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Special Agent Survival Tips: Cover vs. Concealment by Derek Smith

You don’t have to be a special agent to know that the first rule of winning a gunfight is to never get shot. Why? Well, getting shot greatly reduces your chances of emerging victorious.

One thing we DID learn as agents is that if you DO get shot, it is not the end, you must (to the best you of your ability) fight through your injury and continue fighting no matter what. Let me tell you, doing that with a bullet hole in you is pretty tough. So, the best way to keep from getting filled full of holes is to place some sort of barrier between you and your attacker.

You have two choices: cover or concealment. One will save you from a bullet and the other won’t. In this article I will tell you which and give you some pointers that can save your life.

First lets define both terms.


Cover is anything that will stop in-coming rounds and gives you the best chance to avoid getting shot. But you need to use cover correctly in order to maximize its protective effects; I will talk about that more in a minute.


Concealment simply hides you from your attacker. It’s better than nothing but it won’t stop bullets.

Don’t be confused by what you see in the movies. A car door is concealment and won’t do anything to protect you; an engine block is cover and can stop a bullet. An interior wall made of sheetrock and paint is concealment and bullets will tear right through them; a brick wall is cover. Bushes and shrub-bery are concealment; a 12-inch tree trunk is cover.

Cover beats concealment any day, and there are some items and locations you should think about using for cover. For instance would you think about getting behind a fire hydrant? It is a good source of cover. We were even taught to lay flat behind a road curb for cover if we had to. You have to use whatever you have available.

If you find yourself in a school or an office a simple steel file cabinet likely won’t stop a bullet, but if that cabinet is filled with paper you might have a chance.

Effectively Using Cover:

When the shit hits the fan and bullets start flying, trust me, you are going to be scared shitless. You can’t let the fear keep you from thinking clearly. That’s why we teach you these things at Fight Fast. So that you can prepare yourself for the possibility. You have to be able to think about what your response will be. You have to train for all possibilities before you find yourself a deadly situation. When someone starts shooting and your adrenaline kicks in you are going to try to hide, but you have to force yourself to find cover.

Another technique we learned as agents is to not press our body tightly up against cover. There are a couple reasons for this. First, you limit your vision and your ability to move. Second, we learned that the bullet could travel down the hard concealment and hit us or we can be injured by fragments of the cover that will be flying around when it is hit by bullets. Instead you should stay back about 3 to 6 feet. This allows you to see well and keeps you from being struck by flying debris. As best you can, conform to the cover. If any part of you that is sticking out it could be shot.

How to Shoot From:

It should not surprise you that in order to take a shot you will need to you must emerge. You mission is to limit your exposure to incoming fire while maximizing your ability to see and engage your target. In law enforcement we call this “rolling” out.

Here is how it is done. Assuming you are a right-handed shooter and you are shooting around the right side of a tall vertical barricade, like the corner of a wall, you should be back 3 to 6 feet from the cover. Your feet should be a bit less than shoulder-width apart. Your right foot should be forward of your left foot and you should acquire your preferred two–handed grip on your firearm. Now “roll” forward with a slight lean to your right. Keep your feet, legs and hips behind the cover. All that should appear around the cover is your firearm and only as much of your head as is required for you to establish a good sight picture. Take the shot (or shots) and return to cover.

You can also do this from a kneeling position. Simply drop down on your left knee and roll forward to emerge from the cover and take the shot. This can be difficult for those with bad knees, so practice before you are forced to try it in battle. This system allows for you to maintain a stable shooting platform but still keep the majority of your body behind cover. Of course, you might have to reposition and change your angle to get a good shot.

To make it work for the other side of the barrier, you will need to reverse your foot position. If you can shoot with your non-dominant hand, you should try that. If you can’t, you might end up being forced to expose a little more of your body in order to get a good sight picture. If you have to… well, you have to. But remember: You should only expose the minimum. Anything you stick out there could be shot off.

Standard law enforcement training demands that you never, ever, emerge from cover in the same place twice in a row. That is, if you are standing and you roll out to take a shot, you should kneel for your next shot. And maybe go prone for your third shot. Then return to standing.

The goal is to ensure that your attacker can’t predict where you will pop out next. Now, this works effectively on a static range with perfect training barriers, but the real world might throw some other problems your way. Adapt. Try to come out in different locations if you can, but if you physically can’t, you’ll have do the best you can with what you have where you are.

What If… ?

The description above is a fine example of using cover if the cover is perfect, the footing is perfect and you are working on a training range that allows you to shoot around all sides of a barricade.

Will everything be perfect in a gunfight? Almost never.

You’ll need to adapt to your surroundings. Apply the basic rules of staying back from the cover, using the angles to your advantage and only exposing the smallest amount of your body to your attacker as possible.

Aside from that, you need to adapt to your cover. You also need to be constantly looking to see if better cover is available. If you are caught on the street and all you have for cover is a fire hydrant, I suggest you get small and use that hydrant as best you can while you look for something better. If all you have is a curb, prone out, return fire if you can and look for better cover.

If you are physically unable to go prone or squat down behind a hydrant, you need to immediately abandon those ideas and get moving. You need to understand your physical limitations and know that any training or any suggestions you get must be contextualized to your physical abilities.

If you can bend, squat or lay down, well then, get out of the way. Movement is not as good as cover, but it is better than nothing. Don’t wait to move; rather, move while you are assessing your options. A gunfight is a dynamic event; do all you can to make yourself a difficult target.

One Last Thing: Keep Thinking!

Self-defense is a thinking person’s game. Yes, a deadly event will be terrifying, but you have a better chance of getting through it alive if you keep your head.

During a training seminar, I watched a video I wish I could find now. It was a gunfight caught on the dashboard camera of a police car. The officer and the criminal were on opposite sides of a 4-foot-tall chain link fence equipped with those plastic privacy slats.

The criminal ducked behind the fence and quickly popped up, firing two shots. The officer moved to the rear of the vehicle, then tried to time his shots to catch the shooter as he popped up to fire. After about three attempts, the officer realized his target was hiding behind plastic slats. He then fired through the fence, hitting the assailant and ending the fight.

Did the officer violate one of the cardinal safety rules because he could not clearly see his target? Technically, yes, but the overriding safety concern allowed for his actions. More importantly, that officer knew the difference between cover and concealment and used that knowledge to his advantage.

There is no way to define all of the options you might face when it comes to employing cover and concealment. Learn the basics and adapt them to your situations. Play the “what if?” game. It could save your life.

Click here for ultra-vicious self defense instruction taught by Derek Smith

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24 thoughts on “Special Agent Survival Tips: Cover vs. Concealment by Derek Smith”

  1. I walk with a metal stick. I’ve lost the rubber end. There are many ways that could be used in a fight, but I hope I’ll never have to fight. I’m a peaceful old lady of ninety.
    But having lived through a war, and later been in the army, I don’t believe all this “sacred human life” stuff they feed the kids today. That might give me an advantage if it came to a “kill or be killed” situation.
    Here in peaceful New Zealand it’s very unlikely that I will get into a fight. A “home invasion” would be another matter. I wouldn’t hesitate to kill if necessary, and leave it to the law to sort it out.

  2. Very good advice, only if fear doesn’t overcome you. Like you said, keep your wits AND your head, literally. Never been in that situation, but I’ll be sure and remember this. Hopefully, if it ever happens.

  3. Really like reading articles like this. Seams so basic but until you think about it then you realize how much you need to learn. Thanks for the insights and information.
    Be trained, Be prepared, Be alert

  4. Great advice. Thank you. Two more cover points on a car are the wheels (the metal part). The rest of the car is not even concealment, Depending on the shooters’ angle, they can see your feet, locate you, and put a round trough any part of the car except the engine block or the wheels.

  5. 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿Being in the UK firearms/shoot-out situation’s, are rare but, If it was to arise I am now a step ahead Thanx🤗 my only experience of firearms is army cadets day out at a 30metre firing range, laying using an SLR, Rifle, 15yrs old. So far not on the receiving end, now I just passed my 50th(29th Anniversary of my 21st😁) very much enjoying, blogs, B.A. Course. 🍀