You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Never take a knife to a gunfight.” That’s great advice. Here’s some more good advice that has never reached cliché or an adage status: “Never get into a gunfight unless you have cover.” Understandably, cover might not always be available, but that does not mean you shouldn’t always be looking for it. When you’re beginning to think trouble is close at hand, start looking for cover. Don’t wait until bullets start whizzing by your head.

Before you can find cover, you have to know what cover is. There’s a difference between cover and concealment, and cover can vary depending on what type of weapon you are seeking protection from. Concealment is something that hides you. Cover is something that protects you. Concealment could be cover, but cover might not be concealment.

For example, a curtain in a window could be concealment. It will hide you, but it won’t stop a bullet. Bulletproof glass can be cover. It will not hide you, but it will stop most bullets. Just the same, body armor provides partial cover of your torso. It does not hide you, but it can protect some of you from incoming fire.

The best option is to find cover and concealment that are the same. A good example of something that is both would be a cinderblock wall or a telephone pole. You can hide behind both, and unless the bad guy is shooting some sort of wicked rifle loaded with wicked ammo, you’ll have cover and concealment.

For the most part, cover from handgun fire is about the same, though some handgun bullets will penetrate through some barriers better than others. Of course, in a gunfight, you won’t have time to make a practical evaluation of the gun and ammo your attacker is employing against you. So it’s always best to err on the side of caution and select the most robust cover available.

Keep Your Distance

Advice on different types of cover and the protection they offer could fill a chapter in a book, but we can address how to best use cover relatively easily. Regardless of the cover you have to work with, you need to be behind it. That should be obvious. A big mistake most make, however, is getting too close to the cover, limiting their options and the benefit the cover provides.

Any good defensive handgun training class, like those offered at Gunsite, will teach you the importance and proper use of cover. What a student needs to understand is that cover should not be confused with shooting from behind a barricade. For many years, police officers have been taught how to shoot from around a barricade by using the barricade for support. Sure, you might be in a situation where you can use the cover you’re hiding behind as a shooting support, but that’s something different from maximizing your use of cover.

Let’s use a phone pole as an example. A typical phone pole, from the ground up to about 6 feet high, will be about 12 inches wide. Unless you are a little person, you’ll have trouble hiding behind something 12 inches wide. However, the further behind the phone pole you are, the wider it gets. Well, not really. The phone pole stays the same size, but from the standpoint of the bad guy who is trying to see through it, the area obscured behind the phone pole increases with the distance behind the phone pole.

As the instructors at Gunsite will tell you, humans find comfort in getting right up against the thing they are hiding behind. I’m not a psychologist, but I imagine this feeling of comfort comes from back when we were toddlers. Remember when you snuggled up to your momma or under the covers when you were scared? It’s a natural reaction.

Backing away from your cover allows you to take better advantage of the safe zone it provides. It also provides you with more movement options should the bad guy try to pie around your cover. If that happens you can move to either side, further back, closer to cover or in a combination of those directions. Being back from cover a bit increases your options. If you are right up against cover when the bad guy moves to a position of discovery, you have no options.

This concept remains the same regardless of whether your cover is a telephone pole or a mailbox on the street; whether it is a refrigerator in your kitchen or a car in a parking lot. Give yourself some distance behind the cover you are working with so you will have options to move. How much distance should you allow? As a minimum, keep an arm’s length away from cover.

Gunsite Drills

The lessons you can learn about cover at Gunsite are really just common sense when you think about them. It’s something that savvy hunters have known and employed for years. When stalking an animal, it’s best to hide behind things like trees that are closer to the animal. They conceal more of the area you are moving in, and, if you’re really savvy, you’ll move close to trees that you can slip behind if the animal does peek out.

How can you practice this on the range? Set up some form of cover. For training purposes, it can be concealment since the targets you will be shooting will not be shooting back. Position a target at about 5 yards beyond the cover. Now, go back to about 15 yards and start walking toward the target. Have a training partner blow a whistle or yell, and at the signal move laterally until the cover conceals you from the target.

As you are moving behind cover, you should be reaching for your handgun. Once you have obtained cover and concealment, you can then ease out to the side and engage the target. Just simply lean out to the side with your handgun extended toward the target. As soon as you see the target, line up the sights and squeeze the trigger. Make sure you are not exposing much of your body, and at the same time, make sure you are not going to shoot the cover itself.

Practice shooting from both sides of the cover, and have your training partner give you the signal at various locations along the path toward the target. The signal can even be given after you have walked past the cover by a few feet. In that instance you’ll want to backtrack as you draw your handgun then get behind cover, but make sure that when you do you are at least an arm’s length from it.

If you are ever in a gunfight, you’ll be very glad you have a gun instead of a knife. You’ll also be very, very glad if you have some cover to take advantage of. The lesson here is to make sure you utilize whatever cover you have in the most advantageous way possible. The trick to doing that is not to snuggle up behind it. Keep your distance and you will have a greater chance of surviving in a gunfight.

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