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Cover: You Recognize It, but Do You Know What To Do With It?

You know cover can stop a bullet, but can you get to it quickly and be proficient at shooting from behind it?

Cover: You Recognize It, but Do You Know What To Do With It?

Knowing what cover is is the first step. Learning how best to get to it and then how to shoot from it complete the picture.

Most people know about cover, which can be defined as an object capable of stopping incoming bullets, but recognizing what that might be is only one piece of the puzzle. The defensive-minded handgunner should also know how to get to it quickly and be proficient at shooting from behind it—whatever shape it may take.

In a parking lot, the 2-foot high concrete pillar at the base of the light pole would offer considerable protection if you were to kneel down behind it. The concrete wall surrounding the dumpster would stop most bullets and enable you to remain standing, which affords you more mobility.

Vehicles make pretty good cover, too, especially the engine block and wheels. In a more rural area, a large tree or rock could serve as cover. Indoors, heavy furniture may be the only available cover.

Even when there is no cover immediately available, knowing the closest position of cover puts you ahead of the game, allowing you to embark on a well-reasoned sprint to safety, as opposed to running around aimlessly or worse yet, becoming frozen with fear.

Utilizing cover may be as easy as taking a step or two in one direction or another—or it may be more difficult, requiring some fancy footwork or even an all-out sprint.

One tactic that’s taught is to run in a zigzag manner. The rationale here is that your sporadic movement makes it harder for the gunman to get a bead on you.

While this may be true, zigzagging is certainly not the most efficient way to create distance from a threat or get to a position of cover. What’s worse, the hard pivots associated with this type of movement are likely to cause you to slip and fall. If you’re being pursued, that’s all bad.

As an alternative to the zigzag tactic, when cover is more than a few steps away, you’re probably better off simply sprinting to it. Sprinting puts as much distance as possible between you and the threat in the shortest amount time. Moving targets are harder to hit, as are distant targets. By sprinting to cover, you are capitalizing on both of these factors.

When you’re armed, drawing your gun while moving to cover is the preferred response because waiting until after you’ve drawn to move makes you a sitting duck.

However, don’t allow your draw to slow your movement toward cover.  Be sure to practice drawing from a concealing garment while running. It’s one of those tasks that falls into the “easier said than done” category.

Of course, it’s hard to shoot accurately while running. If you want to get offline of the attack and be in a position to immediately return fire, you may opt to stay square to the threat, a position from which it’s harder to get away from, but easier to engage your adversary. This requires dynamic lateral movement.

Dynamic lateral movement involves an explosive push off the ground with the leg opposite the direction you are headed, stepping first with your right foot when moving right and with your left foot when moving left. Taking a sidestep or two can buy you time to draw and get on target. If you need to traverse more distance, turn and run. Sidestepping is too slow to cover any  distance of more than a few feet.


Once you’ve positioned yourself behind cover, you’re still dealing with a deadly threat. If you’re unarmed, keep moving and stay behind cover as much as possible while making your escape. If you’re armed, fighting from behind cover may be your best alternative.

The tendency is to hug cover, to get as close to it as possible. Since cover represents safety, the desire to be right up on it is understandable. In certain instances, such as when facing more than one assailant or even a single assailant attempting to flank you, staying close to cover makes sense.

Same goes for dealing with an assailant who has the high ground. In these situations, hugging cover eliminates your adversary’s angle, thereby affording you better protection. But hugging cover isn’t always the answer.

If you’re too close to the object you’re hiding behind, it can be hard to maneuver. Your peripheral vision is diminished, and you may also be susceptible to bullets that skip off your cover. To overcome these shortcomings, simply back a few feet away from the cover you’re using.

In the dynamics of an armed conflict, you need to constantly evaluate your position in relation to your adversary and available cover then adapt as appropriate. And adapting may require the ability to shoot from atypical positions.

If you’re using a fire hydrant as cover, for example, you need to be able to shoot from a kneeling position. Lying on your side may enable you to shoot from underneath a vehicle while retaining the benefit of the cover provided by the wheel.

If possible, shoot from around as opposed to over the top of cover. It’s less predictable. And when you peek around a corner, make sure you are in position to fire if the situation calls for it.

When shooting around a right corner from a kneeling position, keeping your right knee up will lessen the chance of you falling from behind cover. As a right-handed shooter, shooting around a left corner, you may need to orient your left elbow downward and roll the gun 90 degrees to your left to maximize the protection of cover.

Cover can save your hide in a gunfight. Start evaluating objects in your environment based on their ability to protect you from bullets. Know how to get to cover and be prepared to return fire when you get there.

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