Winning Gunfights From Cover
I know most departments still aren’t able to train properly, but the days of standing in a line out in the open and shooting stationary targets without target discretion need to end. To survive and win real world gunfights, we shoot from behind cover or on the way to or from it. There are always exceptions, but your main goal should always be to send accurate fire down range while shooting from behind cover (and not standing out in the open).
Before we talk about how to properly shoot from behind a barricade, I want to make sure everyone understands what proper cover actually is. Proper cover can safely contain the rounds of whatever weapons are being fired at you. A sheetrock wall in your home may make you feel safe, since it conceals your location, but it is not going to contain most bullets. A concrete pillar, however, may provide adequate containment and shield you from any projectiles that strike the pillar. So, before we advocate shooting from behind cover, let’s make sure you always know whether you’re standing behind proper cover or not.
One of the most common and dangerous mistakes when shooting from behind a barricade is the natural tendency to stage ourselves too closely to the barricade. We do this under a deadly force encounter because we do not want to be shot and the closer we are to the barricade, the more protected we feel. The problem is that while it gives us more protection, it also adversely affects several variables that are key to winning a gunfight. And, it can be difficult to pull ourselves away from this dangerous pitfall while we are in fear for our lives.
Let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages of getting sucked up right against our cover:
It reduces downrange visibility and complicates tracking the threat’s location:
The closer we suck up against cover, the more vision we lose of the area where the threat is (was) located. It is very common to have a threat change positions during this time of “battlefield blindness”. Because your face is against your cover, you have no idea what is going on just on the other side of it. A threat can potentially close in on you or move to a flanking position. If they are skilled at moving to your flank, you may never realize they have changed positions until you start taking fire.
It locks your body into a defensive fighting position:
Take a moment to get into your shooting stance and simulate pointing a weapon (use your finger) at a mirror. Can you see how you naturally have at least an arm’s length of distance between you and the mirror? When we are pressed tightly against cover, we cannot extend into this natural shooting position. If our body is pressed tightly against cover, then we have to shoot around the barricade from awkward positions. This can affect our ability to shoot effectively. It can also affect your ability to efficiently handle reloads and clear malfunctions.
It locks your mind into a defensive fighting strategy:
Staying behind cover and avoiding being shot can feel like a good thing to do, but the problem is that this defensive strategy fails to address and stop the threat. While we are glued to cover, the threat can close in or move to a more advantageous position. Because we are not putting accurate fire downrange, the threat is free to do as they choose. Many times people who get pinned down in a cover location end up dying there because they never address and stop the threat. You don’t want to get shot, but you can’t freeze up or allow the opponent to move without any kind of pressure. You need to get accurate rounds downrange in order to stop the threat, or to put them in a defensive position, so you can move to a more advantageous location.
To utilize cover properly, you should back away from it so that you have enough space to get into your natural shooting stance. You don’t need to rest your weapon’s muzzle on the edge of the barricade, although you can do so if you need the stability to make longer shots. Even better, you can step back several feet from the barricade while still using it for cover.
The advantages of putting distance between you and your cover include the following:
It increases downrange visibility and facilitates tracking the threat’s location:
Because you are not pressed up against the barricade, you can face downrange and see what is happening to either side of your cover. You should be able to cover most of your body while still maintaining a visual on your threat. Also, the ability to see to the sides of your cover will better alert you to any movement towards your flank. The further away you are standing from your cover, the better your ability to see the battlefield.
It allows you to find your next position of cover:
Better visibility not only keeps your eyes on the threat area, but it can also give you the ability to find your next position of cover. Whether you are closing in on an assault or retreating from a hot zone, you need to know where you are going before you leave your current position of safety. You don’t want to waste any time having to think or readjust your line of movement while you are out in the open and potentially taking fire.
It allows you to fight from an offensive position:
Having plenty of space between you and your barricade allows you to shoot from your normal shooting stance (whether standing, kneeling or prone). This means you can shoot just as fast and as accurately as you can without the barricade while allowing you to reload and clear malfunctions without losing sight of the threat’s position. And because you have enough space to extend your weapon, you can actually have your weapon up and be on your sights BEFORE you lean around the barricade to shoot. That means no wasted movement of moving around the barricade to shoot, then punching your weapon out, and then getting eyes on your sights. This last detail can give you the edge in a gunfight. Remember to keep as much of your body behind the protection that cover affords. The only thing the threat should see is a small portion of your head from your eyes up and the barrel and sights / optic on your weapon.
It keeps you in an offensive strategy and winning mindset:
I already discussed how getting locked into a defensive mindset can be deadly. Stop thinking about cover as a place to hide from a threat, and think of it more as a protected place from where to shoot. Its purpose is to keep you safer while you address and stop a threat in a gunfight. Because you are in a more aggressive shooting platform, have eyes on the threat, know where your next available cover is located and can put accurate fire downrange, you will be fighting with an offensive and winning mindset. Remember that getting sucked in to hide behind cover is only a temporary point of safety and never forget to address the threat if you are still in an active deadly force encounter.
Professional operators shoot aggressively from behind proper cover, while moving to and from cover, and always maintain an offensive mindset.