Rifle Combat Lights – Shadowing Comparison of Mount Locations
I recently switched up a weapon light, for an AK-47 of mine. In the process, I observed some issues with shadowing. In particular, I did not like the shadows cast by the barrel/muzzle or the front sight assembly. These observations should apply to any rifle with a large or fixed front sight assembly. Let’s keep it simple by assuming that this would apply to an AR-15 or an AK variant.
I won’t get us bogged down on the pros and cons of whether you should even have a weapon light in the first place, but will state that a weapon light it is certainly worthy of consideration. My position currently is that the civilian operator should have at least one rifle with a decent light, for “social problems.” Many more experienced folks have studied what weapon lights can do in regards to becoming “bullet magnets”, in the course of battle or any related engagement in a dark environment. Note that I said “dark environment”, and not simply “at night.” If you’re in a large urban area where the power is out, or where abandon buildings exist, some buildings can get really dark, even during daylight hours. I’ve seen it first hand while walking in new buildings before they are wired up for power/lighting. Now, back to the shadowing. The shadowing effect is most apparent in the close quarters environment – urban or otherwise – when you are in or near buildings, fences, vehicles, near semi/tractor trailers and the like. Keep in mind, that the lighter colored the surface, the more obvious the shadowing is. My photos were taken up close inside a house with lighter colored paint. Now on to the BEFORE and AFTER.
BEFORE: 9 o’clock mount
• In the first graphic below, I used a typical 100+ lumen combat light (not the 250- 500 lumen monsters of current tac-light fame).
• My old light was attached to a Ultimak Rail, by way of an offset KZ mount
with a 1” diameter clamp ring.
• I had the mount clamped on the forward-most slot available on the Ultimak rail; And the light itself was pushed as far forward in the 1” ring as possible.
• Both the FLASH HIDER and the FRONT SIGHT shapes were cast in the shadowing. I did NOT like this in the least. See bottom, right of photo.
• There was the SIZE of darn shadow. It was ridiculous even at a short distance. It was much worse further away from the wall.
• The glare cast on my front sight was a distraction whether I was looking through the iron sights, or using a red dot sight.
• My son, who snapped the pictures, said “hey, that looks like some sort of the tower on a castle!” If only I HAD a castle…then I would not care what shadows I cast. I would be figuring out what to stock the moat with (insert long “Mwuuuuhaaaaahahahaha” sounds with evil grin here).
AFTER: 6 o’clock mount
• I wanted to use an existing Streamlight TLR-1, which is smaller and lighter.
• Also, not wanting to add a new quad-rail or other rail system, that would look or fit oddly with the Ultimak already over the gas tube, I chose to try a clamp-on mount.
• Yes, I know UTG is not a top-quality choice, but I wanted to test it out before I went with a higher-quality version. It fits perfectly just behind the gas block and the front of the lower hand guard. One thing to watch out for is the UTG single rail version will not allow the cleaning rod to be used at all. The tri-rail version I used, caused some major interference with the cleaning rod. The tri-rail has to be filed down a little otherwise the cleaning rod will fit, but required pliers to remove it.
• The shadow was smaller
• It was located at 12 o’clock
• The glare on my front sight was gone
• The shadow looked a bit like a pointer-finger from the heavens.
I kind of like this. If you want NO SHADOW: Mount the light as close to the muzzle as possible. But this may create other issues of rifle balance, or if you use a breaching flash-hider, would expose the light to impact force. Why would you even care about the shadowing size or pattern? If your front sight assembly casts a large shadow at 3 o-clock (or 9’clock shadow, in the case of a 3 o’clock mount), might you be MISSING information about what is on front of you? This could very well be, especially if you are flicking on your light for a short time.
Here’s an interesting possibility…could a 12 o’clock shadow actually help you in targeting, before you get your eyes on the red dot or optic’s reticle? If your subject matter is in front of a fence or wall (i.e. not using cover or is injured or just plain stupid), could you use the 12 o’clock shadow as a pointer? Maybe, but this effect is negated out in the open. Let’s not forget something that may be obvious: your eyes should be on the target or area of importance, NOT on the shadows, whether you are looking through a rifle optic or not. Just be AWARE of the dark spots in your field of view. When you train in the dark, make some mental notes as to whether an adjustment is necessary for your set-up. Go try out different mount locations while in your garage, long hallways, alley ways, and other areas as your home/apartment/neighborhood dictates. Just don’t scare the neighbors and try this on the outside of your garage door, unless you want some red and blue lights showing up casting shadows of a different sort.
My closing thoughts are this:
1. Mounting a light at 6 o’-clock will eliminate the left and right shadows found with offset mount locations (i.e. 3 or 6 o’clock mounts)
2. Getting the light as far forward as possible may help you.
3. If you had an astute adversary, what could they discern from seeing a flash- hider shadow pattern? If the adversary observed the AK front sight, what would that tell them? Would it matter? To me, the operative standard is to not broadcast what force you are bringing to the fight. I.e. “too much information” (or “TMI”) is not helpful to most people. I encourage you to take notice of your weapon light and what shadow is cast.
Light up the Night and Stay Dangerous!