Cover provides protection from bullets and fragmentation, while concealment provides protection from observation. Some objects only provide concealment, some objects only provide cover, and some objects provide both cover and concealment.
This blog post and other content on this website DOES NOT constitute or form an instructor-student relationship between the author (me) and the reader (you). Online education can only supplement in-person formal instruction, it cannot replace it. It is your responsibility to understand the firearm laws in your area and to follow the Firearms Safety Rules.
The degree to which an object provides cover or concealment depends on what you are being shot at or observed with, respectively. Something that provides cover against 9mm may not provide cover against 7.62 or .50 BMG. Something that provides concealment from unaided human vision may not provide concealment from thermal optics or night vision.
Although this post is entitled Cover and Concealment, effective use of cover will be the main focus of this post. Unless you are talking about camouflage, concealment is fairly straightforward: don’t let them see you.
Types of Cover
As stated previously, not all cover is created equal. Some cover is great ballistic protection from common handgun rounds, but it would not stop rifle rounds. During a gun fight, you will not have the time to test and evaluate what is going to provide you the best cover from your attacker; however, there are objects in our environment that provide better cover than others. Therefore, prior knowledge of what objects provide ample cover could help you make faster decisions, should you ever encounter a situation where you need to find cover.
Inside The Home
Inside the typical residential home or apartment, there are very few objects that would provide effective cover. Both interior and even some exterior walls will not stop bullets, generally speaking.
A 9mm Full Metal Jacket (FMJ) could penetrate multiple residential walls before loosing energy and stopping. Moreover, residential doors and furniture are also not likely to stop a bullet.
Unless you have a large gun safe, a ballistically shielded safe room, or another barrier designed specifically to stop common calibers, do not trust that anything in your home will stop a bullet.
This does not mean that you cannot get creative in providing yourself with cover options. Fore example, a bookshelf full of books could provide enough cover if incoming fire was penetrating through the side of the shelf and needed to penetrate multiple books.
Outside The Home
Depending on where you spend your time outside the home, you may have more options for cover. The key thing to remember when selecting cover is to place as much mass between you and the incoming fire.
Although the majority of standard consumer vehicles will not stop a bullet, there are locations with more mass that might stop a bullet. Just know that using a vehicle for cover in a real life scenario will likely not be as sexy as it appears on YouTube or Hollywood.
For more information on fighting in and around vehicles, check out some of Will Petty’s courses and his interview here.
Worn Cover and Concealment
Though not often categorized as cover, body armor technically fits the definition of cover. Moreover, camouflage is simply worn concealment. Therefore, soldiers and law enforcement basically wear their cover and concealment. This is not to say that proper use of environmental cover and concealment can be ignored, but that it is possible to bring your own.
If you have ever played the arcade game Whack-A-Mole, you understand that the challenge in the game lies in hitting the mole when it pops up out of a randomized hole. If the mole continually popped out of the same hole, the game would be much easier.
Consider this when shooting behind cover. If you continually pop out from the same piece of cover at the same spot, it makes it easier for your attacker to aim their sights at that spot and wait for you to pop out again.
Therefore, do not use the same piece of cover the same way twice in a row.
Timing is probably the hardest element to learn, and must be tested via force on force. By timing, I mean the point at which you pop out from behind cover and the speed with which it is done.
If you move too slow, you will telegraph your location to the enemy when they catch a glimpse of the edge of your body. No matter how well you keep your head, torso, and feet from being overexposed, there are parts of your body that will always precede your eyes, thereby telegraphing your position to a threat before you can see the threat.
On the other hand, if you move too quickly from around cover, your brain cannot process the information fast enough and you might overexpose yourself before realizing there is a threat.
Again, this is not a skill that can be learned by reading a blog post or even on paper or steel targets, this skill must be honed and tested using force on force.
By psychological cover, I am not referring to a tinfoil hat intended to protect you from the aliens. I am referring to the use of concealment as cover.
This may sound ridiculous, but there are videos of shootings showing people shooting around concealment, rather than shooting through it.
One example that comes to mind is of a convenience store shooting between a good guy and a two bad guys. Between them is an ordinary candy shelf that would offer no ballistic protection whatsoever. Nonetheless, both the bad guys and the good guy instinctively shoot over the top of the candy shelf. I searched for the footage but cannot find it.
I am not advocating for you as a good guy to shoot through concealment to hit a bad guy. Depending on the context, this could endanger innocent people. However, if you do not have any good cover in the environment, you might be able to apply the same use of cover principles to a piece of concealment.
Once again, concealment will not stop bullets, but a threat may not realize they can just shoot through concealment to hit you.
Cover Stand-Off is the idea that you do not need to be right next to a piece of cover to use it as cover. In fact, there are many instances where not giving yourself enough stand-off could be detrimental.
One reason is that bullets have a tendency to travel travel along walls if they impact the wall at a certain angle. So, standing too close or leaning against cover could result in these bullets being directed into your body.
Another reason is related to geometry. If you are clearing around a piece of cover while searching for a threat, depending on how close you and the threat are to the piece of cover can dictate who will see who first. The animation below illustrates this point.
Understand that this is an oversimplification of the importance of cover stand-off. In the animation, person A is sucked up into the piece of cover, and as he slowly “pies” around the corner, the threat sees him before person A knows there is a threat. However, person B sees the threat before the threat sees him.
Once again, this is an oversimplification, and there are other important considerations when using cover. There is a point of diminishing returns. If the blue person has too much stand-off, at some point the cover is no longer his. It becomes his opponent’s.
Do not deceive yourself into thinking that simply reading this post or trying these concepts on a steel or paper target can replace force on force training. It cannot. Your use of cover against a steel/paper target will probably not be the same as your use of cover against a living role-player or live aggressor.
I have seen it time and time again with others and myself. You can look good all day long shooting from around cover at paper targets. But once you put on the force-on-force PPE and are up against a human role player, all those smooth skills and tactics on the range go out the window.
Unless you practice and vet your tactics and skills regularly, you cannot trust them.