COVER AND CONCEALMENT! Understanding and Utilizing These Tactical Basics! | Law Enforcement & Security Consulting

The year was 1863; December 13th, the setting is Fredericksburg, Virginia. The bloodiest ground in North America is where one of the most valuable lessons on cover and concealment was learned. There, the union, preparing to cross the Rappahannock River. This was a planned attack on the city where 75,000 confederate soldiers sat on a line of hills to the left in particular, an area known as Marye’s Heights.

On the hill four lines of rifleman waited behind the stone wall that ran along the base of the hill and when the Union crossed, the confederate soldiers laid down storm of lead. The wall was charged brigade after brigade by Union soldiers. Fourteen assaults were beaten back. It was suicide those that witnessed and participated said; 9,000 Union men fell before confederate guns.

A major defeat to the Union in the Civil War and although there were several strategic, tactical, and human errors made in this battle, great credit must be given to confederate positioning on the high ground and the stone wall that ran along Marye’s Heights.

Colonel Samuel Zook of Winfield Hancock’s 2nd Corps walked among the bodies that night after leading one of the many failed charges. In a letter to his wife, he offered, “I never realized before what war was. I never before felt so horribly since I was born. To see men dashed to pieces by shot and torn into shreds by shells during the heat and crash of battle is bad enough God knows, but to walk alone amongst slaughtered brave in the “still small hours” of the night would make the bravest man living “blue”. God grant I may never have to repeat my last night’s experience.”

Cover and concealment, and the position of advantage are the valuable lessons learned in this battle and many, many more, throughout the history of warfare. Valuable lessons were learned but are still greatly miss-understood and miss-used by many in law enforcement, security, and in the protection professional occupations. This article will discuss what cover and concealment is what it is not, how to use it to your advantage defensively and offensively in tactical situations.

“God grant I may never have to repeat my last night’s experiences.” ~Colonel Samuel Cook; Mistakes made in a time when the philosophy of warfare was to mass troops and send them straight on face to face with the adversary no matter what the odds and though great credit should and has been given to the great leaders of this time in history. So why is it we still do not understand the concept of taking advantage of knowing when to fight and when not to fight? Sun Tzu said; “Victory comes from knowing when to attack and when to avoid battle” and “Position yourself where you cannot lose.” Key concepts that should be deeply understood by all protection professionals in this modern day world where violent crime still stains the streets with blood day in and day out across this country.

It is my belief that too many in our chosen fields do not understand the tactical concepts of cover and concealment. In other words, what their advantages and disadvantages are in a given set of circumstances. What is and isn’t cover? What is concealment? When do we move in to take advantage or when do we sit still to take advantage? How do we approach a situation strategically and tactically to surprise and take the initiative in a given situation.


First let’s talk about tactics and what they are? “In tactics, the most important thing is not whether you go left or right, but why you go left or right.” ~A. M. Gray

The United States Marine Corps defines tactics as “the art and science of winning engagements and battles”. Tactics refers to the concepts and methods we use to accomplish a particular objective in either conflict or operations (other than conflict such as natural disasters or other natural or manmade incidents we respond to). Tactics are both an art and a science. This is important to understand. The science of tactics is the easiest part in my view to teach and learn through hard work. The science of tactics encompasses the methods we teach: 4 or 8 man stack, the diamond formation, slow and deliberate entries verses dynamic entries, driver side or passenger side approach during an unknown risk vehicle stops or Felony stops procedures on a known high risk stop. Also, tactics are cover and concealment as is tactical communications, the reactionary gap and relative positioning. These are just a few tactics taught and can be considered the science of tactics.

The art of tactics is knowing which ones to use, when to use them, and whether or not you stick strictly to the way you were taught or have the tactical decision making ability to deviate from the orthodox (traditional) or adjust to the unorthodox (non-traditional way) on your own. This is based on what it is the tactical situation is telling you at the time you are there in the mix and it makes good tactical sense to adjust your tactics putting you and others with you in a win situation.

You see the tactical arena is a dynamic, ever-changing environment. The complexity of this environment makes conflict chaotic and unpredictable. The art of tactics is being able to take the science of tactics (the basic and complex methods taught) and adjust them based on the tactical situation so that they work. Tactics are meant to be mixed and used based on circumstances you are in. They are meant to be flexible (not strictly adhered to) in every set of circumstances. This of course, is based on how you work single officers with back-up units, security officers on a post, or if you work on a tactical team. Teams must work in sync with one another and therefore must in most cases (although there are exceptions) stay within the strict confines of how they train. Individuals can be more flexible based on the circumstances. Communication is another critical element that allows you flexibility of movement. Tactics are based on the probabilistic view of combat. We must be able to cope with uncertainty and operate in an ever-changing combat environment. We must be flexible and responsive to changes in the situation. There are no fixed rules that can be applied automatically, and every situation is different. As one tactics manual put it more than half a century ago: “The leader who frantically strives to remember what someone else did in some slightly similar situation has already set his feet on a well-traveled road to ruin.”

Having in mind that tactics are both an art and science, what is it about cover and concealment that can help us gain an advantage? What are they exactly and how do we use these seemingly basic concepts effectively so that we can win in any given situation?

Cover and Concealment

The use of cover and concealment is critical to an officer’s survival of an armed deadly force confrontation. It is also critical to the every day survival of officers in daily operations. Cover is an obstacle that our adversary cannot shoot through. Concealment on the other hand is an obstacle that an adversary could shoot through but hides our exact location. Cover is usually concealment but not always. The bulletproof glass (at a bank or police station for example) is cover and will stop bullets, but you can clearly see through them. The sheetrock walls in most residences prevent vision but have little effect on gunfire. Most ammunition will penetrate sheetrock like it was paper.

It is crucial to understand the difference between cover and concealment and the advantages of both principles. Cover again is anything solid that offers ballistic protection. That means if you are behind it and bullets are fired at it they will not penetrate. Concealment is anything that hides your presence from the adversary. Cover is a concrete wall while concealment is darkness. The concrete wall will stop most small arms fire. Darkness will allow you to hide but it will not stop anything.

Cover may be used during a shots fired deadly force encounter to prevent you from getting shot. Concealment may be used prior to and during a fight deceive your adversary about your whereabouts. It will provide a base from which you can have the element of surprise and launch your tactical plan.

Unless trained otherwise there is a tendency to crowd cover, nearly touching the wall or other object with the shoulder and bring the muzzle to the upright position near the face pointed towards the sky. Crowding cover puts the shooter at several disadvantages.

  1. It prevents the shooter from being in a position to quickly fire at a threat when seen past cover. The gun is not in the ready or shooting position therefore delaying the shot, which could be critical.
  2. It limits your ability to move and turn towards a threat.
  3. It increases the chance of being struck by a bullet fired by the adversary that has bounced off of the cover, like a concrete wall.
  4. It lends itself to extending the gun beyond the cover in to an area not yet observed by you. A person in that area could make a grab for your firearm and disarm you.
  5. Holding the muzzle near the face puts you into a position in which the muzzle can be driven back into the face with potentially deadly results. Holding the gun in front of the face also obstructs your view.
  6. There is a tendency, due to past training, to lean on the cover to steady the gun. This has two disadvantages. First, when removed from the controlled range environment, it may be difficult to determine whether an object is merely cover or concealment. Secondly with semi-automatics so common today in law-enforcement there is a strong possibility of a malfunction being caused by steadying the firearm with the cover? The slide may hit the cover or the spent cartridge may not clear the firearm.

Under almost all situations, a better choice when using cover involves keeping you a little more than an arms length away (or more) from the cover in the combat ready position, depending on the circumstances. This should entirely solve the problems previously discussed.

  1. The adversary can now be fired upon since the weapon is in the proper ready position, which allows for quick target acquisition.
  2. Since you are not crowded against the cover, standard-pivoting techniques can be used, to defend against threats from other directions.
  3. There is enough room for ricocheting bullets to pass between the cover and you since again the ricocheting rounds tend to stay close and travel along the surface they ricocheted off of.
  4. It keeps the gun from being extended into an area where it could be snatched from you.
  5. Because the firearm is in the ready position, it keeps the muzzle in a safe position that does not obstruct your vision or view of the danger area.
  6. You cannot lean on cover from an arms length away or greater distance.

To actually use cover there are a few proven techniques that work to allow you to move from behind cover to clear danger areas such as rooms, halls, or any other blind spots in which an adversary could be hiding or laying in wait. This article will focus on buildings and open terrain. The use of vehicles as cover and concealment, advantages and disadvantages, will be discussed separately in an upcoming article.


Before we enter a room we must rely on clearing the room visually with as little exposure as possible before affecting an entry. One of the techniques used to assist in visual room clearing is the quick peek. The quick peek is based on the action versus reaction principal. The quick peek is performed or executed as rapidly as possible with only enough of the head (one eye) to determine the subject’s location in the room. If it is necessary to repeat the quick peek, you should peek from a different level (a high or low position). By placing the hand closest to the wall against the wall you can limit your penetration and push against it to quickly withdraw your head from the room.


Visual leverage or (slicing the pie) as it is commonly referred to, is another method of visually clearing danger areas from behind cover. This technique can be used by a lone officer or a two man team. The further you are away from the corner of a wall, door, or anything that is cover will allow you to see more sooner than an individual who is located closer to the edge of that corner. This means that an officer who is able to create distance between him and a corner will spot the adversary against the wall waiting in ambush before the adversary can get a visual on the officer. This leaves several advantages to the officer.

  1. The officer may quietly move back to his last covered and concealed position and negotiate surrender.
  2. He may lower his profile and cover the danger point and order the adversary out with hands up.
  3. He may step around the corner quickly covering or engaging the adversary.

When slicing the pie, movement is oblique to the officer facing the threat or danger area. Initially a normal side step toward the desired direction of movement is taken and when feet are firmly planted, the officer slowly leans his upper body and head over and scans the area. The gun is up in the combat ready position, muzzle just below eye level. The officer looks up and down as well as laterally. This slow, incremental movement is continued until the subject is located. The majority of rooms can be cleared in this manner except for its near corners.


The tactical mirror is an outstanding tool for negotiating and clearing danger areas. When used properly the mirror could save your life. With the use of mirrors, movement will be slow and methodical with maximum emphasis on the use of existing cover and concealment. The person who operates the mirror will need








: The mirror operator looks and listens for the following:

  1. Hostile persons
  2. Movement
  3. Signs of recent occupancy
  4. Anything out of place
  5. Danger areas
  6. Obstacles

Prior to mirroring a room the mirror operator will need security and the mirror operator will work from a low profile position between the cover man and the wall. You will need at least two officers to operate a mirror effectively (the mirror operator and a cover man). Once the mirror operator withdraws, the cover man will immediately fill the vacated position. The cover man must cover and not let his attention be drawn to the mirror.

The mirror operator should only penetrate the room with enough of the mirror to gain visual access to the room. Unless it is necessary, do not extend the mirror deep into the room. Starting at ground level, the operator inspects and clears the following.

  1. Immediate threat area
  2. Rooms center and far walls
  3. Near corners
  4. Far corners

With the mirror elevated, check on top of furniture in the room for anyone lying on it. If there is no one in the room, the mirror operator should indicate, “CLEAR.” If the room is occupied the mirror operator should indicate which side of the room contains the threat or danger area.

If the mirror operator encounters a person in the room, he will give commands to take control of the subject. The subject can be placed in the center of the room, with his back to the door and proned out. The arrest team or arresting officer can then move in if the rest of the room has been cleared. The subject could also be backed out the door to the arrest team. The mirror operator has the subject interlock his fingers so they can be observed with the mirror. The subject is ordered to do a 360-degree turn to check for concealed weapons. If a firearm or other weapon is seen the mirror man will indicate what type of weapon the subject has. The subject is told not to touch the weapon or he will be considered a deadly threat and be shot. With the subjects eyes looking at the mirror, ask him if there is anyone else in the room or any other threats. You will be able to read his facial expression when he responds.

If the subject is non-compliant and does not respond to your commands, one or more of the following options may be used in an effort to apprehend the subject.

  1. Negotiate
  2. Use less lethal weapons
  3. Send in K-9
  4. Employ chemical agents
  5. Introduce diversion and make entry

Remember the mirror can be used to check out hallways, stairways, attics, and crawl spaces as well as under furniture and other areas of dead space not visible to the naked eye with out leaving cover and exposing oneself. It can also be used to redirect light into areas not visually accessible. The mirror again is a great tool for your survival and there are several sizes from several feet down to and including pocket mirrors for individual officers to carry.


When shooting from behind cover, the goal is to expose as little of you as possible. You need to use a roll out technique so that the only things exposed are your gun muzzle and your eye. To roll out you can cant your weapon on an angle up to 90% to the side over cover you are shooting from. Now you can roll out with much less exposure than if you were holding the firearm the standard way.

Shooting around cover is preferable to shooting over it. Do not; use cover to brace your firearm unless the target is a great distance away. Bracing the firearm on cover can create malfunctions of the weapon. Remember not to crowd cover but to be at least an arms length away to prevent ricochets from hitting you and preventing your firearm from being grabbed. The instant you clear your cover you must be able to shoot if necessary. You must learn the different shooting positions that will allow you to fully use your cover. You must be able to adapt to the cover available, for example; if the cover available is a street curb or rim of a car, you would need to use the prone position. It is very important to be able to adapt yourself to the cover available.


What if there is no cover available at your present environment. The bottom line when no cover is available you must use all your tactical knowledge to give yourself the advantage. Simple movement is critical and gives you at least some advantage in advancing your position to win. Simple rule to remember is action is faster than reaction if you move your adversary has to make adjustments. Through your good training and continued practice you will gain the upper hand and win.

What about terrain as a form of both cover and concealment when nothing obvious is available? Not just hills and brush but think micro-terrain, that small little divot in the ground that can get you low enough to either avoid being seen or it takes you out of an adversaries view just long enough for you to take advantage. Psychologically, un-trained individuals will not shoot at what they can not see. This is not a strict rule to depend on when life and death are on the line but it could give you just enough time to make the adjustments necessary to give you the upper hand. Become a small target get low and keep moving and when the timing and circumstances present themselves to your advantage exploit the opportunity.

Clear advantages of Cover and Concealment

Cover and concealment when utilized effectively first will help save your life, secondly they give you the advantage of time, when time is available for there effective use. Remember some circumstances warrant us protection professionals taking calculated risks to ensure the safety of those we serve and work with.

Finally the use of cover and concealment will assist you in developing the strategy and tactics essential to avoiding, defusing, and resolving conflict. Time will be on you side by practicing the concepts of cover and concealment in a strategic manner in circumstances that warrant there use. The successful creative utilization and execution of cover and concealment will give you the advantage you need in applying tactical concepts. It helps you understand the situation and what tactical concepts you will use. These concepts are achieving a decision, gaining advantage, being faster, adapting, cooperating, and exploiting opportunities which gains you success. A smooth running Boyd Cycle! You must study and practice the use of cover and concealment to ensure your survival in a confrontation. Your judgment and awareness level can only be enhanced when using these concepts which put you in a position to win.

“Nine-tenths of tactics are certain, and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool and that is the test of generals. It can only be ensured by instinct, sharpened by thought practicing the stroke so often that at the crisis it is as natural as a reflex.” T.E. Lawrence

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