A very effective way to teach the differences between cover and concealment (and how each can be successfully used) is to answer the questions of “What?,” “How?” and “Why?” as the information is being shared and the practical exercises are being performed.

Providing the standard definitions of cover and concealment — along with the exceptions and provisos that go with each — will help a student make a quick assessment and decision regarding what is most applicable to his or her current situation.

What Is Cover?

Cover, in general terms, means positioning oneself behind an object that will obscure one’s presence and effectively protect against an adversary’s incoming fire. The consideration, however, must be whether we know the power and penetration ability of the armament in play. Adequate cover from a pistol may not be adequate under the same circumstances when the fire in question is coming from a rifle. The general idea of cover is to opt for that which is most readily available and which provides the greatest amount of protection.

An example would be a large tree as opposed to a parked car. Both may obscure a person’s presence from an attacker, but, in almost every case, the tree will do a better job overall in stopping incoming rounds from reaching the covered person’s position than a car will. To put it as simply as possible, cover stops bullets.

What Is Concealment?

Concealment can be described as a hiding place to obscure a person’s position, and it is similar to cover but lacks the benefit of ballistic protection. This is certainly better than being completely exposed and, in some cases, may even be advantageous in that it allows the engagement of an identified target through the concealment without affecting the ballistic capabilities of the shot taken.

On a fundamental level, knowing the difference between cover and concealment, as well as what in your immediate environment presents the best options for protection from incoming rounds, is a significant advantage in a gunfight. Avail yourself of it.

Hugging cover actually causes a person to expose more of his or her body and gun when returning fire on an attacker. Extending the gun or parts of the body past the cover puts both at unnecessary risk of loss or injury.

Don’t Tip Your Mitt

Knowing how to use the available cover or concealment in the most effective manner is another matter unto itself. A natural response for using cover or concealment is to get as close to the object of perceived protection as possible. However, looking a little deeper into the subject, that might not be the best option. Doing so limits mobility, which is a hard negative in an ongoing gunfight. Perhaps more importantly, hugging cover actually causes a person to expose more of his or her body and gun when returning fire on an attacker. Extending the gun or parts of the body past the cover puts both at unnecessary risk of loss or injury.

Bringing It to the Range

A simple drill to drive the point home is to have each student — one at a time, with an inert gun — position himself or herself behind a cover object, with the rest of the students at arbitrary distances (say 40 or 50 feet) downrange. Have the student point the inert gun downrange and call out which individual he or she is pointing at, letting each of those individuals see how much a person behind cover exposes himself or herself in order to be able to advance fire in a particular direction.

Repeat the drill, this time directing the student behind cover to create an arm’s length distance (approximately 3 feet) from the object of cover.

It becomes very apparent as each student takes his or her turn that the distance created behind cover exposes a smaller target for an attcker to engage. Increased distance offers a higher degree of protection and minimized exposure. Additional exercises may be implemented with the students positioned at even greater distances behind cover to show that maintaining distance from the cover object is a decided advantage over hugging it.

Too Close for Comfort

Another consideration is minimizing injuries inflicted by ricochets or flying debris from near misses. Distance from the cover or impact points of incoming projectiles decreases the likelihood of injury from errant flying objects.

Although there are exceptions to every rule, a good starting point is to maintain a minimum of an arm’s length distance from the object providing cover for adequate protection from being seen or being hit by direct fire or debris caused by near misses.

Distance from cover gives the advantage of a lesser likelihood of being seen or hit.

Lean Times?

In the last edition of Instructor’s Corner, we discussed improvised positions, which are particularly important when taking cover or finding concealment in a dangerous environment. Regardless of the position taken behind cover or concealment, the same principles apply. Distance from cover gives the advantage of a lesser likelihood of being seen or hit.

It could be argued that using cover as a rest to aid in the accuracy of delivered fire is a positive consideration, which is a valid point, but, in most cases, it compromises the safety provided by distance from the cover object. If time and circumstances permit, it’s beneficial to have students shoot for accuracy while resting on cover as opposed to shooting for accuracy from behind cover without the benefit of a rest. The results are often surprising in that students often shoot as well or better without the benefit of a rest.

Good Habits

In teaching the use of cover and concealment, it is important to establish the definitions and variables of each in the environments in which the students live. Given the guidelines of each and the benefits of distance (combined with the basic tenets of stabilizing the muzzle on the target and operating the trigger without affecting the muzzle), good habits will be created.

Those good habits will enable students to make good and speedy decisions in high-stress environments, where the proper use of cover and concealment provides a distinct tactical advantage. Most importantly, that knowledge will increase their chances of returning home uninjured if they’re ever unlucky enough to have to press it into service.