Cover and Shooting from a Barricade


The difference between cover and concealment is simply that cover is some form of solid object through which you cannot be shot, like a solid brick wall.  Concealment on the other hand is something like a dense bush which conceals you but does not afford you any protection.  Shooting around a barricade is rather simple but must be practiced repeatedly to get used to the idea of placing your feet back to front. 


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 centre 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 is based on the strategies for using a pistol 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 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 targets, 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 can’t 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 handgun, not competing for a trophy.

If the officer is firing from prone from the support side using the dominant hand, he will have to can’t 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.

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