Recently, myself and three friends attended a course taught by Wes Doss called Lights, Sights, and Lasers Tour in Wabash, Indiana. We’ve blogged about the course before on TFB but this will be an in depth review of the course materials covered and the courses of fire. The course is completely free and offered to Law Enforcement officers and members of the Military, provided they are in an Active or Reserve capacity. Law Enforcement doesn’t just include the typical cops on the street, but also Bail Bondsmen, Federal Firearms certified pilots (we had a civilian airlines pilot that flew Airbus 330s for a living in the class), and other such jobs that fall under this category. Now, unfortunately, if you aren’t in one of these categories, you cannot take the course. But, certainly read this review because there is a vast amount of knowledge and different learning attitudes that you don’t have to take the course to contemplate about and understand. In addition, every bit of information learned in the course is completely applicable to civilian concealed carry, and general situational awareness at night. That being said, although the course is for LE/MIL, it is overwhelmingly directed at Law Enforcement. This is more than evident in the fact that most of the students in the class were police officers. In fact, apart from myself and two other Reserve friends (Army, Marine Corps) and the pilot, everyone was Law Enforcement.
The course is taught by Wes Doss, the founder of Khyber Interactive Associates, a national and international training company that conducts training and consulting services for Police Departments and Governments. Doss has an extremely varied Military and Law Enforcement background going back to the 1980s, in addition to having a PhD in Psychology. So far the tour has reached around 20 locations a year, to even include Alaska. This was significant for Alaskan Law Enforcement officers as apparently shooting courses don’t often make it out there very much! It is funded by a number of sponsors, to include XS Sights, Laser Max , and a host of other companies but it is by no means a sales pitch. Yes, Doss mentioned a bunch of these companies at the start of the course, but he didn’t push any of them on the class. We did get a number of brochures, papers, and information pamphlets from them, but that was the extent of what we got.
The concept behind the Lights, Sights, and Lasers Tour, is to have two day courses (separate groups of students on each day) all over the country, in order to train how to better utilize a weapon system at night. My feeling about the true intentions of the course is that Doss is working on the premise, that LE officers 1) are not hitting their intended targets, 2) are having trouble at hitting their targets at night, 3) need more training when it comes to Positive Identification. He is extremely serious about this, and shows it throughout the course through the use of case examples, history, and current statistics. The most alarming statistics that he showed consisted of the amount of shots hitting their intended targets national wide. It comes down to only 47 percent of shots fired in incidents occurring at contact range (literally arms distance from the shooter to the target) actually make it into their target, and that goes down to around 20 percent of incidents occurring at 21 feet. The statistics also showed that almost 70 percent of the hits that did make it to target, were in extremities. Doss’s reasoning for this was simple. Hand eye coordination is universal, and when officers are trained to look for the “hands”, at the last instant of trigger pull, the eyes will go towards the target’s hands subconsciously, and thus the handgun would be fired at their hands/arms/ legs, and not a center mass shot. Further more, the positive identification piece was extremely alarming as well. Doss listed scores of examples, where the completely wrong person was shot, in many instances an innocent bystander as well, and at the same time, the officer did not have a light source on him at all. If this isn’t ringing every bell in your head to know how to use a light, and how to be effective with it, it certainly was a wake up call to me. Two extremely prominent examples were the case of the shot up truck that was completely misidentified in California, resulting in the wounding of two newspaper delivery women. The other recent one is where a police officer in New York City shot and killed a guy in his apartment complex because of lack of Positive Identification, at night, and once again, without a flashlight.
Now what was truly great about Doss’s course is that we could armchair both of these cases all day long over the internet or among friends, perhaps glean some online material and analysis of them as well. But Doss has been in the Law Enforcement game for a good number of years, so not only does he know the particular details about these cases, but most of the time he also knows about them through personal interactions with officers or people involved with the incidents. In the case of an unarmed man killed in NYC that attracted much media attention, the situation was as follows. It happened in a project apartment building, and how the cops that patrolled that section worked is that they started from the top floor, and went down the stairway on their beat. On that night, they worked as partners, with a rookie and an experienced cop working as a team. The rookie would walk down the stairway, and would use his handgun to bang on the doors entering each floor, both as a way to signal that they were coming, and to push open the door. At one point he pushed open a door at the exact same time that a guy and his girlfriend were trying to push on it from the other side. Almost like a scuttle for trying to get the door open, once the door gave, the rookie cop saw the guy on the other side and discharged his firearm. The same deal with the incident that occurred in Georgia where a crazed madman executed a state trooper. Doss gave this example as a testament to reaction time and how much that affects our perception. The extremely chilling incident is all caught on the state troopers dashcam, as the madman literally loads an M1 carbine in front of the trooper, and then proceeds to shoot at him. What you don’t see, and what Doss learned through his contacts, was that the trooper was running around the side of his squad car, firing rounds into the dirt, because his perception of what was happening, was not catching up with the realization of what was happening. Out of the troopers magazine, only a round or two were actually shot in the direction of the bad guy. Another case that Doss brought up was of the California Highway Police incident in Newhall, in 1970. Four police officers were killed in a gunfight with criminals. But what the takeaway from the incident is two things, 1) it was rumored that the officers were single loading rounds into their revolvers, and pocketing the empties because they had been conditioned to do this in training (this was eliminated from training soon after), and 2) Out of all the rounds fired by the four officers in low light conditions, none of them hit their intended targets, and none of the officers had a light on them.
Doss hit on the difference between conditioning and training as well. He is a huge advocate of “mixing up the stimulus” used in training, or replicating real world stimulus. By this he means using whistles, or using any other method wherein the shooter knows to start a cycle of training, or the response the shooter uses to begin firing. And then changing it up, all the time, so that shooters aren’t being so trained into the mindset that everything starts with a whistle blast or PACT timer. In addition he gave two extremely valid examples of the extremes of conditioning. The first one was with the Columbia space shuttle exploding on reentry. The heart rates of the pilot astronauts were up to almost 170 beats per minute, essentially pre-cardiac arrest. But yet the pilots were so conditioned, that they were conducting fine motor skills, pressing buttons, turning knobs, completely coherent in their dire situation because their training formed them to treat it as being surmountable. What they didn’t know is that the causes of the disaster were completely beyond their control, but they were literally trying to overcome everything until the second they died. The other example he gave is of an old film of a World War One machine gun team wherein the gunner takes a round to the head and dies, but the assistant machine gunner continues to fix the machine gun by inserting a belt of ammunition into it, and then by their standard operating procedure, tapping him on the helmet to signify that the machine gun is up and running. However the gunner was dead, and the A-gunner continued to tap his helmet, despite the fact that he was slumped over the receiver. The guy was so well conditioned, that even into death, he was still doing what he was supposed to be doing, which was his job as an A-gunner.
Light was obviously a tremendous part of the course and Doss talked about the differences between Lumens and Foot Candles, and even got into the difference between rods and cones. He also talked about the natural light spectrum and here is where he said something that made a lot of sense. We as a society have long recognized the inherent issues with bestowing large amounts of responsibility on each other, when it comes to low light environments. Take the simplest of examples in hunting laws. The shooting after sunrise or before sunset regulations that are in every state have been around for about a hundred years. Because as governing agencies, society cannot trust hunters to be able to discern an animal from a human being in certain periods of low light, enough to make it a regulation to not shoot during these low light periods. Similar regulations go along with driving at night, flying planes at night (to their respectable degrees of course). The premise of this argument is that we have all these set guidelines and firm regulations within our society when it comes to working responsibly in a low light environment, but then we expect LEOs (and concealed carriers) to make life altering decisions in the exact same periods of night, that we have so many regulations for in other fields of life. This goes to show just how important training for a low light environment is.
Doss made mention of how our brains have evolved to recognize shapes and objects in general. As humans we are conditioned to recognize about 37 (not sure on the exact amount) different geometric shapes. How we can use this fact in working in a low light environment and with a flashlight by “painting” a dark room with a light, instead of shining it slowly on everything. By “painting” a room, your brain is going to pick up everything in the room and form a picture of it, instead of only getting a portion of it, by shining your light to where your eye is looking.
One thing I’d really like to mention about the course is that it will not teach you techniques, or better ways to accomplish shooting methods or applications of light at night. The reason Doss doesn’t go over this is because Standard Operating Procedure among departments and military units in the United States is sometimes as diverse from unit to unit as multi-ethnic restaurants in San Francisco. He doesn’t want guys learning one way, then not having to be able to apply it in their respective centers. Instead, the course is meant as a foundation of knowledge about human reaction time, using light at night, and fighting at night. Instead of understanding and know the “How”, Doss tells you the “Why”. In addition to this, the course is ever evolving, no class is the exact same from the previous class. Doss is constantly adding material, and taking away material as it pertains to current cases around the country and developments in the industry. Sometimes he works on just rifles, just handguns, other times transitioning from both. We eventually just worked on rifle drills with Doss.
The shooting portion was what everyone was especially interested in, after all the hours spent in the classroom. The drills ran were from 5 feet, out to around 20 feet, with shooting occurring at every 5 foot interval. Since we ran out of daylight, the entire shooting portion was done at night. Doss didn’t want guys using their sights at all, so everyone had to turn off their red dots or flip down iron sights. What I think he was trying to get at, was to show us more of an instinctive side of shooting during a low light encounter, instead of a calculated effort to acquire the sights. Also by training without sights, we would be trying for a situation where maybe batteries won’t work, or there isn’t enough time to flip up the irons.
Courses of fire ranged from hammer pairs, to single shots, to working with reloads, and especially light discipline, turning off a light while not on target or reloading. The grand finale was a low light competition shoot, where each individual shooter would come up to the line, and while timed, would place 2 rounds in three targets a piece, reload, then go back and do the same going the reverse way. Time was added if any of these shots were counted as misses, and the shooter was disqualified if he had his light on during reloads or while not pointing the rifle at the target. The competition involved had a stress component as well, and this was in allowing all the other shooters to yell and berate the shooter on the line without actually touching him. Anything was allowed and there was some really hilarious stuff going on, like making fun of guys with AKs or the guys with astonishing muzzle brakes that just lit up the entire range. But the point of all that was to get the shooter to become confused and decrease his concentration on the actual process of firing, reloading, fixing a malfunction or what have they.
This is from one of my friends that likes to write up After Action Reports after all his shooting courses. He is currently an Infantry Reservist and an active Law Enforcement Officer-
A “free” course that advertises the use of lights and lasers almost always sounds like a definite sales pitch. Big flashy product names, enough gear to make Chris Costa look like a caveman, and countless hours of an instructor talking about which widget will make you look the best in those Facebook pictures that we all post after a day at the range.
This class was none of that. It was not an 8 hour sales pitch.
The first part of the day was a 4 hour lecture. Before you get lost in the idea of a 4 hour presentation, let me assure you, it was well worth it. Well, if you were a cop, that is. This course was limited to police officers or those in the military. With virtually zero military references it became pretty apparent, this was geared for law enforcement. Over 4 hours we were introduced to and reminded of police shootings where mistakes were made, either because of poor judgement, lack of adequate lighting, or both. This course was very statistic heavy, which is good because who doesn’t like facts? Wes Doss has a PhD, and it shows. I found myself taking page after page of notes. The section on light output (lumens vs foot candles) was very informative. At the end of the presentation, Wes had a discussion about what gear or caliber is the best. It was a relatively quick talk that began and ended with the idea of reliability being paramount and everything else was preference.
After a short meal break we returned to a rapidly setting sun. Getting our rifles and ammo, we headed to the range. While I will gladly admit that the classroom portion greatly exceeded my expectations, I must be honest when I say that the range portion of the day did not. I’ve taken other low light courses from different commercial firearms companies, and based on those experiences, this low light range was lacking. Maybe it was the short amount of time at the range, but I didn’t leave the range feeling like I had learned much. Again, this is my experience, so I wouldn’t expect everyone else who was there to have the same opinion. The low light drills consisted of courses of fire from the 5, 10, and 15 yard line, with a competition at the end of the class. The first moment of confusion was when Wes instructed all of us to turn off our optics and fold down or back up iron sights, effectively taking our sights away from us. I found this a little odd considering the class was called “Lights, Sights, and Lasers” but I went along with it. The results were exactly what I thought would happen if someone quit using their sights-I couldn’t hold a respectable shot group to save my life. The 5 yard line was decent, but stepping out to 10 and 15 yards was horrible. And I was trying to make this work, I really was. To my understanding, Wes’s theory was that in an ambush type of gunfight, you won’t have time to acquire your sights, so getting used to not using them was preparing you for this type of encounter. Wes is very smart and I have a lot of respect for him, but I completely disagree. I’m a firm believer that you should be making every attempt to use your sights anytime that you can. The range portion ended with a multiple target engagement competition, and the winner went home with some nice prizes.
I learned a lot throughout the day. I learned that most violent encounters will happen in low light conditions. I learned that if you have a weapons mounted light/laser/strobe combo, you will always hit one of those options when you desperately need the other. When you need your light, you will hit the laser and when you need the laser you will hit the strobe. I learned that if you don’t have a light mounted to your long gun you will be considerably slower at getting on target and getting effective shots off than someone who has the light mounted to the gun.
I will say some of the negatives of the course were in the shooting portion, because we didn’t even start shooting until it was completely dark, and Doss usually started the shooting during the day for some of the drills that he had planned for it. Another aspect that I don’t mind so much was that he gave a very lengthy history of how the tour came to be about through the various alliances between companies and this and that. Which was great information, but I would have appreciated more course time and less background time. But for what it was, a free course, I’m certainly not complaining at all.