one is much better off using ambient light and point shooting.
How far away can you be and still consistently score hits on the torso and head of a human sized target by point shooting with a handgun?

How long did it take you to attain that level of skill?
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Old January 29, 2009, 12:26 PM   #21
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Harries essentially allows you to cradle the pistol. It doesn't really allow any meaningful support. Good or Harries, you still only have one hand gripping the gun. I personally shoot better with one hand by itself than I do trying to rest one hand on top of the other. You may be different. I suspect you may feel different after a little practice with both methods.
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Old January 29, 2009, 01:15 PM   #22
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Quote:
I'm not arguing the effectiveness of a laser. But, there had better be a second option if it goes down.
Believe this: Your weapon will "go down" many, many, many times before a lasergrip will malfunction.

You also mentioned a "new shooters" dilemma. Well, all things have a learning curve. Laser sights have a very quick learning curve to proficiency....about ten minutes. And, of course, basic efficiency in weapon use and iron sights is the needed foundation for effective laser-aimed shooting and backup.

Laser sights are, indeed, 21st century technology. They are the answer for old eyes. They are 'the' superior sighting system in low light and darkness....where most confrontations take place.

Watch Ken Hackathorn and other experts demonstrate reality: http://www.crimsontrace.com/Home/Vid...7/Default.aspx

My self-defense handguns below are lasergrip equipped for a reason:

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Old January 29, 2009, 01:39 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnKSa
How far away can you be and still consistently score hits on the torso and head of a human sized target by point shooting with a handgun?
On a stationary paper target, and me not moving off the X....about 30ft.- a car length.
It's pretty easy once you've learned how to point-shoot.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JohnKSa
How long did it take you to attain that level of skill?
About 2 hours of learning and 2 boxes of ammo.

Remember....I agree with your conclusion that night sights have a 'very' limited window of use. Symbolism over substance so to speak, but they're a helluva moneymaker.
Because of that, I use lasergrips in case of an unfortunate confrontation in low light or darkness. They actually work.
.
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Old January 29, 2009, 02:14 PM   #24
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John ~

One problem with Harries is that it is not terrifically useful around left side cover. Around left side cover, Harries ties you up in knots, and creates a high likelihood of blinding yourself by illuminating your cover at close range w/o even getting the light around the corner! In Harries around left side cover you have to lean out so far that the cover might as well not be there in the first place. Also, although it's stable for shooting, it's just not generally a good position for searching, since it (again) leaves you tied in knots, unable to block a surprise blow from either side, and also because it, like weapon mounted lights, also pretty well forces you to point the gun everywhere you point the light. So it's a great shooting technique, but not necessarily useful for some specific and predictable non-shooting preludes.

I've never heard the "Good technique" so named. Have heard it called "Georgia Patrol," going back to the days when LEOs would rest the giant huge 4-cell D flashlight on the left shoulder while approaching a car at night (why Georgia? Dunno).

It is indeed a good technique, but since all kinds of studies have shown that bad guys tend to shoot at the light, I dislike putting the light right next to my head like that. Try this, though: flashlight in hand, bring your hand up to your shoulder/neck level, aimed at the target. Now with your elbow raised, simply move your hand away from your body, so the light is held at least two feet away from your head and slightly above it.

This allows you to illuminate your sights (with side splash) and your target (directly). It also allows you to easily search while keeping the gun pointed in a direction known to be safe (down) rather than pointing the muzzle into areas of unknown safety. With your hands separated, and one hand raised, you're prepared to fend off an unexpected assault from either side. If attacked from the left, you can simply pivot and fire with your right hand; if attacked from the right, you can use the flashlight as an impact weapon against the assailant until you can bring the gun into play. If the assailant shoots at you rather than rushing you, he's more likely to aim at the light than at your body, giving you time to respond appropriately. And you are more likely to keep your balance if he rushes you, since your hands are not "tied together" by your flashlight technique.

Try it ...

pax

ps -- agree with Skyguy about lasers. They're the best low light technique ever invented.
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Old January 29, 2009, 08:43 PM   #25
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Quote:
It is indeed a good technique, but since all kinds of studies have shown that bad guys tend to shoot at the light
Pax, that is why you had better know how to use a light correctly/sparingly. Your arguement is valid if you leave the light on and remain stationary. A light should be used sparingly and never from the same place twice.

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