Cover and Concealment


One of the things I see consistently misunderstood among “tactical” shooters (this includes militia types, police and action shooters, not to mention Hollywood) is the proper use of cover and concealment.  First I need to address what cover and concealment are.  In short, cover is something that will protect you from enemy fire, be it direct or indirect.  Concealment is something that hides you from enemy observation.


Is actually pretty rare in the world.  Most things we think might stop bullets wont.  The best cover in the world is a wall of reinforced concrete with a triple layer of sandbags behind it, but we don’t see that very often.  What will stop a bullet?  Piles of dirt are the best, and a firing position in a ditch, depression or behind a hill is great.  Next to that, concrete or brick walls are good, as are the engine compartments of vehicles (especially large trucks.)  Standard brick walls are okay as are large trees (close to 2 feet plus). Beware, because things will break down after being hit with many rounds.  Also, I am only discussing small arms.  If the enemy has a rocket launcher cover can quickly be turned into concealment.

In a real shootout properly using cover is very important.  Of the things you control it is what has the best chance of keeping you alive.


Concealment is something that prevents an enemy from seeing you, or at least from seeing you completely.  It is not as good as cover, but in keeping an enemy from having a complete sight picture it is far better than standing in the open.  This is especially true if you are constantly relocating (as in a withdrawal,) your enemy doesn’t understand the difference between cover and concealment or they don’t have the ammunition to pour through a soft wall to find you.  Things that could commonly be used as cover include the walls of normal wood frame houses, small trees and foliage or car bodies.

The Trade Off

It is possible to sit in a hardened concrete box surrounded by sandbags. This would be the ultimate cover right?  But when you do someone is going to walk up, open the door and ventilate you.  Using cover has its disadvantages as well.  The more cover/concealment you use the more restricted your field of fire.  You have to expose yourself to fire in order to get at the enemy.  The trick is in using cover for maximum benefit for minimum exposure.

General Rules

1) Fire around cover instead of over it.  When you are over something you are silhouetted against it and this makes it easier for the enemy to see you. This might not be possible along long walls, or maybe the best firing position is blocked or in use.

2) Get back from the cover, this diminishes the enemies ability to see you without seriously limiting your field of fire.  It also makes it easier to move (either to shift locations or to dive for MORE cover) as you don’t have to back away from the cover before moving.

3) Be prepared to move your body to shift fire instead of moving your rifle barrel. This is necessary when behind cover (as you should be.)

4) Master and be prepared to modify the standard shooting positions already discussed.  You might need to lean out to shoot around cover and expose less of your body, or crouch lower than shown in shooting books.

5) In the offense or on the move study the terrain you are moving to.  Have your next location picked out before you “break cover.”

6) In the offense, when breaking cover, try not to move out from or next to cover.  Have a head start.  For example; if you are moving out of a prone position roll away from where you were just at before standing up, if you are moving from behind a building back up and get a head start so you will already be moving fast when you are first exposed.

7) In the defense be aware of the limitations of your field of fire as discussed above.  Make sure that you and any teammates have overlapping fields of fire.

8) In the defense, if at all possible take the time to turn concealment in to cover.  Many things can be knocked together to hold dirt in front and on top of you.  In urban and suburban environments boxes, drawers and pillowcases are ready made sand bags.  Tables and chairs can have dirt piled on to protect from overhead cover.  In rural environments you will probably have to dig and get more creative.  (Note: I’m not a big fan of citizen soldiers planning to dig in to hold ground, but one hour with a small shovel can save your life)



Figure 1: “A” is right “B” is wrong; it is best to be behind cover.  B is fully exposed to people to his right, he can be seen more easily.  A can shift to his left if he needs to engage targets to his right and still be under cover.  If necessary he can quickly dive behind even more cover.


Figure 2: “A” is wrong and “B” is right; when it is necessary to shoot from over cover you still need to be back from it.  B has the ability to dive behind the cover quickly, he can get lower and expose less of his body (his precious head!) and is harder to spot.


Figure 3: “A” is right, “B” and “C” are wrong.  When firing from a doorway or window you should be back, hopefully in the shadows.  A has a larger field of fire with much less exposure.   It is easier to move away from the position because you don’t have to back up. 

Our YouTube vid on shooting from cover

Pictures of Shooting from Cover