Below is write up by Sean K., who attended our Low Light/No-Light Course held on 10/2/21. It was originally written as AAR for another website about his experience, and thankful he let us share here as well.
Who: Granite Tactical is run by John Kanicsar, a certified NRA Law Enforcement Instructor. I first met John through the old ITS Tactical forums back around 2013 which is where I found out he was an instructor, and I heard a lot of good things about him from friends of mine who attended a class he did later that year. John’s background comes from over a decade of working with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in a non-sworn reserve role where he assisted with a variety of call outs to everything from high-risk warrants to desert operations against smugglers in the wide-open Arizona deserts. He has also provided training to over 20 LE departments and military units to include the 19th Special Forces Group. Due to his experience, his classes tend to be taught from a law enforcement perspective. This is a welcome change for me as a lot of my firearms instruction and tactics come from my time a Marine, and this forces me to consider things that might not normally cross my mind.
What: This class was held on Saturday afternoon/night, starting at 4 PM. Conditions for the class were sunny and in the 90s when we started, but temperatures quickly dropped and became more comfortable once the sun dipped below the ridge that served as our backstop. Most of the students in attendance were prior students of John’s, myself included, but there were a couple first-time students as well. Shooter experience varied from competition shooters, to law enforcement/military, to citizens just wanting to become more proficient with firing their weapons at night. Due to the current cost of ammunition, the class was designed to have a lower round count while still providing useful drills for students. As John put it, he knew people hadn’t been shooting nearly as much over the last 18 months as they were 2-3 years ago, so he wanted us to knock some rust off while still having fun and increasing our proficiency.
Facility: Cowtown Range is located just north of Phoenix, in the city of Peoria, AZ. It’s a pretty basic facility without a dedicated classroom, so things get hot during the summer. Each bay has a couple covered picnic benches, and there’s a couple porta-potties but that’s about it from my experience. If you want to have cold drinks, be sure to bring a cooler with some ice.
Class: Students were primarily loaded with magazines of 3, 4, or 5 rounds which forces familiarity with reloading under a variety of light conditions and scenarios. We started the class off with some basic drills to get people warmed up with their pistols and rifles, and so issues could be identified and delt with while it was still light before the added complexity of darkness began. Initially, we started with some basic 1 and 2 shot drills on some “politically correct”, non-human shaped paper targets while standing. We then moved onto a few basic drills using the barrels as cover. One of the drills we ran a number of times was John’s 1-2-3 Drill, where he holds a card up for the next iteration’s round count that has one of the 3 numbers, and constantly walks back and forth behind the firing line which forces students to constantly check and assess their surroundings between repetitions. Once it becomes dark, he replaces cards by holding up 1 to 3 chem-lights.
Once the sun was down it got dark quickly, with only 18% illumination from the moon and some light pollution bouncing off the clouds overhead. To help with safety, John and his assistants placed green chem-lights on our backs, and red chem-lights on our front, that way they could instantly verify that everyone was facing downrange before calling “threat.” We did a few more rounds of the 1-2-3 Drill to make sure everyone was feeling good working in low light, before ramping things up.
One of the requirements for this class was to bring a bag large enough to carry our gear (and preferably weapons) in it. This was to simulate a societal breakdown/bug out/bug in scenario where you may have your gear and weapons accessible, but not on you in order to keep a low profile, and having to quickly get to cover and put it on; or even just to simulate having to quickly put gear on during a home defense scenario, assuming you have the time to do so. The bag I decided to use for this was my Mystery Ranch Hover 50 pack. It’s big enough to hold my Agilite plate carrier, MTEK carbon fiber helmet, and my broken down SOLGW rifle, but small enough to not get in the way or be overly bulky while wearing it. It’s also got the added benefit of being fairly low-profile in appearance since it’s designed for backpacking. Upon the command “threat” we ran to our vehicles and grabbed our bags.
Illuminate and Identify
To its credit, my pack did its part in holding everything in a fairly comfortable manner, but I was not remotely close to being the first person to get a shot off on the target due to having to re-assemble my AR once I got on the line. I probably would have done a few things differently if it was a real scenario, like carry my pistol in my HPG Heavy Recon Kit Bag on my chest, instead of in a holster on a war belt, but that wasn’t an option due to safety requirements because I would have been flagging anyone on my right side. Overall, it was a good datapoint as far as seeing how quickly you can get your gear on and weapons systems running under stress, and I’ve already discussed a couple things with him that could be done to enhance it a bit in future classes.
As the night progressed, we did wooden barricade work with John using a green laser illuminator to randomly identify different targets for students to engage with two shots each from different positions on the barricades. Another barricade drill consisted of two students working opposite ends of a wide barricade while holding onto each other’s magazines. This forced students to communicate with each other when they needed to reload. He then added additional stress by ensuring there was no way a student could “game” the drill by knowing exactly what a specific magazine’s round count was going to be when they loaded it. It also caused students to have to deal with trying to load magazines that may not have been handed to them in the most efficient or ideal orientation.
We also did an unknown threat drill where each student got called up individually to tackle a problem using their own judgement while the rest of the class faced away. In this case, it was a hostage scenario which led to a couple students getting roasted for accidentally shooting the victim. The night ended with the “Flare Drill”, which exposes the students to the concept of photonic barriers, and the importance of having a good light that’s powerful enough to punch through background lighting and illuminate someone to determine if they’re a threat or not.
Briefing on the new drill coming.
Takeaways: In my opinion, everyone that plans on carrying a firearm for self-defense, or plans on using one for home defense needs to take a low light tactics course. Not just to become familiar with some of the unique issues that come with shooting in darkness, but also to test things out and make sure they work the way you think they’re supposed to. These things alone are well worth the cost of the class, especially if you aren’t able to shoot easily at night on your own due to local laws or range restrictions. The first time I did a low-light class a couple years ago, I quickly discovered how anemic both my pistol light and my old handheld Surefire E2E flashlight at the time were, and I subsequently replaced them both with a Surefire X300U pistol light and a Surefire E2D Defender Tactical flashlight respectively. I also discovered that my Streamlight HL-X wasn’t terribly reliable when using the included tape switch, so I later upgraded the light with an adapter made by Arisaka to allow so I could use a Surefire DS00 endcap connected to a Modlite ModButton to activate it.
This was my first opportunity to really test the changes I made to my weapon and handheld lights and it was a vast improvement, though I still do plan on replacing the actual Streamlight on my rifle with a Modlite in the near future. Something new I discovered this class was sometimes the only way to confirm my rifle was dry once it got dark was by actually sticking my finger into the ejection port to determine if the bolt was locked to the rear, or if something like a double feed had occurred, due to the low illumination from the moon. This was a scenario I had never encountered before, so I’m glad I was able to experience it and quickly adapt to it on the fly in that setting, than during an actual self-defense/home defense situation.
Recommendation: If you’re in Arizona and you’re looking for a low-light tactics course, take this class. Even if you’ve done one before, you’ll still learn quite a bit. Personally, I plan on attending John’s Harsh Handgun class later this fall/winter so I can practice handgun use in more realistic scenarios than I can replicate on the little spot I normally shoot at in the desert.
Working the "Bunker" with your partner