I don’t intend for this to be a substitute for training. It’s on the internet, for crying out loud, so take it for what it cost you. Do your own research and get some quality training. Also, I’m assuming you’ll only use this knowledge for good, and not evil.
I’ve mentioned cover several times in past articles. I think this is an important topic to understand even for people who don’t train to fight with firearms. Think of it like putting on a seatbelt, you just never know when something bad is going to happen.
Let’s define the terms. Cover is defined as something that will stop a bullet. Which bullet? I don’t know. There’s not a practical type of improvised cover that will stop anything someone might be shooting at you, but some options are better than others.
Concealment is anything that will hide you, whether it is a curtain, a bush, a ghillie suit, or whatever. The idea is that it’s hard to hit something that you can’t see. Concealment by itself is not as good as cover, but it’s better than nothing.
Note that a surface can function as both cover and concealment. If your cover has a solid shape and color, and no part of you is sticking out of it, it probably also functions as concealment. Exceptions to this might be bullet resistant glass, or something too small to completely conceal you. Concealment, on the other hand, seems that it is rarely cover. That’s important to remember, and will rightly cause you to feel less secure.
Let’s consider your home. Most of us feel like our houses are our castles, and a somewhat impervious barrier to harm from outside. Most of us live in “stick built” homes made out of a concrete foundation, a skeleton built from studs, siding on the outside, drywall on the inside, and some insulation in the middle. A bullet fired from the outside of your home to the inside will likely pass right through with enough energy left over to cause serious injury. We should assume that the bullet wouldn’t strike a stud. The doors are likewise not likely to stop a bullet.
What parts of our houses can be used as cover? A water heater could be a good choice. I once dumped 20 full auto rounds into a water heater from an FN FAL (the effin’ FAL). That was fun, and yes, they did go through it. The refrigerator is iffy; it really depends on what’s being shot at you. Is there a chance for you to put the foundation between you and your threat? That would be pretty good. If you have several layers of thick, solid wood furniture, that would be better than nothing. A bathtub might stop a round or two, but I wouldn’t really consider it a great fighting position. Do you have a lot of books? They’re very dense and would work surprisingly well.
Let’s venture outside the house. What are there usually a lot of? Cars. You’d think that something made of several pieces of sheet metal would be pretty good. Not really. The place on a car that will work is generally the engine compartment. That’s a nice, thick, solid hunk of metal. It’s just not very big. The classic position to use for cover is to get behind a front tire with the engine directly in between you and your threat. Tires and wheels are the next best thing to the engine, and to use both things together is about the best you can do.
If you’re in a car, get out of it unless you can get away or run over the problem. If you have a threat directly in front of you while you’re driving try to run it over. If you aren’t sure, but have to stop and a potential threat is in front of you, angle the car slightly to the left and turn the wheel hard left, so that when you exit the car (which you should do quickly) the engine is between you and the threat and your front left tire blocks your feet.
Let’s look at what else we can find. Concrete walls, retaining walls, concrete pillars, concrete bases for parking lot lamps, large rocks, ditches, large trees, etc… You have to be creative and aware of what’s around you. Occasionally, take something to the range to see what works.
What else can we use for cover if we can’t find something ideal? How about a curb? It’s not much, but it’s sure better than nothing. You need to be very creative about finding a position that will maximize such small cover.
When you walk around, start looking at your surroundings from a cover standpoint. You should always be aware where your next point of cover is and how you’re going to get there. You’ll start to think creatively about using things that you used to just take for granted.
Now that we know what cover is and we’re actively identifying it as a matter of being awake, how do we use it? Obviously you want to minimize your exposure to your threat. Let’s say we have a four foot tall, 12” thick concrete wall in front of us with a walkway opening to our left. Four feet makes it just about right to lay the rifle on top of it for improvised support, no? No. You’re going to be exposing your upper body from the chest up. You’re giving up a lot of stuff you really need to keep working by doing that.
There was some stuff laying around from Halloween, and I’m still searching for a good dignified look. Or have I found it?
So let’s take it from the side. The opening’s to our left, so we’re good to go just moving to our left and firing back without making any other adjustments right? Not unless you shoot left handed. Taking it right handed means that you’re exposing your entire head and most of your upper body. Sound familiar? The only advantage with that over shooting over the top is that you’re a smaller target and harder to see.
There’s more of me outside cover than before, but it would appear less so if viewed from a distance. The camera angle from above makes me appear as a larger target.
Now let’s try it left handed. You need to expose your left arm and shoulder, and your left eye to shoot back. That’s much better than either of the other options. But how good are you at shooting from either side? Me too. Looks like we just found something else to work on (and you knew this was coming: a future article on off-side shooting).
What else does moving back get you? You sure don’t want your muzzle sticking out into an unknown threat area, where someone you don’t know is there could grab it and disarm you. What if your cover is marginal at stopping the incoming rounds? You want to give the bullets a better chance to miss you as the cover surface alters their flight paths. The other benefit of being back from cover is that it just gives you more room to work in terms of weapons handing and movement.
Being close means your muzzle is poking around a blind corner, you have less room for manipulating your rifle, and you’re a larger target than necessary. Also, this is not cover, but was the best I could do to simulate it under short notice.
Way farther back. Plenty of room, and much smaller to see. Covered just as well (if this were cover).
Every shooting position has a shape, and a profile of cover that will work well with it. I decree this profile the “cover profile”. Think of the cover profile as the height and width of your shooting stance. Every shooting position has a distinct cover profile. I’ll be hitting on cover profile with each new position I cover. You should look at a piece of cover, quickly evaluate its shape, and pick a position that matches it to maximize your stability while making the best use of your cover.
Start to think about cover. Start to recognize it. Get some training. That is all.