How to effectively take (or penetrate) cover in a critical incident

Using cover can save your life, so you owe it to yourself to be well-trained in its use

The ultimate goal of any fight is to win.  In a critical incident, one way to increase your odds of survival is to use effective cover. Here are some considerations:

1. When you arrive on a call, survey the nearest available cover and concealment. Identifying your closest cover and concealment as you approach each call will prepare you for quickly moving towards it. Better yet, use the available hiding spots to approach the location, making it harder for a suspect to locate you on arrival.

2. Know the difference between concealment and cover. Concealment will hide you from the view of the attacker but will not stop their weapon. Cover is whatever will stop your opponent’s weapon. Remember, cover doesn’t just apply to gunfire, it applies to anything you can be attacked with, which leads us to our next consideration… 

3. Your opponent’s weapon will determine appropriate cover. Trees may stop handgun and rifle rounds, depending on the type of tree, the distance to the shooter and where on the tree the bullet strikes. Remember that the edges of the tree will be thinner and thus less bullet resistant. The only part of your squad car that will consistently stop gunfire — pistol or rifle — is the engine block. The rest of the car is dependent on the caliber of the weapon and whatever intermediate objects it may strike on its way towards you.

4. The average house provides little cover. Sheet rock construction can be punched through with your fist and will do little to stop a bullet. Keep this in mind and practice shooting through concealment in your training sessions at the range.

5. Limit your exposure. You should be showing no more of your body than is necessary to return fire when using cover. If you rest your hands on a wall, it will provide a good brace for distance shooting, but it will also force more of your head and chest around the end of your cover or concealment.

6. Maintain a minimum of three feet off of your cover. By maintaining a three-foot distance, you avoid the problem of projecting out around your hiding place. Sticking a gun around or over cover gives your position away. The distance also helps protect you from ricochets and back splatter if you accidently shoot your own cover.  Three feet also enables you to have a better view of your surroundings versus being hugged up against a wall two inches from your face. There is an important exception to this rule. If your attacker has a height advantage, you want to get as close to your cover as possible.

7. A vertical line of cover is better than a horizontal line of cover. If you have a choice, a vertical line allows you to lean out while exposing as little of yourself as possible — think eyeball and gun barrel. When using a horizontal line of cover, your head has to come into view before you can see your threat. Tilting the head back and looking down your nose can reduce that profile, but keep in mind that profile is your brain exposed to potentially incoming bullets.

8. Practice, practice, practice. Using cover is a skill just like anything else. When you start tilting your head and body it can affect your concentration and work against your shooting habits. Make shooting from cover one of your primary positions of practice.

9. Understand that bad guys may also use cover. If a suspect took cover behind a wall, are you able to determine if what they are behind is cover or concealment? Have you practiced shooting through a wall if the material is penetrable? If they use cover poorly, have you practiced shooting at the parts that stick out?

10. Know which ammo can penetrate cover. Slugs and buckshot have different penetration capabilities. Does your department allow you to carry both? If so, have you undergone the proper training? You need to be familiar with "select load" — specifically picking the type of rounds you want, cycling out the undesired rounds, and then topping off the magazine with the preferred load.

Using cover can save your life, so you owe it to yourself to be well-trained in its use. The goal of every fight is to win. Cover can turn the tables in your favor.

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