How to win a gunfight: 8 tips on proper use of cover

Proper use of cover is a critical skill when you come under fire. Train to move, train to take cover and train to win


Getting behind anything that will conceal you, or better yet, stop incoming rounds, dramatically increases your survival rate in a gunfight. However, when you watch officer-involved shooting videos, the use of cover seems to be forgotten and not used too often. This can be due to the effects of stress and/or how officers are trained. Here are some tips on proper use of cover to win a gunfight.

1. Cover vs. barricade

First, differentiate between shooting from behind cover and barricade shooting. At too many ranges you see a post stuck in the ground that officers use to rest their hands and firearm on when they shoot. The problem with this is that a post isn’t wide enough to hide your body from the view of a suspect trying to kill you. The other problem is that when you rest your hands on a barricade, your head and chest will come into view to be shot.

Barricade shooting is a competition technique used to enhance accuracy at distance by supporting the weapon. In a gun fight it causes the following problems:

  • Your weapon telegraphs your position to the suspect and, as a result, could lead to a gun takeaway from an unseen assailant.
  • Resting a semi-automatic pistol on a right-side barricade places the ejection port close to a surface that can create a malfunction when an ejected casing fails to exit or bounces back into the ejection port.
  • Any time a gun goes off an explosion exits the barrel. This creates the potential to have any loose material on your barricade – wall, tree, etc. – blown back into your eyes.
  • If an incoming round strikes your cover that bullet can ricochet. You could find your face and neck on the path of that bullet. The closer to the bullet strike, the closer the bullet travels to the wall.

2. Distance off your cover

A minimum of three feet off your cover is recommended to avoid the above listed problems. This additional distance also provides for a better field of view of your surroundings if you are behind narrow cover like a tree or telephone pole. Additionally, should you pull your round into your cover, the back splatter from the bullet is less likely to injure you if you are farther away from the cover.

Three feet is the suggested minimum. Understand that as long as you have a bullet-resistant barrier between you and the bad guy, you have cover. The only time you want to get close to cover is when your opponent has a height advantage and then you want to get as close as possible.

3. Eyeball and a gun barrel    

By tilting your eye over your shoulder and leaning out from the waist you lead with your eye. If you are shooting around left side cover, put your right foot back to support your weight as you lean. Ideally, the most your assailant should see is an eyeball and a gun barrel as you are shooting.

4. Roll out

You want to lean out from the waist up only far enough for your front sight to be focused on what you want to hit. You don’t need or want to see your entire attacker. Remember, the more you see of them, the more they see of you. Stepping out to shoot is a common mistake that puts more of your body in view.

5. Change position

Movement is critical in a gunfight. While you should stay behind cover, you don’t want to keep coming out from the same predictable spot. Practice shooting from all levels: standing, crouching, squatting and kneeling.

If someone were to take cover, you’d probably expect them to reappear from a standing position. Be unpredictable, change your level.

6. Vertical vs. horizontal

A horizontal line of cover exposes your head more than a vertical line. If you have a choice, e.g., around a car, a vertical line of cover provides more protection.

7. Wear your cover

Body armor is cover. It can go anywhere you can if you wear it.

8. Training for use of cover

On the range, solid cover is heavy, difficult to move and has the potential for ricochets. Using a thick foam target backer simulates cover. It is big enough to hide behind and allows you to practice proper use of and firing from behind cover.

The more often you practice, the more likely you are to perform properly under stress. Use of cover is a critical skill when you come under fire. Train to move, train to take cover, train to win.

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