Concealment and cover are important concepts that every defensive shooter must know. Simply put, concealment is anything in the environment that prevents your attacker from seeing you. Examples include vegetation, dark shadows, fog, furniture, walls, vehicles and any other conditions or objects that make it difficult or impossible for your attacker to see you, or most of you. It is difficult for an attacker to shoot you if he cannot see you. However concealment will not necessarily make it impossible for you to be shot, since many things that conceal your location will not prevent a bullet from striking you. It is possible that an attacker will detect your presence through sound or motion or some other indicator of your presence. (Those hide and seek skills we spent hours developing as kids can pay off now.) The possibility exists that an attacker may simply make a lucky guess as to your location, has seen you move to a particular spot, or is able to deduce your most likely location.
Concealment is often contrasted with cover. Cover refers to any object that does not allow a bullet to pass through to strike you. An object that provides concealment may or may not provide cover also. Few things, such as thick “bullet proof” glass will provide cover without concealment. (Unless we work in a bank or the neighborhood Stop n’ Rob we probably won’t have that kind of glass nearby.)
Sometimes something that one normally thinks of providing concealment only will provide a slight degree of cover by deflecting a bullet rather than stopping it. Heavy brush or bushes sometimes deflect rounds from their original trajectory without stopping them. I would not recommend relying on this phenomenon for protection!
Cover is never an absolute. The degree of cover that any object provides is variable, depending upon factors such as the material from which it is made and what your opponent is shooting at you. For example, the metal body of a vehicle or a postal mail box may be sufficient to stop most handgun rounds, but still allow rifle rounds to pass straight through. Most so-called “bullet proof vests” share that same trait, being designed to stop common handgun rounds but offering little resistance to high-powered rifle rounds.
The distance from an attacking shooter and the angle from which rounds strike also may affect the effectiveness of cover. The sheet metal that car doors are constructed from offer notoriously little cover from most handgun rounds, and much less from rifle rounds. However bullets lose their energy over distance and a round that carries sufficient energy to penetrate a car door at 10 yards may have insufficient energy to penetrate at 50 yards. This is yet another reason why distance is your friend and the more distance you are able to put between yourself and an attacker, the better. If attacked while in your vehicle, normally the best course of action is to first use the accelerator. (Whoa, at times like that I bet you wish you had gone with the Bugatti and not the Prius.)
Likewise, a round that penetrates easily at a particular distance when striking at a perpendicular or nearly-so angle may have insufficient energy to penetrate when striking at a more glancing angle.
How should one incorporate thinking about concealment, cover and their differences into one’s security plan and training?
First, we ought to realize that much of what we see functioning as “cover” in the movies or on TV would not provide effective cover in the real world. Many old Western cowboy movies show a gunman flipping a saloon table on its side and bullets failing to penetrate it. (Oddly these amazingly strong tables tend to splinter into a dozen pieces during the barroom brawl scene!) Hold on Pardner, in the real world few wooden tables are thick enough to stop most bullets. In the typical house or apartment, generally there are few, if any, areas that provide adequate cover from gunfire. No big surprise there, few houses are designed with the thought of bullets flying around. Plywood and sheetrock provide good concealment, but generally poor cover. Heavy appliances vary in the amount of cover they provide, and again the factors listed above will determine the amount of cover each offers. Rows of books on a shelf, a waterbed (until it leaks out) and the heaviest furniture may provide a degree of cover. But in general, most homes provide little in the way of cover. Of course we can use this knowledge to our advantage. Within our homes we can determine the areas that provide the greatest degree of cover and if possible fight from that area. Additionally, keeping in mind that as responsible shooters we should always be sure of what we are shooting at, still it is possible to shoot an attacker through the concealment they foolishly thought provided cover. If there are neighbors nearby, or family members, or other people present then we must also take their location and the distinction between concealment and cover into account to make sure any shots we fire do not penetrate and unintentionally strike one of these innocent people. Everything I’ve said here applies not only in the home, but anywhere we find ourselves. As a mental exercise we can habitually identify and take note of things offering concealment or cover at any place we are present.
Training ourselves to think about cover and concealment is also important because whenever one is attacked one of our first instincts, even prior to drawing the gun, should be to seek and take cover. If there is no cover within a reasonable distance, then concealment should be sought and taken. Be open-minded in your thinking. Even the minimal cover afford by a street curb may make the difference in saving your life. Are you Paris Hilton? No! Worrying about that muddy water sitting in the street gutter ruining your clothes should not be a consideration when you are protecting your life. Clothes are replaceable, your life is not. (Paris probably has her private security along wherever she goes anyway.)
Mounting one’s defense from behind cover is infinitely preferable to doing it in the open. However if you are caught in the open with no hope of reaching cover or concealment within a brief time, then don’t just stand there, move! Do not allow yourself to become a standing target, make yourself more difficult to hit by moving. If you do reach cover, consider the possibility of moving again, but do not move from cover unless it safe to do so and tactically advantageous.
At any time and place it is possible for us to mentally rehearse how we would respond to a suddenly developing dangerous situation. While standing in line at a store or bank, or walking the dog to the park, it is easy to ask ourselves, “If an attack suddenly started at this time, the nearest concealment is where? Where is the nearest cover?” Make it a habit to mentally be aware of opportunities for cover and concealment during day-to-day activities, so during an actual threatening situation your mind will more likely automatically respond by seeking cover and concealment. Your mental rehearsal ought to include other considerations, such as noting locations of exits or escape routes. Remember, people tend to respond to highly stressful situations in the manner they have trained themselves to respond. Make sure that your autopilot is trained to look for cover!
Finally, our training should incorporate shooting and performing other actions from behind cover. Reloading, clearing a malfunctioning firearm or dialing 911 are actions better performed from a position that provides cover. I will provide more information about shooting and training to shoot from behind in an upcoming post.
In summary: Know the difference between concealment and cover. Train yourself to look for them, and become familiar with the concealment and cover present in the places you are frequently located, such as in your home and work. Make it part of your plan to use them. Above all, seek and take cover whenever possible during an actual attack.
Be safe, and if you have to fight, fight to win!