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Using Cover for Self Defense

Recognizing and properly using cover can save your life.

Using Cover for Self Defense

It’s important to know what will and won’t stop a bullet, as well as how closely you should hug cover depending on circumstances.

Cover can be loosely defined as an object that has the capability of stopping bullets. However, there’s often debate over what is and what isn’t cover. For instance, it’s widely accepted that a large tree or a concrete wall stands a good chance of stopping incoming rounds, but what about a car door, engine block or wheel? What about a fire hydrant?

Proper cover depends on several factors, including the type of bullet fired, the distance and angle involved, as well as the shape of the object being used as cover. While some objects may not completely stop a bullet, they may deflect it or at least slow it down and cause less injury. Therefore, anything you can put between you and someone shooting at you is a good thing.

Practice recognizing cover in the course of your daily routine. If you’re walking down the street, what objects in the vicinity could potentially stop a bullet? A parked car may do the trick. Better yet, could you run around the corner of a building for protection?

What about if you’re indoors? Interior walls aren’t great cover. That said, I’d much rather have one between me and someone shooting at me than to have nothing between us because maybe I’ll get lucky and a stud in the wall will stop a bullet.

At the very least, when there’s a wall between me and the person trying to kill me, his view is obstructed. In such case, the wall is serving as more concealment than cover, but I’ll take it.

Heavy wood furniture makes pretty good cover, as does a thick mattress. A refrigerator can work, too. It’s comparable to the trunk of a car. If it’s empty, the chance of it stopping bullets may be minimal, but if it’s packed with stuff, that stuff can play a significant factor.

Identifying cover is great, but we still have to get to it. If the assailant is not within about double arm’s length, the best way is to get low and sprint directly to cover.

Some instructors advocate running away in a zig-zag pattern, but this tactic leaves you out in the open longer, and there’s a far greater chance of you falling down.

If you’re armed, you may be able to draw as you move to cover. Of course, your movement will depend on the proximity of the threat and your relation to cover. Against a close-quarter threat, getting behind cover may be even more important than immediately drawing your gun. In any case, you won’t have the luxury of drawing and then moving. You must draw while moving.

Once you’re behind cover, you want to maximize its benefit. This will likely require you to crouch, kneel or lie down, which is why it’s so important to practice shooting from these atypical positions. While making the most of available cover is situationally dependent, there are a few general guidelines to consider.

Rather than position yourself directly behind cover, which is the tendency, you’re probably better off backing away from it a few feet. This gives you more room to work, leaves you less vulnerable to rounds that may skip off the object you’re hiding behind, and it widens your field of view so you can keep an eye on the threat.

However, sometimes the best thing you can do is hug cover. When the gunman is in an elevated position, staying back from cover is ill-advised because he can simply shoot over the object you are hiding behind. Staying close to cover also makes sense when an assailant tries to flank you because this takes away his angle and requires him to move farther to shoot you. Of course, this gives you a chance to shoot back.


When returning fire, shooting around cover is usually preferred to shooting over it. The latter is more predictable to the assailant and exposes more of your head. That said, you probably shouldn’t poke your head around the same corner too many times. And resist the temptation of peering around cover if you’re not prepared to shoot.

I recently took a course taught by Clint Smith, and he stressed you lean out from cover to fight—not merely to look. That’s an excellent distinction because if your mindset is only to see what’s happening, you will not be prepared to shoot. However, if you lean out from cover to fight and you see a threat, you’re ready to engage.

Leaning is better than stepping out from cover because it exposes less of your body. When leaning out, be mindful not to flare your elbow, which can telegraph your intent in addition to presenting an unnecessary target to the assailant. This is particularly relevant for a right-handed shooter leaning around the left corner of cover or vice-versa.

When searching around a corner, take a small step with the leg that corresponds to the direction of movement then lean slightly in that direction with your upper body. This enables you to take one “slice of the pie” at a time so you can spot the assailant before he spots you. Make sure your gun is oriented in the direction of the threat, not at the ground or to the sky. Ideally, only your muzzle, a sliver of your face, your hands, and your dominant arm will be visible to the assailant.

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