Bracken: Night Fighting 101

From Matt Bracken:

Night Fighting 101
by Matt Bracken


Would you like an all-expense-paid week of training at a tier-one tactical shooting academy, taught by a Nationally Famous Big Shot? Would you like to ramp up your “operatorship” a few proficiency levels, but you can’t afford the time or the expense of top-flight training?

Well, I can’t offer you such a free ticket, but I can tell you how to improve your operator skills just as significantly, and it won’t cost you any money or even much of your time. You, yes you, can become a deadly night fighter in your spare time. If you are already a hunter who frequently stalks into position long before dawn, much of this will not be news, but for most folks, undertaking this self-training can make you a much more competent post-SHTF survivor.

How can it be so simple to become an effective night fighter, that it can be taught in a mere essay?

Allow me to explain. In all forms of combat, the warrior who perceives the other first has an enormous advantage. If he is clever, he is able to stay inside his unsuspecting adversary’s OODA loop, before either slipping away undetected or applying the coup, as circumstances dictate. On the other hand, the combatant who sees his enemy second, often gets no second chance. It is better to ambush, than to be ambushed. A lot better! (If you are unfamiliar with Colonel Boyd’s OODA Loop, you should look it up and become familiar with its concepts.)

So how do you become a self-taught deadly warrior of the night? You begin in the daytime. Lay out a walking path through your neighborhood “Area of Operations,” a path with plenty of transitions across all types of urban, suburban and rural terrain. Culverts, gullies, overgrown chain link fences, woods, meadows, railroad tracks, bridges, power line right-of-ways, abandoned commercial properties and fallow fields will be your classroom.

To begin, mark your route every twenty or thirty yards. Small torn rags stuck on fences and tree branches look fairly natural, and won’t be noticed. Walk and crawl through thickets, under fences, over walls, through the doors and windows of closed factories or falling-down barns. Travel your path in daylight both ways, several times. If it’s summer where you are located, dress for bugs, thorns and mud, but stay inconspicuous.

Then come back after dark on a moonlit night. Your mind and memory will already know the route very well, but the darkness will swallow up much that was plainly visible by day, while revealing new folds and textures of light and shadow. Your rag markers will help you to stay on course. You can also blaze a temporary trail with a small bag of baking flour, leaving a white pile at intervals.

Try the path again on an overcast and moonless night. Where you must, use the minimal amount of flashlight necessary. A single-bulb LED powered by a single AA or AAA battery can be filtered and shielded to provide just enough light to avoid tripping. A humble mini-compass with a glowing North arrow can keep you on course. Try difficult terrain with and without the penlight, to understand how night movement in pitch-blackness is still possible, and also to understand its inherent limitations.

Next, try a new route for the first time at night, under the moon. Then return during the day to examine the new path you had first explored in semi-darkness. Did you leave a trail of footprints that a blind man could follow? Finally, explore new routes on overcast moonless nights. The idea is to reach a merger point in your mental processing of various types of terrain as perceived in daylight and in varying degrees of darkness. When you achieve this breakthrough, you will be far above the mass of humanity when it comes to night fighting.

Where it’s appropriate and inconspicuous, bring your tactical white fighting lights, and visible laser aiming devices. If you own any night vision gear or an IR laser, bring them too. Use every tool at your disposal, and learn their best uses and worst limitations. Does your red or green laser light up a quarter-mile of tree branches and other foliage, pointing in a direct line to your position? Does your 200-lumen tactical light serve as a beacon for miles around, while also killing your night vision? (Hint: one-eye-open.) Properly used, tactical lights and lasers can end a fight quickly and successfully, but they must be understood as two-edged swords.


Now that you are becoming an expert at stealthy night movement, initiate some friends and relatives to join your nocturnal habits, and teach them what you have discovered. Their learning curves will be more rapid, because they will benefit from your prior experience on your established land-navigation routes. Teens often take to this like ducks to water. Practice using hand signals, and the least and quietest mouth-to-ear whispering possible to communicate. When you have brought a few buddies up to a certain standard, the highest level of learning can begin. Force-on-force tactical training! “Top Gun,” down on the ground, in the darkness. Man, this is so “tier-one training,” that you should send me loads of money just for giving you this idea. (Or, just buy my novels.)

Since all of your night movement is made in ultra-stealth mode, as silently and invisibly as an Indian (and I mean that in a very admiring way), you will be able to conduct training even in urban and suburban areas. While the placid sheeple in your AO are sleeping, you and your pals shall be creeping, sometimes even right between their houses, (but more on that later).

Okay, on to force-on-force training at night. You will need a few acres or more of mixed terrain where your occasional lights and lasers won’t cause distress. Abandoned commercial property often works well. Or your local woods and fields, or whatever available terrain that you have nearby that combines open areas and areas with limited sight lines such as buildings or woods. Designated roads, fences or streams can signify out-of-bounds.

If you need to keep both hands occupied to “keep it real,” then tape your light or laser to a walking stick, but leave your “M-Forgery” at home. Since you might be sneaking around on land that you don’t own, you might just end the night talking to someone in authority. A light or even a laser you can explain to a corporate security guard or even to Officer Friendly, but a few “deadly high-powered assault rifles,” no way! Plus, going gun free while night training avoids the sticky area of certifying every firearm as perfectly, virginally, ammo-free. No guns, no negligent discharges by gung-ho but careless buddies. But hey, it’s your life, so you decide. Nobody knows your AO and your friends better than you do.


There are many force-on-force scenarios you can cook up or adapt depending on your AO and the number of participants, but this is a simple one to start you off. Two players begin on a time signal at opposite corners of the several-acre site. The boundaries are clearly known to both. Both are given identical marching orders.

“This is your land. Violent prisoners have escaped from a local penitentiary after killing the guards. It’s post-SHTF, so no police are available to search for them, but one dangerous killer has set off an intrusion alarm, and is believed to be roaming on this very property. You have fifteen minutes to find him and light him up, or he will leave this area and invade the home of one of your relatives nearby, and do terrible things there. So if you don’t find him in fifteen minutes, it counts as a loss for you.” (Depending on the terrain, you might want to make this a half-hour period.)

The reasons for the time limit and the rapid rules of engagement (ROE) are to ensure that one or both parties don’t simply go to ground, finding optimal ambush locations, while waiting all night for the other to stumble by. This results in a snooze-fest and no contact. Both players must be put on the trail of the other to ensure that fairly rapid contact is made.

The goal of each player is to move in such a stealthy manner, cleverly using the unique and often-bizarre night terrain of light and shadow, that he will detect the other and slip into an ambush or stalking position. When one player moves into a kill position, after hearing and then seeing the other first, he lights him up at a practical range with his visible laser or white tactical light. You’ll know when you have made a “kill,” and you will know when you have been beaten. That particular game is over. Your pulse will be hammering, your adrenaline will be washing through you, and all of your senses will be supercharged. Debrief, go over lessons learned, and then set the next two players into their starting positions. Change the two adversaries each time, until a clear overall winner emerges.

Sometimes there is an immediate “contact front” by both parties, and a crossfire of lights occurs. That’s okay, because that reflects reality. Both sides wind up with folks shot in a lot of gunfights. All the more reason to practice being even stealthier! Move like a hunter, or a specops point man on patrol deep in enemy territory. Stay in the shadows, inside the tree lines, down in the folds of the terrain, crouching low, or even low crawling when it’s necessary to take advantage of low concealment. Take a few careful steps, and then stop to listen. Slowly pan your head, with your eyes and ears and even your nostrils open as wide as possible, every onboard sensor set on “max input receive.”

If you are always the one who hears an enemy snap a twig way out in the darkness, your early detection can lead to success, victory, and ultimately, to your survival. If you are the one cracking twigs and muttering, while ripping through bramble thickets and tripping over logs, you are probably going to wind up painted in red, green or white light, and in the real world, full of bullet holes. He who detects the other first will, in most cases, prevail. It’s as simple as that. And this is a skill you can teach yourself up to the master level.

At that nationally known gun fighting school, they might have taught you how to change carbine and pistol magazines in nanoseconds while ducking under vehicles and around barricades, while pinging steel plates at all ranges. And that is a very good thing! But that expensive training, and that minute-of-angle fighting rifle made of pure Unobtanium, with the latest and greatest optical sight on the rail, won’t make nearly as much difference to your survival chances as simply learning to detect an enemy before an enemy detects you. And since half of your life is spent while the sun is down, don’t you think you had better become the best night fighter that you can?

Remember, if you don’t patrol it, you don’t own it. If you don’t get out and see what’s happening in your AO after the sun goes down, you could be unaware of a midnight meth lab operating just one field or street over. Or anything else.

Be the master of your day and of your night. Cede no terrain, cede no time, to any person or group wishing you ill. When you have learned to be a master at stealthy night movement, your skills will be so much higher than the average person’s that after dark, you will be like a panther among sheep. Instead of fearing the night, you will relish it as your cloak and your shield.


Now, a few tricks to employ in your AO. These will work by day or night, but they are especially useful at night.

First, create your own secret night gates. These are your private wormholes, and will allow you to disappear and reappear like magic. With a cordless drill, some cheap hardware store hinges (let them get rusty, rusty looks old), and some cheap wood screws (ditto) you can make an invisible door out of two or three planks of a tall vertical board property fence. Put the hardware on the “back” side of the fence, optimally against some concealing shrubbery. If you have any carpentry skills at all, this is a snap. I don’t need to draw a picture, you’ll figure it out.

A vertical strand of a chain link fence can be clipped and removed in a location that is not under much direct observation. Again, concealing shrubbery is your friend. A piece of paracord can knit the breach in the fence back together until you need to use it again. Or a micro-sized block and tackle (also using paracord) can hoist the bottom of a chain link fence high enough to slip below. Lower the fence after your passage, and no one is the wiser.

Tough carpet remnants can be tossed over the barbed wire or razor wire atop a fence, allowing you to climb over without being cut to ribbons. The carpet will probably be stuck in place, so factor that into your plan. Trees next to the fence can both hide the carpet, and offer you an easy method to climb to the top of the fence. Or an old ladder can be installed between two trees right over the fence. There are many other ways to leave hidden passages through, under or over chain link fencing – these are just a few suggestions.

Put your own padlock on a forgotten “permanently chained shut” vehicle gate, or access door or hatch to a utility area. Only one person knows that a key even exists for that “forgotten” lock, and that person is you. Investigate and explore your local storm drains and other infrastructure tunnels. You may have an entire catacomb beneath your feet that you can discover and map now, to use for secret movement later. (Storms drains are often big and clean, and empty except during rainstorms. Wear a bike helmet: you will hit your head.)

Imagine waking up to a police or military “cordon and search” operation around your neighborhood. How would you slip through it? Almost everywhere today, there are lots of empty, abandoned or foreclosed homes. Install some secret gates to get access to these properties and to the home interiors via unlocked backyard windows or doors. Where two empty houses coexist back to back, you can have a permanent secret channel for moving from one street to another while avoiding the intersections where, someday, checkpoints or cameras might be installed.

You can even practice moving across properties while the inhabitants are asleep in their beds, but exercise all due caution. Guard dogs can make your night very interesting indeed. Do motion-activated lights switch on when the wind moves the tree branches? Does anybody ever come out to check? Find out. Are the front, side and back yards quiet sod, or full of hard-to-avoid downed branches or other “loud” shrubbery? Is there an easy place to hop a fence, from either side? Shrubbery along a fence can provide a hidden corridor with complete concealment, while also hiding a secret gate that you have installed. Wire cutters can be put to good use on both wire fences, and branches of bushes that impede your movement. Once you learn safe and quiet routes between occupied or unoccupied homes, incorporate them into your mental night movement map.

The point is to invent creative alternate routes for egress and ingress to your AO without using the normal streets and alleys. In one area, this might involve a homemade wire-rope “hillbilly bridge” across a creek between two stout trees. In another, it might be a vertical urban pathway of fire escape ladders. The point of the night training is also to train your mind to find new and sneaky ways of moving around your area without being detected. Always strive to learn new “bugout routes” and secure hiding places. Only by actively patrolling and reconning your AO, especially at night, will you discover useful concealed routes, safe areas, rendezvous points, locations for caches, and so on.


If you want to become an effective night fighter, and be an asset to your family and your community in the hard times that are coming, you don’t have to wait until you can attend some pricey gun fighting school. Just grab a few different lights, some like-minded buddies, and get outside after dark. A naturally sneaky teenage “ferret” with almost no money for tactical gear or training might become the most valuable player on your home team. If you know an early-rising hunter, beg him to teach you what he knows.

Practice night land navigation, and force-on-force training. You will be well on your way to always being the one who detects the enemy before the enemy detects you.

And that, more than any fancy gun, gadget, or professional training you can buy, is often the very margin between survival and death.

25 responses to “Bracken: Night Fighting 101

  1. Beautiful, Bracken. Thanks for posting, CA.

    Very good stuff.

    I once had a very astute squad leader who made us go out and walk around at night on post, both in built-up areas and in the woods.

    These experiences and lessons, done while our buddies were partying or playing video games, were invaluable.

    Very good stuff here.


  2. It is also wise to consider ALL Law Imposement personnel as OPFOR for each exercise. The fact is they will be the OPFOR variable in each of your training exercises and in the Real-World SHTF scenario. You will do well to avoid giving Johnny Law any reason to leave the comfort of his cruiser or exit the doughnut shop.

    A long time ago, in what seems like another lifetime, we spent so much time in the swamps of Ft. Stewart, that we were more at home there than back at 1276. It is funny how spongy patches of ground, and terrain intervals of less than a foot, can become as familiar as your own true back yard.

    “Lets go fuck with the Legs” wasn’t just harassment, but seen as a training opportunity. We even used to get in their chow lines when they had hot A rations after dark. The same kinds of things can be done, locally, as Matt says.

  3. ah, an underage out after LEO curfew – such memories.

    Do learn to climb chain link – tall ones – and shinny up/down metal poles – and ID electric cow fence b4 the encounter. Every vehicle a potential hostile.

    Own the night.

  4. Semper Fi, 0321

    Nothing like swimming ashore in the middle of the night to get your full undivided attention, or walking the jungle all night with phosphorescent leaves to ruin your night vision. He who can operate at night wins the day.

    Try to understand that most folks won’t go out at night, they’ve never had to and do not understand how to train themselves to SEE at night. Also learn to use your peripheral vision, don’t stare too hard at an object, you lose focus and IT feels it’s being watched. Work as a group to overcome night fear, then trim down team members to where 2-3 of you can learn to operate and run patrols comfortably. Practice noise discipline, it’s what will probably give you away the most. Move slowly and quietly. Tone down skin with camo sticks, in the old days of typewriters, we rubbed down all our exposed skin with carbon paper, worked well in conjunction with our wet suits too. Keep baby wipes handy for quick clean up.

    • Cassandra (of Troy)

      Semper Fi, 0321/20Aug12@01:01,
      RE: “Also learn to use……watched.”

      Both are good points. Decades ago, I was told that if you keep looking at something in very dim light/darkness it’ll become harder to see due to retinal fatigue & that it’s better to look slightly to the side/just above or below the object because those receptors are more sensitive & less prone to failure after long periods of observation. And that bit about the subject’s observation awareness is truer than most’d believe, which is why I learned how to keep a close eye on someone w/o projecting. It’s not all that hard to do if you practice & most successful hunters/snipers do it unknowingly, & having sensitives around to practice on helps a lot. Learning to be sensitive/enhancing one’s innate sensitivity are useful abilities, both have saved my bacon more than once.

      However, after one develops said abilities, one needs to work on reducing the ‘false positive effect’ so as to prevent confusing nervousness/paranoia w/ actual threat. THAT is often the toughest part of the training regimen & when one goes to the 2d phase using all 3 under time/activity/danger stressors, head/eye aches can cause one to give up but it’s important not to. As w/ martial/sexual proficiency, if ya wanna get/stay better ya gotta keep at it.

      Cassandra (of Troy)

  5. Atlas Shrug

    Really Good Info. I’ve done random bits of this myself, but already picked up some great new ideas. Years back a couple of buddies and I had this thing we called “The Late Shift” where we would sneak out in the middle of the night, often drink a beer or two, do a few random silly things (not destructive or bad, just funny silly things like relocate items to strange places), then sneak back into our parent’s homes. Sometimes we would even do projects for class or study. Yeah, days were different when we were in high school…….

    Between the above and hunting I have a decent start, but this motivates me to do more. Thanks Matt!

    Atlas Shrug

    PS Some other excellent pointers are in the old Australian Guerrilla series, now mostly out of print. The Scout is a great one if you can find it.

  6. Dan Knowles

    Excellent training plan, Mr. Bracken, thanks for the info.
    In regards to unoccupied houses and padlocked gates, learn the art of lockpicking. Practice on mock-ups and padlocks bought for that reason only. One of the rules of lock pickers is to never practice on a lock on which you depend for your security.
    An excellent book to start with is “Practical Lockpicking” by Deviant Ollam (yes, that’s really his name!).
    Carry a pair of pruning shears as part of your kit. I live in an area with thorn bushes which resemble tangle foot and night movement will be absurdly slow without em. Like anything, practice using them silently.
    I also keep a heavy set of bolt cutters in my ruck. I like to think that if need be, I can get anywhere I need to without screwing around.
    Buy a balaclava or three. Getting caught with one would be tough to explain, and you don’t want to ditch your only one on a training excercise.
    I read elsewhere someone citing Jeff Cooper knocking the idea of covering your face, likening it to unethical or immoral behavior. As wise as he is on most subjects, his reasoning is behind the times on this. There wil be times when concealing your identity will be necessary, and some neighbors will rat you out if you don’t get tagged by a surveillance camera first.

    Dan Knowles

    • Atlas Shrug

      While not knowing the reference mentioned, methinks the Cooper face covering comment was likely referring to times when Officers of the Law do so. He saw that as not worthy of Peace Officer status, but more like a Ninja up to no good. On that I agree.

      To a free man in opposition to the forces of evil, being unknown and unidentifiable is being a “righteous dude.” Lord knows we need more righteous dudes, so don your balaclavas proudly.

      And Keep Your Powder Dry


      Dan, from what I gather, Cooper’s problem was with law enforcement covering their faces. He may indeed have thought it was unethical or immoral behavior for cops, but what he was really saying was that it was stupid, because someone wearing a mask (in certain environments )is, and should be, a target when someone is defending themselves. Basically he was saying that anyone who shoots a masked person, even if it is a cop, is justified.


      Ooops. Yeah, what Atlas said.

  7. Pingback: Nocturnal Movements « Liberty and Lead

  8. Wear goggles. Or get a stick in your eye.

  9. Cassandra (of Troy)

    Another operational consideration is thermal detection which is often better than NV for target acquisition & is difficult to evade especially if the latest equipment’s used.Some of the gear I’ve seen can accurately ID the make of shoe/boot soles & read fingerprints well enough for LE purposes. The good news for FreeFor is that reasonably priced, reasonably effective, & field tested ‘entry level’ thermal detectors are readily available. Given the Imperium’s tech advantage, FreeFor will need every edge it can get. Defenses against TI as well as spoofing methods for same should also be investigated.

    Cassandra (of Troy)

  10. Great comments, everybody. Cassandra, I didn’t delve into NV tech, including thermal/FLIR etc, because it would require another entire essay. The gist of this “101” essay is to prepare a person to be comfortable operating in the darkness against other folks who might be out prowling around after TSHTF. Countering LE with helos, drones, FLIR etc is beyond the scope of this essay. Keep in mind that at any time, 99.999% of America is NOT being observed by FLIR. Many folks simply give up on mastering what is amazingly effective 99% of the time, because of a 1% threat. Govt forces want to brainwash the masses into a submissive posture, so they like to tout their omniscient surveillance platforms. Sure, once a helo with FLIR is over a suspect, with K-9s on his trail, he’s screwed. But that is such a tiny part of the equation, it’s still extremely worthwhile to become a night fighter with the tools you have, even if they are just a flashlight and wire cutters.

    • Cassandra (of Troy)

      Matt Bracken/21Aug12@07:37,

      Thank you for your response, sir, & I largely agree. If you’d be so kind, what’s your assessment of ‘entry level’ thermal detectors such as the ones currently available for hunters?

      Cassandra (of Troy)

  11. Glenn Allen

    Try some urban exploration. Find old abandoned buildings, sewers, etc and plan an infiltration, get in, get intelligence and get out. great fun and good training.

  12. Charlie Daubitz

    I hate being allergic to poison ivy

    • Rose Reddick

      I am told that there was a tribe of Indians that would bathe in peach leaves with the water as hot as they could stand it, then they could lie in wait in poison ivy, where the enemy would not expect danger from that point. My sister that is studying to be a master herbalist, tells me that peach leaf tea has antibiotic capabilities. Also, Dr. John R. Christopher said that anywhere you find poison ivy near by you will always find hounds tongue, or (I think he said the other antidote was) plantain. If I remember correctly either of these were to be made into a tea to bathe exposed skin with. Thank you for all your Great tips!

  13. Back when I was a Cub Scout leader, I had our den play a game during the big campouts. We had to see how close we could get to the other packs without them seeing us. At night. In the rain. They had as much fun with this as poking the fire and playing with dirt. I also made sure when we walked at night we did not use flashlights like the others. The boys never even thought you could walk around at night without them. Neither did most of the adults.

  14. Cassandra, frankly I have no experience at operating entry level thermal gear. I’m old school, learned the boonie stomping stuff decades ago. Every tool can be handy, to be sure, but don’t let lack of the perfect gear make you give up on perfecting the skills that you can. The point is that at any time, 99.99999% of the world is NOT under minute IR observation.

    • Cassandra (of Troy)

      Matt Bracken/23Aug12@07:53,

      Oh well, notta hugie, just wondering. Gotya solid on the rest, however, & thank you again, sir, for your response.

      Cassandra (of Troy)

  15. Hillbilly Jack

    You can defeat FLIR very cheaply. I have done it, will post the how to later.

    Hillbilly Jack

  16. Hillbilly Jack

    You can defeat FLIR very cheaply. Here’s how most every one has seen the Mylar space blankets. If used correctly they will mask your heat signature. The easiest way is to sandwich a blanket between white cloth with the reverse in a dull OD type of cloth. So what you end up with is a reversible cape. I like to put round grummets on the corners.

    Now how do I know this works? Hand held FLIR cameras have been in use on F.D.s across the country. The ones we had could see the wire thru sheet rock walls; they were so good you could see foot prints across a carpeted floor just from the friction of walking. Hand prints on walls just to give you an idea of the high quality these tools are. Now the test… In a bunk room with no windows block walls the thermostat set down to 60 degrees and pitch black. We could lay out in the middle of the floor covered with the Mylar and a GI blanket over it no signature at all. That is the perfect environment for FLIR to operate.
    As far as cost effective infrared heat detectors I use a Game finder when predator hunting. I have it pointed to my 6 to catch any sneaky coyotes circling behind. Works great for the money. Happy cloaking!

    Hillbilly Jack