USA – -(Ammoland.com)- There is a lot of people, myself included, that believe that a defensive or fighting gun should have a light on it. Sadly, until the Streamlight TL-Racker was released, the real option for a shotgun forend light was the Surefire series of lights that work great but come with a hefty price tag. Instead of having to come off nearly $300 for a shotgun light, the TL-Racker comes in at less than half that.
But the question remains, how much are you giving up by going with the much cheaper TL-Racker over the Surefire DSF-500-590? Turns out that even though some build quality is sacrificed, the TL-Racker more than makes up for it in savings, useability, and light output.
I chose to mount the Streamlight TL-Racker on my well-loved Mossberg 590A1 that I purchased from Palmetto State Armory some years ago. Since getting it I have added an XS Sights Big Dot front bead, a Magpul SGA stock and forend, and more recently added the excellent Aridus Industries OD side-saddle. Now previously I had a super old 630 lumen TLR-1 HL mounted to the Magpul forend but it just flat out wasn't that easy to use.
Replacing the Magpul forend with the Streamlight TL-Racker was the right call for a more useable shotgun weaponlight without breaking the bank. Since I still had the tool from the Magpul forend, I used it to remove the old Magpul SGA forend and install the TL-Racker. Total install time was maybe 5 minutes from clearing the shotgun to loading the last Federal #4 Buck shotshell in the tube.
Some Good, Some Bad
In typical Streamlight fashion, they blew the competing dedicated shotgun lights out of the water with 850-lumens of white light. All of those lumens don't mean much if the light doesn't have the appreciable reach, that comes from candela. Again, Streamlight outdid the current competition and packed 14,000 candelas into the TL-Racker. As a point of comparison, the Surefire DSF weapon light has 250 fewer lumens on high mode and 1,000 less candela.
Runtime for the TL-Racker is 75 minutes on two CR123 batteries, the same as the competing Surefire DSF light. Where the Surefire light edges the TL-Racker out on runtime is when you flip it into low output mode extending its runtime to 180 minutes at 200-lumens. Sure this might not seem like that big of an advantage for most users, but an officer searching a large structure for an armed subject might see an additional 105 minutes before a battery change a huge asset.
Now I am not saying that either light is superior to the other, they have different applications where they shine. This brings me to my first negative observation, the inability to mount the TL-Racker to factory Mossberg 500/590 short-barrel shotguns or the super popular Mossberg Shockwave. Where Surefire includes a spacer to make the light compatible with both 6.75″ and 7.75″ forend tubes, the TL-Racker is limited to only the 7.75″ forend tube preventing use on the Shockwave or factory SBS Mossbergs.
Streamlight did a fantastic job with the ergonomics of the forend. The slight cut out just before the light bezel ensures that the shooter's hand has little chance to travel forward of the light. There is also a nice recess between the light bezel and the bulge to accommodate the magazine tube that allows you to point a finger alongside the forend, a shooting style not uncommon to those that prefer shooting airborne targets with their shotgun.
I tried both finger extended as well as without my finger extended and found that I preferred shooting with my finger extended. Not only did that place my hand in a more natural position, bringing the shotgun on target seemed faster.
Streamlight added some texturing to the portion of the forend to improve grip with wet or dirty hands but if I am entirely honest, I would have preferred it to be more aggressive. I found that on hot days my sweaty hands slipped more than I would have liked making me appreciate the “handstop” I mentioned previously.
The TL-Racker's activation pads are huge when compared to the Surefire DSF and much easier to use. Streamlight used an integrated tape switch that either activates a constant on with a short press or a momentary-on when the pad is held down.
My largest point of contention with the Streamlight TL-Racker is the plastic battery cap. I am entirely happy with the aluminum light bezel as well as the tough nylon body, but the cheap battery cap seems like a huge oversight. I would have liked either an aluminum battery cap or for the injection molded part to have much more aggressive knurling and not had the slot in it.
As you might expect, part of my review process for everything I write up is to look for the ways that ham-fisted Bubba can screw this product up. In the case of the TL-Racker, using a flat blade screwdriver to tighten the battery cap not only allows for the cap to be slightly overtightened but it also damages the slot in the cap. That said, I would normally use a coin, key, or the rim of a shotshell if I felt I needed it tighter than I was able to get it by hand.
Shooting In Low Light Conditions
As you all know, finding a place to shoot in a low-light environment is a giant challenge. Thankfully my local Shoot Point Blank was willing to shut the lights off on one of their ranges so I could get a bunch of lights tested. Huge thanks to the store manager Jamie, the low-light range time was invaluable.
Shooting at 15 yards, the TL Racker did a great job of bathing the target in a ton of light. Even with an old black t-shirt hanging from a cardboard IPSC target in front of the black rubber bullet trap, there was so much light on the target it appeared to damn near glow in the dark.
Mounting the shotgun, flicking the safety off, then activating the light felt very natural and didn't present too many issues. I did run into an issue where I inadvertently hit the activation pad while racking the shotgun once or twice but getting the light back on quickly wasn't an issue.
Once I pushed the t-shirt target out to the max 25-yards on Shoot Point Blank's range, there was some slightly diminished light on the target but still more than enough to positively identify if someone is holding a gun, knife, or a cell phone. Even as I pulled the trigger on round nine in the relatively stagnant air on the indoor range, the TL Racker still had enough power to punch through the smoke and light the target up satisfactorily.
While the image that I was able to get of the t-shirt target at 25-yards seems a bit dim, I assure you that without the light the shirt was completely invisible along with everything else at 25-yards. The image just doesn't do the amount of light put downrange justice.
The Streamlight TL-Racker is a fantastic value if you require a dedicated shotgun weaponlight. Coming in at a street price of around $140, the TL-Racker is less expensive than fitting a TLR-1 HL to your shotgun or even buying a 1″ light mount and dropping something like the Polytac X on the gun somewhere. Add in the convenience of the two large tape switches and it is an easy choice in my opinion.
Shooting my Mossberg 590A1 with the Streamlight TL Racker, I was able to really appreciate the simple light's capabilities and was left with a want to add one to my Remington 870 short barrel shotgun in the future. When I compared it to the much more expensive Surefire DSF's performance, it performed on par with the duty rated DSF forend.
While I didn't love the battery cap, as long as you use a coin, the rim of a shotshell, or even installed the cap hand tight, it isn't going to be an issue. While I think the cap needs improvement it should be fine as long as you use the right tool for the job.
About Patrick R.
Patrick is a firearms enthusiast that values the quest for not only the best possible gear setup but also pragmatic ways to improve his shooting skills across a wide range of disciplines. He values truthful, honest information above all else and had committed to cutting through marketing fluff to deliver the truth. You can find the rest of his work on FirearmRack.com as well as on the YouTube channel Firearm Rack or Instagram at @thepatrickroberts.