Firing from cover

Aug. 15, 2007

Tactical shooting is like musical chairs; where one is when the music stops is important. For the officer on patrol, maintaining a mindset of identifying and using cover is prudent conduct. When the music stops, it is best to be behind something that stops bullets. One should be either moving towards cover or planning the next source of cover.

Barricaded shooting is using field expedient cover to provide an advantageous shooting position. Although this discussion will be limited to firing a handgun from a barricade, the principles can be applied to stone throwing all the way to firing crew-served weapons.

Shooting from a barricade should rank high on the list of tasks to master in firearms training. For firearms encounters that go beyond pointing the firearm, barricaded shooting education is right behind gun fighting within the distance of two arm lengths in low visibility. Every agency should require mastery of close quarters shooting, use of cover, and fighting on the ground.

If a group of combat shooting instructors gather in a room, a few minor standing barricaded shooting points would be target for debate. One instructor might advocate placing the foot on the shooting side or outside (the side of the barricade were one points the gun).This position definitely has its advantages. The officer can lean in and out, bending at the knees. This practice reduces the amount the officer bends at the waist and results in a stable platform with less binding at the gun belt.

Other schools advocate placing the non-shooting side foot forward, reducing the chance of exposure of the outside leg. The logic behind this method is that the bend at the waist is only a couple of degrees and the likelihood of exposing the outside leg is decreased.

Another method is to use the same shooting stance that one normally uses for non-barricade practice. That is, if the shooter generally uses a modified Weaver stance, he should use the same method for barricade shooting. Obviously, this concurs with the KISS principal (Keep It Simple Stupid). This also makes kneeling and going prone easier.

For shooting on the support (non-dominant hand) side, the debate becomes more complicated. One method is to shoot with the support hand. The shooter mirrors what he does on the dominant side. The advantage is minimized exposure. However, few have practiced enough to have the same proficiency in both support and dominant hand.

Another method is to shoot dominant-hand on the support side, but sight with the less dominant eye. This compromise reduces exposure but can he have a confusing sight picture. It logically makes sense: many experts recommend shooting with both eyes open under stress.

Other approaches include a hybrid of switching hands and using the dominant hand while placing the support hand on the chest while leaning out.

Rather than sell one particular method over another, Law Enforcement Technology will provide some specific operational rules for shooting from a barricade. Rule 1: Train as you fight; Fight how you train

This particular rule is not new or original. It is appropriate for any type of perishable skills training. It comes from the common knowledge that any person under the extreme stress of combat will revert to their training. One of the most regrettable in the history of the badge is the Newhall Incident, where four California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers were massacred by a couple of well-armed felons. It was routine for officers training on the range to put their expended brass in the pocket before reloading. No one can fault the slain Newhall officer who was found with expended brass in his pocket at the scene. We can only speculate that he was responding as he did in practice.

The largest percentage of officer involved shootings occurs after the sun goes down. Agencies should quit practicing under ideal conditions.

Sport shooting is great for recreational practice but there are certain bad habits one can learn. There are certain stages in sport shooting competition where shooters must stay inside of a box outline or constructed of two-by-fours or steel. A well versed combat shooter would probably stand much further back if the box were not there.

This is not to say sport shooting stages are completely unrealistic. Shooters complete shoot/no shoot stages as fast as possible while running and reloading under time constraints. The artificial box might not always be there, but what if the combat shooter had to shoot within the constraints of a doorway or closet? Rule 2: Slice in, Slice out

Usually it is better to back up a bit to see more target, rather than bend around the barricade. If the officer has a lot of room behind him, he should use it. Slowly stepping back may give a better perspective. Most importantly, lead with the gun, not the forehead.

Slicing means using angles to see and engage more target while exposing less. Slicing is dynamic — never done mechanically. The decision-making process should drive slicing. A common training error is slicing around the barricade to engage the first time, ducking behind cover for a reload or to work the radio and popping out the second time.

Practicing slicing into a barricade will increase the speed and decision-making process, improving the capabilities of the officer. Rule 3: Patrol work is moving from cover to cover

Officers should also slice their way to each call. If given the choice of drifting toward an oak and strolling toward the front door of a residence, pick the oak. Officers should keep the tree between them and the greatest perceived threat. After the oak, use the light pole in front of the house, then the doorframe. This practice will augment the secondary cover an officer should always have with him: The vest.

Subtly slicing to each barricade is not hard. One should avoid predictable behavior, like walking down the sidewalk every time. Rather, officers should subtly shift their attention from object to object, prepared to put something solid in front of them.

If the officer is wise enough to slice in and out, he should also be wise enough to use cover as long as possible. That is, one should not be in any great hurry to break from cover. Every experienced officer has an example of the time when a suspect recovered from a severe shock, crash or injury and continued to fight, run or drive. Why break cover when unnecessary?

Practice malfunction drills by training on ducking, communicating and slicing back into the shooting position. This is an excellent partner drill where one officer communicates "cover" while clearing a malfunction. The other covers his partner's sector until he is back in the fight.

When slicing back into the barricaded position, vary the level of the muzzle. If the suspect knows the officer will reappear in approximately the same position, it is likely he will saturate this area with bullets, or at least watch this region. If the officer appeared at one level initially it may be a good idea to slice in from a kneeling or prone position. Do not expose a body part twice in succession and keep exposure time to a minimum.

There are many sound reasons why an officer should slice back into a shooting position. Officers must have "eyes on" in order to recognize changes in the tactical situation. What if the suspect is armed when the officer last viewed him before he surrendered? Rule 4: Simple is better

It is better to master a handful of techniques then to be mediocre at dozens of techniques. This training philosophy advocates using the same shooting technique for barricade shooting as static range training or standing unsupported practice.

For the dominant side, shooting with the dominant hand and eye with the opposite foot forward agrees with the largest percentage of Modified Weaver shooters. For the other side, begin the slice with the dominant side.

A cant of the gun toward the centerline of the barricade is normal when using the dominant hand on the support side. For threats one can hit with a thrown rock, concerns over target accuracy, and therefore the tilt of the gun, are academic. This is two eyed spontaneous shooting with visual acuity. This is fighting with a handgun, not competing for a trophy.

If the officer is firing from prone from the support side using the dominant hand, he will have to cant the firearm. Otherwise, the entire body will be exposed when using a proper firing technique.

If the potential target is close and the likelihood of hits using the support hand is high, switching hands will work. Use the dominant hand to move to the next cover.

This can be quickly applied to shooting while kneeling. If the shooter is in a modified Weaver stance, he can quickly kneel with the support knee forward. One can now use the legs to lean forward or back. Rule 5: The greatest priority is to create threat stopping hits.

If one needs to use the barricade to steady the shot, use it. Bear in mind that the environment will dictate the shooting condition and officers must prepare for a broad range of contingencies. For example, there may be a shooting situation where it is impossible to shoot with the dominant hand. Another example might be when the officer behind cover is holding a flashlight. This will preclude switching hands. Rule 6: Do not produce targets of opportunity.

If the shooter places the outside foot forward behind the barricade, it is tactically sound until this practice exposes the kneecap or part of the leg. Do not give the suspect something to shoot.

The barricade also obscures an officer's vision. An officer may have a good view of the area to the left and right of the barricade but may not be able to see what is directly in front. The best way to overcome this shortcoming is good communication with other officers. Rule 7: Do not let cover interfere with gear operation.

Touching the barricade can be appropriate at times. The officer may need to put his fist against the cover for a steady shot. An alternate technique is to extend the support hand thumb to touch the barricade. It is inappropriate to rest the heel or slide of the gun on anything. Officers who practice resting their fist will quickly be reminded why patrol gloves should be worn at all times.

Flesh (covered by good patrol gloves), not firearm, should contact the barricade. This will prevent some bouncing while firing. Additionally, a common error is to attempt to bring the face to the sights. It should be the other way around.

Hundreds of police ranges have permanent barricades erected for practice. A percentage of these barricades have bullet holes or streaks from bullets that skimmed their outline. This is from improper application of technique or training deficiency. Proper training will ensure that bullets hit their intended target. Rule 8: Looking around is better than looking over.

Generally, firing from the top of a barricade is less safe than firing around it. This will expose more of the face, depending on the barricade. Another common mistake is being too close to the barricade. Placing the body shoulder-width or more from the barricade, one can slice into position better. Rule 9: Sometimes a retreat to cover is bad.

Officers are paid decision makers. Certain shooting situations cannot be governed by rules. In these situations, one must use guidelines. For example, there are some emergency situations where it is expedient to jam the draw then try to outdraw the assailant. In a situation where retreat to cover will not work, the officer may have to close the armed suspect using fire and maneuver.

It is impossible to say when it is appropriate to close in on an armed suspect. It is, however, advantageous to create a hiccup in your adversary's OODA (Observe Orient Decide Act) loop. If moving to cover causes the officer to turn his back on a suspect, it may not be tactically sound.

Practicing from a barricaded position will improve an agency's training and add another tool to the tactical toolbox. It should be a high training priority and part of routine perishable skills.

Editor's Note: More on the OODA loop can be found at

The four officers slain in the CHP Newhall incident were California Highway Patrol officers Walt Frago, Roger Gore, James Pence and George Alleyn. They were heroes, young fathers and Vietnam veterans whose names should always be memorialized. Make certain new recruits do not forget who progressed our profession.

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