Flashlights have come a long way in recent years. It wasn’t that long ago that “powerful flashlight” meant one of those foot-long plastic jobs that held 4 D batteries, produced a dim, inconsistent beam of light and weighed about 5 pounds.
Today, we have lithium-ion powered LED tactical flashlights that pump out several times the lumens of the old quadruple-D cannon, weigh about 90% less, are water-resistant and much tougher. All good things as far as hunters are concerned.
But besides the fact that they’re bright and light and water-tight, what are the specific reasons a hunter should always have one of these puppies at the ready?
Reason 1: To scare off animals at night
Once hunted nearly to extinction wolves have made a comeback in recent years (1). It’s to the point now that it’s not all that unusual for hunters to encounter them in remote campsites in Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Michigan and along the northwest coast (2).
But while wolves are on the rebound their near extinction led to a population explosion in coyotes. They can now be found in every state but Hawaii and their numbers are estimated in the 10s of millions. Despite the fact that hundreds of thousands are killed each year they continue to spread (3).
Needless to say coyote encounters have become a commonplace, especially in campsites. And while they don’t pose the kind of threat wolves do they can still be dangerous when they feel cornered.
It’s important that you know how to protect yourself in the event of a wolf attack (4). But even better is preventing a hostile encounter in the first place. A bright tactical flashlight can ward off most animals, including coyotes and wolves, who are naturally averse to human contact anyway.
It’s not quite as cut and dry with bears though. A powerful flashlight might work to temporarily blind them, which could buy you time to escape. But a strobe light is likely to just piss them off and make the situation worse.
As you can see in the video below not even a point blank shotgun blast is necessarily adequate to bring down a charging bear. So a tactical flashlight isn’t going to help you much. Your best defense against bears is bear spray, which is a form of pepper spray and uses basically the same active ingredients.
Reason 2: To save your bacon in an emergency
The nature of the hunt means that hunters typically wind up miles from nowhere. While this can lead to some spectacular nights under the stars, it can also lead to life-threatening situations in the event of injury or severe weather.
Should you incur a serious injury in the back country you’ll be glad you have a powerful tactical flashlight at your disposal. For one thing, it will enable you to bring sufficient light to bear on the wound while you dress it.
Likewise, if you get separated from the rest of your party while hunting, a tactical flashlight may be the best way to draw attention to your position, even over long distances. And if you are isolated by heavy snowfall your flashlight may be the most effective way to alert search parties.
Reason 3: For self-defense
If events of the past couple of years have demonstrated anything it’s that, unfortunately, we don’t all see eye to eye. The need to defend yourself can arise at any time: on the street in your hometown, on the road (5), and even in camp (6).
As such, it’s always good to have an equalizer, or more accurately, a difference maker on your side no matter where you go. The tactical flashlight can be just that.
Most tactical flashlights are the perfect size to wrap your hand around, have textured shafts to ensure a firm grip in all conditions and a scalloped bezel that will turn an assailant’s cheekbone into oatmeal with one determined swing.
It’s not always practical – or legal in many states – to carry a sidearm. In which case the tactical flashlight can be an outstanding, low profile but high rewards alternative. And in case you are wondering, tactical flashlights are legal in all 50 states.
Reason 4: To start a fire
There is a common misconception that LED bulbs run cool all the time. The fact is, that while they don’t get as hot as your typical incandescent bulb (because they don’t produce IR radiation) they nonetheless generate heat (7). And the more lumens the more heat.
With a very high lumen tactical flashlight (say 3,000 lumens or more) all you have to do sometimes to ignite paper or other tinder is to hold the flashlight against the tinder for 30 seconds or so. The video below illustrates that point pretty well.
Reason 5: Illumination
Headlamps can be very useful in helping you navigate the backcountry at night. But because they’re attached to your head they shake a lot and it can be hard to keep them focused squarely on the path ahead.
Tactical flashlights on the other hand are light, typically have embossed texture on the shaft so you can get a nice firm grip, have wrist loops in case you lose your grip and will be easier to keep steady and focused on the trail.
Should you hear something tracking you it’s easier to swing the flashlight around and focus it on the coyote or whatever it happens to be, then it is to do the same with your headlamp. For those who think they don’t need a tactical flashlight because they have a flashlight application on their smartphone, all we can say is; try carrying your smartphone in your hand down the trail at night in the rain.
After decades of design stagnation there have been incredible advances in flashlight technology over the past 20 years. Don’t head out on your next hunt without a high quality tactical flashlight in your pack or clipped to your belt.