Through Darkest Interiors With Gun and Flashlight The Harries Flashlight Technique

—by M1911A1—

Full Disclosure: Michael A. Harries, inventor of the technique which bears his name and which was taught by him at Gunsite under Jeff Cooper, was my close personal friend and mentor. Mike died in late 2000, aged only 62, and a large group of his friends, his students, and many competitive and self-defense shooters still miss him.

I advocate for the Harries Flashlight Technique for a whole slew of reasons. To begin with, I’m strongly against attaching a light source to a pistol. What, um, turns me off to the idea? It begins with having to search by pointing my pistol in the direction in which I’m looking. I just hate the thought of pointing a loaded pistol at my daughter, as she unexpectedly sneaks into the pitch-dark house after a late date. Perhaps worse, if your light source is attached to your defensive weapon, whenever you turn it on you are drawing your opponent’s attention directly to your center-of-mass. That’s where your gun is, even if it’s at arm’s length, as you do a search, right?

I believe that your flashlight should remain apart from your pistol, even though it gives you two separate objects to control and direct. You can easily control a pistol with one hand in close quarters, while the other hand uses only the light to locate your daughter in the dark. It probably works better to scold her without pointing your gun at her. And you can better protect your center-of-mass by holding the light away from your body as you search, maybe even at arm’s length and to one side.

The Harries Flashlight Technique solves these problems, and others, both neatly and handily. But one of the problems that it solves never occurred to Michael, or to me, until my wife, Jean, pointed it out to us. Jean is a dancer and (retired) Physical Education teacher, and something of an expert in practical human-body kinesiology.

Jean was being shown the Rogers Surefire Flashlight Technique, sometimes called the “cigar” hold. The light is held between the index and second fingers of the weak-side hand, and is switched on and off by pressing it rearward against the fleshy base of the weak-side thumb. Jean demonstrated that, since the human body is bilaterally symmetrical, it tends to want to automatically do things in a bilaterally symmetrical manner. Thus, if a person is holding a pistol in the strong-side hand, and turns a flashlight on by contracting the fingers of the nearby weak-side hand, the strong-side fingers will tend to duplicate the weak-side hand’s contraction, and the result may be an unintended discharge!

The Harries Flashlight Technique reverses the flashlight in the shooter’s weak-side hand, profoundly changing both bilateral mechanics and symmetrical response, and uses only the thumb to turn the light on and off. This almost completely eliminates the possibility that operating the light could cause an unintended discharge.

But the Harries technique was actually designed to solve two entirely different problems. The first is to allow the quick separation and reunion of light and gun, and the second is to better support the strong-side hand’s control of the pistol while still precisely steering the beam of light.

Please look at the photo of Mike Harries using his own flashlight technique. (Note that he is being particularly protective of Elvira, who lounges languidly in the background.)




Mike is using a flashlight that has its switch on its barrel. His weak-side (in this case, the left) hand is “reversed,” wrapped around the flashlight’s barrel palm-outwards, pinky-finger to the front. His thumb rests against the switch. If the flashlight had an end-cap switch, his weak-side thumb would be resting upon it. If the switch had been closer to the reflector’s bulge, his hand would just be “choked-up” on the bulge so that his thumb would still be right on the switch. (Note that this technique is not meant to be used with angle-head flashlights.)

Mike is using the Modified Weaver stance, his left foot to the front and a little to the left. His strong-side (in this case, the right) arm is locked straight outward. Normally, the weak-side hand would wrap around, and support, the strong-side hand. But in this case, holding the flashlight, Mike can only press the back and the wrist of his weak-side hand against the hand which holds his pistol. Note also that Mike’s left arm is sharply bent at its elbow, is rigidly locked, and that its elbow points as straight downwards as possible.

If you try this technique, you will be pleasantly surprised at the amount of support your weak-side hand and wrist will actually be supplying to your gun hand. As your strong-side hand presses forward and (in this case) to the right, your weak-side hand presses firmly leftward, and its wrist presses strongly upward. The forces are well balanced, and, with practice, the position is quickly and easily assumed. It is quite stable, and well suited to fast, accurate, close-range shooting.

With your hands and arms in the suggested position, the flashlight almost aims itself. But if the light is not perfectly parallel to the pistol’s barrel, just a slight tilt of your weak-side wrist will correct it. Practicing the position by repeatedly assuming it from low ready will quickly teach your “muscle memory” to get it right. If you’re presenting from a holster, I suggest getting your weak-side hand onto your flashlight first. Then, when your strong-side hand is bringing your pistol up, your weak-side hand can cross underneath the gun (that’s important) and slide up into position.

If you need to search an area, it’s very simple to just slip your weak-side hand down, around, and away from your pistol. You can pull the gun up close to your body to guard against a grab while you hold the flashlight high, or off to one side, to do your search. If someone takes a shot at the light, hoping to hit you, it won’t connect with your body, and it probably won’t hit your hand either. And reconnecting light and pistol is also a simple matter of pushing the gun outward while swinging the light around and up from underneath.

Mike believed, and I strongly suggest, that you should keep the light turned off for much longer than it is turned on. Certainly, it should be off during transitions between search mode and shooting mode. I think that it should also be off whenever you are not either actively searching or actively shooting. When your light is on, it makes you a well-defined target, and if your light is on while you move it about, you are calling attention to yourself and giving away your position. Don’t get careless and leave your light on.

Since it’s difficult to use a pistol’s sights in low light, even when the gun is illuminated by your own flashlight, it will be useful to learn to sight your weapon using only the silhouette of the rear end of its shape. This requires practice, but it’s actually much easier to do than it sounds, particularly since low-light shooting is necessarily a close-range proposition. But remember: If it’s so dark that you cannot see even your gun, then you shouldn’t be shooting at all. It’s always important to know exactly what you’re shooting at.

Try the Harries Flashlight Technique. You will be very pleasantly surprised at how simple it is to do, how steadily it supports your pistol, and how much easier it makes searching in low light.

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