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Let There Be Light

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Article first appeared at Shoot Illustrated.

I’m not a proponent of hanging gadgets from that near-perfect home-defense tool called the shotgun, but there’s one exception: a flashlight. My logic goes like this: You’ve got to see your target in order to shoot it, but you need both hands to run the gun, so put a light on your shotgun. It’s incredibly simple and empowering; it’s the same logic African professional hunters employed when they’d duct-tape a Mag-Lite to their Model 12 before “sorting out” a wounded leopard at night. While the proposition sounds mighty frightful—and in reality it’s a darn efficient way of becoming human gift-wrapping ribbon—the light actually gave these guys a millisecond advantage over “Ole Spots” by reflecting the otherwise invisible animal’s eyes as it coiled in the long grass, preparing to spring for the jugular. 

Similarly, a bright light leveled into the eyes of a two-legged attacker can expose and disorient him, giving you a brief advantage. At the very least, it can save you from tripping over a skateboard or shooting a raccoon when you mistake it for felon clambering through the doggie door at midnight. 

Of course, many flashlights can be clamped onto Picatinny rails—or directly on to the barrel with hose clamps or duct tape if you’re on a serious budget—but there are a few flashlight products that, er, shine brighter than the rest. 

SureFire’s DSF Series Fore-end Weaponlight replaces your shotgun’s fore-end to provide an integral, pressure-switch operated, dual-output flashlight that’s brighter than a beacon. Technically, it’s listed at 600 lumens on high; in the real world this means you can see a man from across Soldier Field or its shadowy parking lot. It will certainly cause squinting eyes for any foe in a home-invasion scenario. At 200 lumens, the low output is great for avoiding pitfalls while saving battery life. Models for your Remington 870, Mossberg 500/590, Benelli M2/M4 andWinchester/FNH drop in easily.  No doubt it’s a nice product—likely the finest shotgun light in the world—but it costs $375, more than the price of a brand-new Winchester SXP.

Less bulky and somewhat less-expensive lights are available from SureFire—like the X300 Ultra—but for $300 you’ll also have to add a Picatinny rail to your gun in some fashion. (GGG makes a magazine-tube-mounted rail that works great for this purpose.) This handgun-inspired weaponlight functions by way of a three-way switch that, when positioned smartly with the support hand, can be toggled up or down for continuous light, or pushed forward for brief illumination. 

There are other similar products, including Streamlight’s TLR-1S and variations that perhaps aren’t quite as bright, but cost less. Some of the Streamlight models also have pressure switches that can be installed simply by replacing the light’s tail cap.

One of my favorite shotgun weaponlights, that like the X300 was intended for handguns and therefore requires a rail, is Crimson Trace’s diminutive Rail Master Pro that combines a flashlight with a laser. At 100 lumens, forget about signaling Batman, but for home-defense scenarios this $250 unit is awesome. Plus, it’s so small that you hardly know it’s hanging from the fore-end. 

Likely the niftiest dedicated shotgun light I’ve seen is the S.T.U.D.  from 3T Tactical. The Shotgun Tactical Ultra-Illumination Device is a straightforward, one or two CR123-battery flashlight that has a rotating bezel for on, off and strobe functions. The niftiness about it is that each unit comes with a quick-connect adaptor that replaces your shotgun’s magazine endcap. With the magazine-spring-retaining plug removed, the magazine spring places tension on the light to hold it in place via two machined slot-and-peg cutouts. With a simple push and twist, the light can be removed and used normally as a hand-held, 200-lumen LED flashlight. But when placed in the end of the magazine cap, it directs light exactly where you need it without obstructing vision or altering grip placement. It installs in seconds with a screwdriver. The kit costs $169. I highly recommend it. 

Or, just tape the torch of your choosing to the underside of your shotgun’s barrel.  I know it works, because I’ve used this “midnight shotgun” special to sort out marauding—most likely rabid—skunks from my backyard on more than one occasion.

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