Putting something solid —or better yet, something that will slow if not stop the penetration of bullets (cover) between you and the bad guy — is a wise tactical choice. Why then, is the use of cover so frequently ignored by officers in their firearms training? Go to any law enforcement range and watch a qualification course. Chances are that only one stage, if that, will encourage or offer the officer the use of cover. Yes, many deadly assaults occur out in the open. But even in those incidents cover may be within a step or two, and can be gained after you draw or while you’re drawing your pistol, or, for that matter, while you’re shooting. Furthermore, cover should be sought as soon as tactically possible after shots have been fired (bad guys have been known to fake and also have been known to use back up).
The use of cover is a good way to gain and keep the tactical advantage. We will call this “cheating,” and in the context of a gunfight, cheating is good! Dueling (standing at 10 paces as you and your antagonist lob projectiles at each other) is a sure fire way to get yourself killed.
While conducting training for my agency’s detectives, I was astounded as to how many of their techniques fell apart when they, while armed with Simunitions® had to 1) neutralize a threat; 2) from cover, while; 3) getting shot at by a suspect (yours truly) armed with a paintball gun. As I fired paintballs on their positions of cover, they were instructed to make hits on me while minimizing their own exposure. All manner of contortions and positions were assumed, but what won time after time were the following tactics:
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Modify your stance based on the type of cover. This means that if you have narrow cover you must get narrow. Short cover requires you get small. Just get the most that you can behind the cover position. This requires that you practice getting into positions wherein you can properly use cover and accurately fire. You never want to do something for the first time while in a gunfight. This is why we practice and why we must practice using different heights, sizes and types of cover.
Stay at least an arm’s reach away from cover. If you hug your cover position you are limited in your movement and may be hit by secondary projectiles or shrapnel, if bullets hit the surface in front of you. It seems that some people equate being close to cover with safety, but just the opposite is true. Closeness limits your response options and is actually more dangerous.
Don’t quick peek. I was taught the use of the quick peek in officer survival training years ago. It is vastly overrated. The theory is that, with a quick peek, you can find your assailant while minimizing your own exposure. The problem is frequently the quick bob-out-and-back doesn’t let you get enough visual input to see much of anything, and if you do, once you’re behind cover the suspect may move. Also, when peeking, you are in no position to shoot. I had numerous detectives that tried to use this technique repeatedly, only to catch a paintball on their face mask. In training we call this “learning.” On the street we call this “getting shot.”
Be on your sights before exposing yourself from cover. Align the sights behind cover. When you roll out, find the bad guy and place that alignment on the suspect (this is called “sight picture”). Don’t try to move out from cover, then align the sights find the suspect, and make the shot. This takes too much time and exposes you while you’re doing it. Reduce the process by already having the sights aligned.
Roll out. I’ll credit John Farnam with recommending this technique. The idea is to roll your upper body out from cover versus stepping out. It is accomplished by getting a solid base behind cover with one or the other foot forward, and rolling out from the waist. I’ve seen it successfully done with a variety of foot positions.
Shoot around, not over, cover. The exception is long low cover, like a wall where you cannot shoot around. Our eyes are positioned one third of the way down from the top of our heads. When we shoot over cover, we expose a lot of target before we are able to see and return fire. So, shoot around cover by rolling out from the side.
Reload behind cover. If at all possible, do all speed and tactical reloads behind cover, as well as any malfunction clearance drills. You are susceptible to fire while reloading. If cover is available, while not perform these pistol operations while safely ensconced? In my opinion, all malfunction drills should be done behind cover. Think of it—do you really want to be clearing a double feed out in the open while the suspect is busting caps in your direction? Even if your double feed clearance drill is drawing a second gun, wouldn’t this be more safely accomplished from behind cover?
Now that you’ve learned the lessons my officers and I did, go out and practice the use of cover. As you go through your daily routine, be cover conscious. Work around your house, car or other points of cover. Use Airsoft or Simunitions® for a safe force-on-force training exercise. While on the range, increase the amount of practice in which you use cover, move to cover, and shoot while moving to cover. While doing simulation training, if you have a bad guy role player armed with a marking cartridge pistol ready to tag you if you give him or her the chance, I guarantee you’ll approach the use of cover with a little bit more realism and not like some TV detective.