Friday, February 19, 2016

Cover and Concealment: Stop A Bullet

This article is a little boring. It’s not about anything exciting or “sexy” in the shooting world. But the information in this article can save your life!
Do you know the difference between cover and concealment?
One of the most exciting series of action movies from the 80’s and 90’s is Bruce Willis’s “Die Hard” movies. There is the original, which is always the best of a series it seems, from 1988. There are 4 sequels from 1990 to 2013. Yippee-ki-yay!
These were fun movies but surely they were fiction at its best. Bruce Willis seemed to have an unending supply of ammunition better than an old John Wayne movie. He also found lots of refuge behind walls. Seemingly he was safe behind a wall.
As usual Hollywood teaches us falsehoods that could get us all killed!
If you are to really understand cover you have to understand that not much will stop a bullet. Car doors, cinderblock or sheetrock walls, furniture, 50 gallon drums, and solid-core doors will not stop a bullet! Very few things in your home, including your refrigerator, stop bullets.
To have this understanding is to have an understanding how cover and concealment work from a materials stand point.
The destructive power of a round is proportional to its velocity. The more you can slow a bullet down the less damage it can do and the less range it has. The more you can flatten a bullet the faster it slows down. The more you can break a bullet apart the less damage it -may- do (there is always the “golden BB”). The smaller the parts, the easier for the individual parts to be stopped. If you can get the parts below 400 fps, odds are good the parts will not break the skin. Therefore you may not need to stop the bullet cold, but slow it down enough that it does not break the skin. You may just need to bleed off some speed.
So what stops or slows down bullets? You have metal, fibers, stone and liquids. One or a combination of any of the four may work. It depends on your application…
Maybe you want a dedicated dry fire area or an armored safe room. How much weight you can hold and how much space you have may change what you need.
Fibers: Wood sucks at stopping bullets. Woven Kevlar works great. Fiberglass is so-so. Several layers of fiberglass with the right epoxy can be great!
Stone and liquid stone known as concrete work great! They are not very portable. They have thickness issues. “Baby” stones like pea gravel or sand have their place. Ceramics also fit here.
Metals: These are great for the thickness. A hard steel works best, a Soft steel comes next, Aluminum is next (Hard and soft are blurred), and then copper. I saw a video of electrical transformers being shot with various calibers of ammunition. It was very interesting. Transformers are layers of copper windings and mild steel. They soak up a lot of bullets even from high powered rifles.
This leads us to a very important point! Layers! Layers can stop more than a single thickness of the same material. Four 1/16″ thick sheets can stop more than a single 1/4″ sheet. Some of the layers may be breached, but the over-all thickness will not. It may be hard for somebody to work with a thick layer of steel, but not smaller layers. It normally takes between a 1/4″ to a 1/2″ of steel to stop a bullet or 3/8″ to 3/4″ of Aluminum. Something like a metal target need to be a solid layer, the same with an active backstop. However something like a safe room or dry fire station can use layers.
Stones are great to break up bullets. Something like a patio block or even bathroom tile can break up bullets. The problem is that they often break up as well as the bullet. You may want to set them or glue them to some sort of backer like plywood to help hold them together.
Wood and other fibers: Wood is the most common and easiest for most people to work with. It is crap for stopping bullets. I have layered as much three 3/4″ sheets of plywood and bullets fly through it. That is thicker than most wall studs by 50%. Here is why it is VERY useful. It soaks up shrapnel like a sponge. You can use it to help prevent bounce back. Now, if you were to glue some 1/8″ sheets of steel between those wooden sheets you’d have some very good cover.
The difference between cover and concealment.
Cover is a barrier that can physically stop a projectile from hitting you. Concealment offers protection by disrupting the shooter’s sight picture. The chances of a shooter scoring a hit are lower if he cannot see his target, therefore concealment is not always a bad option. However, if the shooter has already seen you, finding effective cover may be your only option.
So what can you actually get behind to save yourself? Engine blocks are a good idea. An engine block can stop just about any pistol round and placing that block between you and a bullet might give you the cover and concealment you need. A vehicle’s steel wheel rim also stands up to bullets fairly well. You might think that brick and stone walls offer decent cover, but masonry tends to shatter when hit with bullets. You may end up hiding behind a pile of rubble before you know it. One of the best things to get behind is sand. The military has used sandbags for years, and with good reason. Sand or tightly packed earth are both very effective bullet stoppers. Six inches of sand can stop just about anything the bad guys are likely to throw at you. While I’m not suggesting you line the interior of your home with military sandbags, it’s good to know that a berm, ditch, or trench offer better protection than metal doors or interior walls.
Choose your cover wisely, and remember the movies have it all wrong. Nobody wants to get in a shootout, but it’s good to have the knowledge to survive in case your luck runs out.
Cover is actually pretty rare in the world. Most things we think might stop bullets wont. The best cover in the world is a wall of reinforced concrete with a triple layer of sandbags behind it, but we don’t see that very often. Standard brick walls are okay as are large trees (close to 2 feet plus). Beware, because things will break down after being hit with many rounds. Also, I am only discussing small arms. If the enemy has a rocket launcher cover can quickly be turned into concealment.
Concealment is something that prevents an enemy from seeing you, or at least from seeing you completely. It is not as good as cover, but in keeping an enemy from having a complete sight picture it is far better than standing in the open. This is especially true if you are constantly relocating (as in a withdrawal,) your enemy doesn’t understand the difference between cover and concealment or they don’t have the ammunition to pour through a soft wall to find you. Things that could commonly be used as cover include the walls of normal wood frame houses, small trees and foliage or car bodies.
It is possible to sit in a hardened concrete box surrounded by sandbags. This would be the ultimate cover right? But when you do someone is going to walk up, open the door and ventilate you. Using cover has its disadvantages as well. The more cover/concealment you use the more restricted your field of fire. You have to expose yourself to fire in order to get at the enemy. The trick is in using cover for maximum benefit for minimum exposure.
There are some basic rules to fighting from cover and concealment.
1) Fire around cover instead of over it. When you are over something you are silhouetted. it is easier for the enemy to see you. This might not be possible along long walls or maybe the best firing position is blocked or in use.
2) Get back from the cover, this diminishes the enemies ability to see you without seriously limiting your field of fire. It also makes it easier to move (either to shift locations or to dive for more cover) as you don’t have to back away from the cover before moving.
3) Be prepared to move your body to shift fire instead of moving your rifle barrel. This is necessary when behind cover (as you should be.)
4) Master and be prepared to modify the standard shooting positions. You might need to lean out to shoot around cover and expose less of your body, or crouch lower than shown in shooting books.
5) In the offense or on the move study the terrain you are moving to. Have your next location picked out before you “break cover.”
6) In the offense, when breaking cover, try not to move out from or next to cover. Have a head start. For example; if you are moving out of a prone position roll away from where you were just at before standing up, if you are moving from behind a building back up and get a head start so you will already be moving fast when you are first exposed.
7) In the defense be aware of the limitations of your field of fire as discussed above. Make sure that you and any teammates have overlapping fields of fire.
8) In the defense, if at all possible take the time to turn concealment in to cover. Many things can be knocked together to hold dirt in front and on top of you. In urban and suburban environments boxes, drawers and pillowcases are ready made sand bags. Tables and chairs can have dirt piled on to protect from overhead cover. In rural environments you will probably have to dig and get more creative. (Note: I’m not a big fan of citizen soldiers planning to dig in to hold ground, but one hour with a small shovel can save your life.)
He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Getting out of a firefight, what we called breaking contact in the military is always the best course of action. Preventing a firefight or leaving a firefight is better than any cover you can think of.
Get familiar with cover and concealment and remember the importance of prevention.

Semper Paratus
Check 6