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In the bush wars in southern Africa, small unit patrolling and combined arms tactics and procedures were refined in the crucible of a vicious war against substantially more numerous Communist-trained terrorists. A unique type of immediate action drill (IAD) or contact drill developed in Rhodesia is called “The Cover Shoot“ The usual doctrine of small unit - your movement and choose the ground based upon tactical considerations to optimize the success of your attack and avoid being ambushed.


The unique nature of tracking operations is that in a “follow-up” (the name given to tracking operations), the team is following the tracks (spoor) of the quarry to gather intelligence or “find, fix, finish the enemy and exploit any information gained.”


This means that the tracking team cannot choose the terrain that they are operating in and must move over ground that the enemy has already occupied. The nature of tracking operations necessitates that the units must compensate for their small numbers with superior tactics and procedures when the enemy is encountered.


Immediate action drills are essential standing operating procedures for unit survival when unexpected contact is encountered. Well-trained units practice drills that are tailored for combat situations until the troops can execute the commands under fire immediately without hesitation. One of the most well known drills, for example, is the “Australian Peel” break-contact drill.



An essential component in any combat drill is that the troops must be trained to put down an aggressive base of fire that is not only rapid in reaction but also effectively directed to disrupt the enemy attack, not the usual “spray and pray” that all of us have seen in movies.


I was first exposed to the cover shoot when I attended a tactical tracking class with the Tactical Tracking Operations School (TTOS), then at Mesquite, Nevada. The founder of the school, David Scott-Donelan, had learned this drill while serving in the Rhodesian Army with the Tracker Combat Unit (TCU), Special Air Service (SAS), Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) and the Selous Scouts during the Rhodesian Bush War between 1965 and 1980. He can well attest to the effectiveness of its employment first hand in the war against Communist-trained terrorists.


The TTOS tracking class is designed to introduce the tracking doctrine into small unit operations. The students typically consist of federal law enforcement agencies, police and sheriff departments, military units and other law enforcement special teams that need to operate in small units to conduct operations along the border, to stop illegal entry, counter drug operations or in the war on terrorism overseas. The students are divided into five-man tracking teams and conduct the course exercises as integrated teams executing follow-ups as briefed by the instructors.



The cover shoot exercise started without explanation when our tracking team deployed on a follow-up, trailing a group of “armed and dangerous” suspects. We patrolled in the standard “Y” tracking formation and a simulated ambush was sprung on the team. The volume of return fire from our small team was intense and impressive in sound and perceived destruction of the area occupied by our “enemy.” When magazines were empty, safety checks completed, the instructors then debriefed the team, presented the information and technique of the cover shoot and showed us the hidden targets in the “kill zone.”


Upon inspection of the area of our hidden enemy positions, we were all surprised to discover that the paper targets showed very little damage let alone bullets holes from the fusillade of fire we had directed at them. The hit rate was very low except high up in the surrounding trees!



Initially called the "Drake Shoot" after its originator, the tactic was renamed "cover shoot" in the USA to remind soldiers of the necessity of firing into all likely cover to be maximally effective. It was developed by the Rhodesian Army after analyzing combat engagements with terrorists in the African bush. Early in the war (1965 to 1979), Rhodesian combat units had engaged terrorists in numerous firefights that did not result in substantial losses inflicted upon the terrorists. The Rhodesian Command then directed Major David Drake, with his hand-selected team of experienced veterans, to undertake a detailed survey and analysis of recent engagements. In doing so, Drake's team visited numerous contact sites, and interviewed captured terrorists and the Rhodesian troopers involved.


The Drake report clearly showed that the majority of troops’ fire had been ineffectively directed, with many rounds aimed too high and not at the actual concealed locations of the enemy. The information distilled in the Drake report seems like common sense, but had never been applied before in troop training, for understanding of human nature, or against the tactics of Chinese or Russian-trained Communist terrorists. As a result of Major Drake’s investigations, a new training technique embodying the findings of his report was quickly established and implemented throughout the Army and Police Forces of Rhodesia. Needless to say, terrorists killed in action increased dramatically.



Major Drake’s investigations revealed that in such close combat conditions several things became apparent:

1. Anybody involved in a firefight will attempt to avoid effective fire directed at him by lowering his profile, hitting the ground and moving to the nearest cover or concealment, such as large rocks, trees, thick foliage, tree trunks, etc. (Dash, Down, Crawl, Observe, Fire!)

2. Rhodesian terrorists tended to spread out when in concealment.

3. It was difficult in thick bush to actually see the enemy or the muzzle flash of the weapons being fired at the troops.

4. Due to the requirement of immediate responsive fire, there was no time to visually seek and see the targets to engage.

5. By having no “ground-level register,” there was a strong tendency to fire high–as one does at night.

6. Most humans are right-handed, so they would tend to lie on the right side of any concealment. From the troops’ vantage point, most of the enemy would be on the left side of the concealment as they face it. However, there are some “lefties,” so to be effective in neutralizing all the terrorists, shots must be fired on both sides of the cover.

7. Troops must engage all positions of “likely cover” where the terrorists may conceal themselves.

8. A person lying down in the firing position will usually present a target profile of no more than 12 inches high depending on the magazine length of his weapon.

9. Keep in mind that bullets fired from high-velocity weapons can penetrate vegetation.

10. To effectively hit a low-profile target, it is vital to shoot low, at ground level, to ensure a solid strike. Should the target be struck by either a clean hit or by dirt and secondary fragmentation thrown up and forward at 2000 feet per second by the bullet striking the ground in front of the target, there will be some immediate reaction, thereby  providing a better target of opportunity.

11. Effective outgoing fire, therefore, must be delivered in a cadence of "shoot right," and then pause for a second to see if there is any reaction. If there is, the sights will still be on the target area for a quick second shot. If there is no reaction, swing the muzzle over and "shoot left," engaging the other side of the likely cover. Then the trooper moves on to the next position of likely cover and repeats the sequence.



The cover shoot is not a random spraying of bullets, but a deliberate, systematic and methodical placement of fire for maximum effect with the least expenditure of ammunition.


The Rhodesian Cover Shoot can be summed up as the deliberate act of “killing” likely or probable cover used by terrorists. No actual visual sighting of terrorists was therefore needed to “take them out,” and no time was wasted attempting to identify the exact location of individual terrorists by first searching for muzzle flash or blast, movement, shape, and so on. A tracking team or patrol, if ambushed or engaged, would rapidly transition from the “Y” tracking formation to a line abreast, thereby bringing all the teams’ weapons forward into the engagement.


The team members, with a “flash picture,” then mentally split the terrorist position into “zones or arcs of responsibility” and commencing from front to rear systematically fire their shots (as described in para 10. above) into a “12” x 12” box as if it were placed on the ground on the left side of the likely cover. (This technique is also very effective if used in an urban environment by shooting tightly into the low corners of doors and windows of buildings) With each man of the team concentrating on his assigned zone of responsibility to his immediate front,

he systematically shoots into suspected locations.


By firing in such a manner, each team member creates an interlocking zone of fire into and through the enemy position. By methodically progressing farther and farther back, thereby widening the arc of fire, all positions of likely cover will have been effectively engaged. If each soldier in a five-man team has a 30-round magazine, by firing two shots per target, a total of 75 positions of cover will be neutralized. However, it is stressed that staggered magazine capacity be used so as to avoid “running dry” at the same time.


Upon termination of the shoot, the team leader will decide to either assault or flank the enemy position, or break contact, depending upon prevailing conditions.



Our team then moved to a new area and repeated the exercise. Now knowing what to do, we achieved dramatically different results. The hidden targets were not only filled with bullets holes, they were also perforated with wooden shrapnel from exploding tree trunks, secondary fragmentation or dirt as the now destabilized bullets ricocheted off the ground in front of the targets. Our hit rate soared!


The cover shoot has been used with devastating effect in contemporary operational areas on a number of occasions as well as by a certainly highly trained law enforcement tracking team. However, if more units were to adopt this innovative and combat proven technique, more of our enemies will be given the opportunity to “bite the dust.”


In summary then, the cover shoot can be said to be controlled, systematic, methodical, confined, economical, and effective. Can any more be expected of such a valuable and useful, but as yet, under-utilized technique?


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