Cover and Concealment

13. Cover and Concealment

You need cover against return fire. If you don’t have cover you will almost certainly not survive.

  • There is an imaginary line from your target to you. If you take up cover you should not cross that line with your feet or any part of your body. As soon as you do this, you expose yourself. Place your feet on this imaginary line and lean to the side by placing more weight to that side. Remember the smaller portion of your body visible, the better the chances of survival.
  • If you are right-handed you will always shoot around the right-hand side of the cover if offered that opportunity. By shooting around the left-hand side of the cover will expose you more. It will also feel awkward shooting around the left-hand side over cover.

Using cover

In an emergency or armed attack, you need cover against return fire.  Without cover the chances of survival is slim.

How to use cover

People should be trained to evaluate and use cover in a practical and realistic manner.  Changing positions frequently behind cover should be encouraged, whenever feasible, so as to train them to present the most difficult and unpredictable target possible.

 When selecting cover, the position selected must:

  • Allow free use of the firearm in use
  • Provide cover from fire
  • Afford good view

 Types of cover that can be used

  • Low banks and folds in the ground
  • Walls and buildings
  • Vehicles
  • Trenches and trees
  • Kerbs on side of roads
  • Fire hydrants
  • Mailboxes
  • Pillars
  • Use of darkness, misty conditions

A curtain is not good cover.

A plastic drum is not good cover

Moving and firing simultaneously

Shooting while moving is very difficult and dangerous.  Slipping, stumbling or falling can cause an accidental shot with serious consequences.

When moving:

  • Keep the muzzle in a safe direction
  • Move with small steps keeping balance and control
  • Make use of peripheral vision to identify trouble or obstacles


Firing from a barricaded position is an essential part of combat marksmanship. It is a relatively straightforward skill, and easily acquired. As all shooting techniques, however, mastery only comes from extensive practice. Contrary to what is seen on movies, most shooting incidents do not happen at high noon on main street. Common sense dictates that when being shot at the reasonable person will try to find cover from incoming rounds. If withdrawal from the scene is not practical and returning fire is justified, then knowledge of barricade position firing is essential.

The most important part of the barricaded position is being behind the barricade. While this seems a simpleminded thing to say, it is amazing how many times while coaching this technique one sees shooters positioned beside the cover they should be behind.

As this is a combat skill it is important to become a small a target as possible. A good strategy is to adopt a kneeling position behind the item of cover. The kneeling is a good position because it allows quick adoption from standing and it is also quick to get up from. As a general rule the closer your center of balance is to the ground the more inherently accurate a position is. Therefore, the kneeling position is a two-fold better position for return fire than standing, not only for making yourself a smaller target, but also for making your shots more likely to hit your aggressor.

The adaptations from a normal two handed shooting position are simple. The shooter does not use the offhand to give support to the weapon by muscle tension as he would in a traditional manner. Instead the offhand is pressed against the covering object. A much-used method to accomplish this is to make a fist with the thumb extended, in a “thumbs up” sign. Press the pad of the thumb and the last knuckle of the support hand into the barricade. Cradle the firing hand and weapon in the support hand. Make sure that no part of the firearm is touching anything other than your flesh. Contact by the weapon with solid objects causes the weapon to bounce and the round to go off target. The only portions of your body that should be exposed beyond the barricade are your firing hand, and only the amount of your face that is needed to obtain a clear view of the sights, target, and situation. Your arm should be raised enough so that the weapon is brought up to your face, not your face lowered to your sights. It takes practice to enable you to be able to quickly judge the distance needed between your body and cover to allow you to quickly assume the position.

This article is based on the strategies for using a manual operated rifle behind a barricade, but long guns can also use this tactic with superficial modifications.

Instead of using the knuckles of the support hand against the wall the hand should be extended as if making a “stop” sign. Extend the thumb away from the hand. Press your hand against the cover with your index finger flush against the barricade edge. Your thumb should extend past cover like a shelf. Rest the forearm of the firearm on this shelf. All other aspects are similar.

It cannot be stressed how important this technique is in a lethal force situation. It is equally important that this technique is practiced so as to allow a seamless transition into this position.


Rule 1: Train as you fight; Fight how you train

This particular rule is not new or original. It is appropriate for any type of perishable skills training. It comes from the common knowledge that any person under the extreme stress of combat will revert to their training. One of the most regrettable in the history of the badge is the Newhall Incident, where four California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers were massacred by a couple of well-armed felons. It was routine for officers training on the range to put their expended brass in the pocket before reloading. No one can fault the slain Newhall officer who was found with expended brass in his pocket at the scene. We can only speculate that he was responding as he did in practice.

The largest percentage of officer involved shootings occurs after the sun goes down. Agencies should quit practicing under ideal conditions.

Sport shooting is great for recreational practice but there are certain bad habits one can learn. There are certain stages in sport shooting competition where shooters must stay inside of a box outline or constructed of two-by-fours or steel. A well-versed combat shooter would probably stand much further back if the box were not there.

This is not to say sport shooting stages are completely unrealistic. Shooters complete shoot/no shoot stages as fast as possible while running and reloading under time constraints. The artificial box might not always be there, but what if the combat shooter had to shoot within the constraints of a doorway or closet?

Rule 2: Slice in, Slice out

Usually it is better to back up a bit to see more target, rather than bend around the barricade. If the officer has a lot of room behind him, he should use it. Slowly stepping back may give a better perspective. Most importantly, lead with the gun, not the forehead.

Slicing means using angles to see and engage more target while exposing less. Slicing is dynamic — never done mechanically. The decision-making process should drive slicing. A common training error is slicing around the barricade to engage the first time, ducking behind cover for a reload or to work the radio and popping out the second time.

Practicing slicing into a barricade will increase the speed and decision-making process, improving the capabilities of the officer.

Rule 3: Patrol work is moving from cover to cover

Officers should also slice their way to each call. If given the choice of drifting toward an oak and strolling toward the front door of a residence, pick the oak. Officers should keep the tree between them and the greatest perceived threat. After the oak, use the light pole in front of the house, then the doorframe. This practice will augment the secondary cover an officer should always have with him: The vest.

Subtly slicing to each barricade is not hard. One should avoid predictable behavior, like walking down the sidewalk every time. Rather, officers should subtly shift their attention from object to object, prepared to put something solid in front of them.

If the officer is wise enough to slice in and out, he should also be wise enough to use cover as long as possible. That is, one should not be in any great hurry to break from cover. Every experienced officer has an example of the time when a suspect recovered from a severe shock, crash or injury and continued to fight, run or drive. Why break cover when unnecessary?

Practice malfunction drills by training on ducking, communicating and slicing back into the shooting position. This is an excellent partner drill where one officer communicates “cover” while clearing a malfunction. The other covers his partner’s sector until he is back in the fight.

When slicing back into the barricaded position, vary the level of the muzzle. If the suspect knows the officer will reappear in approximately the same position, it is likely he will saturate this area with bullets, or at least watch this region. If the officer appeared at one level initially it may be a good idea to slice in from a kneeling or prone position. Do not expose a body part twice in succession and keep exposure time to a minimum.

There are many sound reasons why an officer should slice back into a shooting position. Officers must have “eyes on” in order to recognize changes in the tactical situation. What if the suspect is armed when the officer last viewed him before he surrendered?

Rule 4: Simple is better

It is better to master a handful of techniques then to be mediocre at dozens of techniques. This training philosophy advocates using the same shooting technique for barricade shooting as static range training or standing unsupported practice.

For the dominant side, shooting with the dominant hand and eye with the opposite foot forward agrees with the largest percentage of Modified Weaver shooters. For the other side, begin the slice with the dominant side.

A cant of the gun toward the centerline of the barricade is normal when using the dominant hand on the support side. For threats one can hit with a thrown rock, concerns over target accuracy, and therefore the tilt of the gun, are academic. This is two eyed spontaneous shooting with visual acuity. This is fighting with a manual operated rifle, not competing for a trophy.

If the officer is firing from prone from the support side using the dominant hand, he will have to cant the firearm. Otherwise, the entire body will be exposed when using a proper firing technique.

If the potential target is close and the likelihood of hits using the support hand is high, switching hands will work. Use the dominant hand to move to the next cover.

This can be quickly applied to shooting while kneeling. If the shooter is in a modified Weaver stance, he can quickly kneel with the support knee forward. One can now use the legs to lean forward or back.

Rule 5: The greatest priority is to create threat stopping hits.

If one needs to use the barricade to steady the shot, use it. Bear in mind that the environment will dictate the shooting condition and officers must prepare for a broad range of contingencies. For example, there may be a shooting situation where it is impossible to shoot with the dominant hand. Another example might be when the officer behind cover is holding a flashlight. This will preclude switching hands.

Rule 6: Do not produce targets of opportunity.

If the shooter places the outside foot forward behind the barricade, it is tactically sound until this practice exposes the kneecap or part of the leg. Do not give the suspect something to shoot.

The barricade also obscures an officer’s vision. An officer may have a good view of the area to the left and right of the barricade but may not be able to see what is directly in front. The best way to overcome this shortcoming is good communication with other officers.

Rule 7: Do not let cover interfere with gear operation.

Touching the barricade can be appropriate at times. The officer may need to put his fist against the cover for a steady shot. An alternate technique is to extend the support hand thumb to touch the barricade. It is inappropriate to rest the heel or slide of the gun on anything. Officers who practice resting their fist will quickly be reminded why patrol gloves should be worn at all times.

Flesh (covered by good patrol gloves), not firearm, should contact the barricade. This will prevent some bouncing while firing. Additionally, a common error is to attempt to bring the face to the sights. It should be the other way around.

Hundreds of police ranges have permanent barricades erected for practice. A percentage of these barricades have bullet holes or streaks from bullets that skimmed their outline. This is from improper application of technique or training deficiency. Proper training will ensure that bullets hit their intended target.

Rule 8: Looking around is better than looking over.

Generally, firing from the top of a barricade is less safe than firing around it. This will expose more of the face, depending on the barricade. Another common mistake is being too close to the barricade. Placing the body shoulder-width or more from the barricade, one can slice into position better.

Rule 9: Sometimes a retreat to cover is bad.

Officers are paid decision makers. Certain shooting situations cannot be governed by rules. In these situations, one must use guidelines. For example, there are some emergency situations where it is expedient to jam the draw then try to outdraw the assailant. In a situation where retreat to cover will not work, the officer may have to close the armed suspect using fire and maneuver.

It is impossible to say when it is appropriate to close in on an armed suspect. It is, however, advantageous to create a hiccup in your adversary’s OODA (Observe Orient Decide Act) loop. If moving to cover causes the officer to turn his back on a suspect, it may not be tactically sound.

14. Night and Low Light Shooting

It is very likely that the security officer will have to use a manual operated rifle during low light situations when defending life and property.  Most attacks on people take place at night whether at home or on the road.  It is essential that the manual operated rifle owner be able to use the manual operated rifle under dark or low light situations. When shooting at night you must remember that you will not be able to see the sights on the firearm.  You might be able to see the vague outline of the manual operated rifle.  So, in this instance, you will have to rely on instinctive shooting.  Instinctive shooting takes place when there is very little time to aim or to apply the fundamentals of shooting.  This is not an easy way of shooting and requires practice.

Practice night shooting in the following manner:

  1. Practice your point of aim:
  2. This is done through dry fire. Stand and face the target.  Draw your weapon and get quick sight alignment.  Practice this over and over.
  3. You will have to do all the fundamentals correctly in order to practice this
  4. Start close to the target and progressively move further away from the target. When mastering this, start to practice with live ammunition in daylight.
  5. With low light shooting use the head lights of a vehicle to replace normal streetlights and other lights one will find in real situations

A good method of learning to shoot at night is to dry shoot in a darkened room.  By freezing in the position, you have taken after pulling the trigger and by having someone turn on the lights, you can see where the shot would have gone.

Where a torch is used, it is advisable to have both the front and rear sights painted with a white dot and bar respectively so that they can be easily seen.

You can do this yourself with model paint.

The danger of using a torch is that you could give your position away to your assailant.  The chances of this happening can be considerably reduced if you adopt the one-handed shooting stance or shoulder point position and hold the torch well away from your body with the free hand.

This can be varied by dropping into the kneeling position, still keeping the torch raised but away from the body.

At close range, where speed is necessary, you can shine the beam from the torch directly at your attacker and try to blind him.  Further back, the illumination of the sights is probably more important, the light from the torch should be directed so that you can see the sights, not the target.  The ability to aim the torch is perhaps, just as important as aiming the firearm, so plenty of practice with both is required.  You may find it better to hold the torch with the thumb placed on the inside and engage the light button with the middle finger.  Flashes of light are directed at the target, not a constant beam, and you must practice changing your position after each shot.

If range facilities are available for night shooting, take extra care, particularly when loading and making safe.  The Range Officer should check the condition of each shooter’s firearm using a torch, before and after shooting.  In the initial stages of shooting without sights, it helps if you freeze in your position after firing and have someone shine a torch on you so that you can check just where your firearm is pointing.  This is of great assistance if you have missed, as you then know what correction has to be made.

While night shooting is probably one of the most difficult aspects of defensive tactical shooting, it can be mastered with an intelligent approach and practice.

15. Rapid Reload for a Manual Operated Rifle or Carbine

     Rapid reload refers to:

To pull back the bolt handle as quick as possible and push it forward again to chamber a new round.

  • Maintain a safe muzzle direction and keep your finger off the trigger.
  • Keep looking at your target.
  • After firing the last round in the firearm, the bolt will stay close.
  • When your ammunition is finished, you will pull the bolt handle back to open the chamber, insert new rounds into the internal magazine, you must be able to do this without looking at your hands.

16. Immediate Action Drills

Whenever a person uses a firearm it can happen that the weapon might fail to fire due to various types of problems e.g. User Malfunctions, Weapon failures, Weapon Stoppages and Ammunition Problems.

The actions that the shootist must take to enable the weapon to start, resume or keep on firing is called immediate action drills.

Whenever a hand machine carbine handler uses the weapon it can happen that the weapon might fail to fire due to various types of problems e.g. user malfunctions, weapon failures, weapon stoppages and ammunition problems. The actions that the shootist must take to enable the weapon to start, resume or keep on firing is called immediate action drills

Hand machine carbine Failures

Dealing with most hand machine carbine failures is the same.  I.e. the same immediate actions are taken.

These actions are:

  • Rack
  • Assess
  • Continue

The actions are executed as follows:


Cycle the slide by pulling the bolt handle back. Tilt the gun slightly in order to get a good grip on the cocking grip and to allow for any cartridge that was stuck to fall out.


Restore sight alignment and assess the situation and check the weapon to see if there are any remaining visible faults.


Continue firing whether on the shooting range or involved in a gunfire exchange or defensive action.

This 3-step immediate action drill will solve most problems.

The following is stoppages and their immediate action drills:

Fail to Fire:

This is when the firing pin hits the primer, but the primer does not start the firing process.

It can be due to a broken firing pin, Misfeed (no cartridge was fed into the chamber) or faulty ammunition.

Drill:   Rack, Assess and Fire

Double Feed:

This is when the magazine presents more than one bullet for the chamber. This will cause the slide to stick and make it difficult to remove the magazine. The drill will be to cock and lock the slide backwards.

Remove the magazine. Cycle the firearm to clear the stoppage. Load the magazine, cycle and continue firing.

This can be prevented by regular maintenance.

Smoke Stack:

The cartridge ejects but is caught by the slide in the ejector opening.   The empty cartridge now stands up like a chimney.

Drill:  Use the weak hand and with the hand open slide the hand along the frame from the front of the frame towards the ejector opening, where the shell is stuck, and hit the shell with the inner side of the hand removing the shell and then rack, Check and Continue

Fail to Chamber:

The cartridge doesn’t enter the chamber properly, so the slide doesn’t close properly. The drill will be to cock and lock the slide backwards.

Remove the magazine. Cycle the firearm to clear the stoppage. Load the magazine, cycle and continue firing.

Fail to Extract:

Normally this happens when the extractor is not functional or when the extractor did not engage the rim of the cartridge properly.  The slide will rack backwards but the round or cartridge will stay in the chamber. Firearm maintenance is critical to prevent this. This is more equipment failure than a stoppage. Make sure that your equipment is in working order.

Drill: Rack, Assess and Fire.

If the problem persists it might be a mechanical failure or broken extractor.

Fail to Eject:

When the firearm discharges and cycle, the cartridge from the chamber fails to eject. The possible causes could be a broken ejector on the frame and the spent case still being in the extractor. In this case, the firearm will try to feed another round from the magazine. This will cause a double feed or failure to feed.

Drill: Rack, Assess and Fire

If the problem persists it might be due to mechanical failure.

Fail to Cycle:

If the firearm fails to complete a full cycle after firing, the possible cause could be faulty ammunition or a broken recoil spring. Another cause could be accumulated dirt.

Drill: Rack, Check and Continue

 17. Mechanical Malfunctions


Possible Causes

Failure to fire

  • Cartridge Misfire
  • Trigger action faulty
  • Firing pin broken or damaged
  • Firearm dirty-hammer action impeded
  • Safety Catch faulty
  • Action not fully closed
  • Hammer faulty

 Failure to eject

  • Ejector broken
  • Extractor broken
  • Cartridge Rim damaged
  • Cartridge corroded or faulty

Action will not close

  • Obstruction or dirt in the chamber Extractor jammed
  • Accumulated dirt obstructing slide movement
  • Damaged slide Broken or faulty recoil spring
  • Incorrect ammunition

Firearm will not Cycle

  • Damaged slide
  • Incorrect assembly
  • Obstruction inside the firearm

User Malfunctions

This is stoppage that is the result of incorrect actions by the handler of the firearm.  This might be actions such as forgetting to load the firearm, forgetting to take the safety catch off before using the firearm and forgetting to load the firearm or to put ammunition in the magazine.

The emphasis is on training.  Regular training will eliminate the chances of making mistakes in an emergency.  Firearms and cartridges are mechanical devices, and they can fail.

If this happens during an emergency, the chance of survival decreases.  The same goes for the handler of the weapon.  If a mistake is made due to lack of training or negligence the results can be disastrous.

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