Lead the Target

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"I skate to where the puck is going, not to where the puck has been."

Guns are incredibly psychologically powerful as symbols, let alone weapons. Aim, pull, kill. However, The Gunslinger knows that this isn't some holy trinity of death, and is the more lethal because of it. When gunning for a fast-moving or far-away target, he won't aim at the target (often shocking companions) and instead aim where they are going to be. Instead of a Hero-Tracking Failure he will get the target cleanly because they almost literally ran into the bullet.

This is called Leading (Or windage), and is a Real Life tactic and training method. It's why you use clay pigeon traps for hunting practice, and is a key element in air-to-air gun combat. Video Games used to avert this trope with Hit Scan weapons, which were an Acceptable Break From Reality because of engine constraints; hitscan weapons didn't so much use "bullets" as simply hurt whatever was under the player's crosshairs at the time, regardless of distance. The alternative was the Painfully-Slow Projectile, where the player not only has to lead the target, but actually shoot the bullet past where the enemy is, so the enemy will indeed walk right into it. But today games are much more complex and realistic, and a more moderate form of leading the target has reasserted itself. Slower projectiles obviously need more lead time, and sniping can be a real nightmare. (The hitscan model is sometimes retained when energy, laser or other lightspeed weapons are available.)

This is also relevant in sea and air combat with broadside weapons: even if the target isn't moving, the shooter usually is. This is the source of the "firing solution" you'll sometimes hear shouted about on the bridge of naval vessels.

Lasers, due to moving at the speed of light, should not be expected to follow this rule. Regardless, plenty of space combat games ignore this. Perhaps they are taking account of very long ranges - 20,000 miles is a tenth of a light-second - and absurdly high speeds; a ship moving at Earth escape velocity covers a lot of ground in a tenth of a second.

See Hero-Tracking Failure for when the villains fail to do this.

Examples of Lead the Target include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Princess Mononoke, Irontown's riflemen consistently do this while fending off San's assault. They only miss because San is more agile than a superball on speed, but every last shot is millimeters off (and the last one successfully blows her off her feet and stuns her.
    • Additionally, Lady Eboshi specifically instructs the riflewomen flanking her to hold their fire while San is on the roof, and aim for her landing spot instead.
  • In early chapters of 666 Satan it is repeatedly made a point that you should not dodge attacks by jumping into the air because then the other guy can just use this method to attack you as you're landing.

Comic Books


Joker: How can you shoot women and children?
Gunner: Easy. You just don't lead 'em so much. Ain't war hell?

  • In The Lord of the Rings, Legolas is naturally a master of this skill. One instance: he shoots at a distant Warg-riding orc, the arrow is in flight for about five seconds, and hits dead centre for an instant kill on a target that has covered about a hundred yards in the intervening time.
  • In Goldfinger, part of Oddjob's Improbable Aiming Skills with his lethal hat are because of this trope; he noticeably aims a significant distance in front of his moving target, and hits her cleanly on the neck despite the hat being much more slow moving than a bullet or an arrow.


  • In Real Life throwing a ball is similar, such as quarterbacks in American Football.
  • Page quote: Wayne Gretzky was considered too small and too slow to play at the highest levels of hockey, but by anticipating the play ahead of him, he put himself in the position to score. He's now generally considered the greatest professional hockey player in history.

Video Games

  • The best-ever usage of this trope occurs in Operation Flashpoint, in which, true to its realistic nature, you not only have to lead the target, but if you're using a sniper rifle, you even have to take into account elements like elevation and even wind resistance. Needless to say, the game makes Nintendo Hard look like a walk in the park.
  • In Age of Empires II, this is a researchable upgrade called "Ballistics" which improves the accuracy of your ranged attackers by applying this trope. Without it archers and towers shoot at the target's current location, making most moving targets hard to hit.
  • In the Battlefield series, this is the proper way to use the flak cannons. Unfortunately, some players are not aware of it and simply aim directly at the target aircraft.
    • Sniper rifles in the Battlefield series behave fairly realistically. The bullets have travel time meaning that your shots won't instantly hit your opponent, especially at long range. If you place your scope a certain distance ahead of a moving enemy and fire ahead of time then the enemy will run straight into your bullet. At long ranges, bullet drop affects the bullet and makes it go off target so you have to raise your scope high above the enemy so the bullet will drop onto the enemy and hit him. On rare occasions you can even lead the target and have the bullet drop and kill a moving target.
  • In Halo, this is important if you want to ensure that you hit a moving target, as the bullets have a slight delay before they impact on the foe.
    • Well, for most of the guns. The Halo 2 BR and the Halo: Reach DMR are hitscan. For HR, they've also basically killed the auto aim.
    • A (in)famous attribute of multiplayer in the PC version of Halo: Combat Evolved was that you had to lead your shots when sniping with the pistol or sniper rifle, despite the weapons being supposedly hitscan, due to consistent lag.
  • This is the tactic we should use to play Space Invaders and other games of the like.
  • Most space combat sims (such as the Star Wars: X-Wing and Free Space series) have a target reticule on the HUD showing where an enemy ship will be when it and your lasers converge, assuming it doesn't evade. Obviously, you want to be aiming for this.
    • Similarly, the Ace Combat series and other games about fighters typically have a targeting reticule for the guns that indicate where the bullets will go. Very important when shooting while making tight turns.
  • Wing Commander II and up has ITTS ("Improved Targeting and Tracking System").
  • Vega Strike borrowed HUD terms from Wing Commander, but renamed ITTS "Inertial Target Tracking System", because that's what it does. VS have a wider range of velocities, though. So military radars have ITTS, and then there's per-mount autotracker device automatically keeping the gun on ITTS mark as long as the target is within the tracking cone and you maintain radar lock. But since this tracking is correct only if the target won't maneuver (good luck with that), autotracking can - and sometimes needs to - be toggled off. Later updates also can show multiple marks if active guns have different exit velocities and apply to each mark color-coded gun states like on HUD weapon list.
  • Battlezone 1998 has a lead-assist marker for targeted enemies. It also helps a player with a mortar-class weapon, which can use indirect fire, pick the proper elevation angle.
  • In Brutal Legend, Eddie needs to help a neurotic bouncer operating a mortar cannon hit his targets, not only by spotting, but teaching him how to lead moving targets.
  • In S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and its sequels have a realistic ballistics model and you have to account for gravity and lead your target.
  • Sniper Elite, which puts you in the shoes of a American OSS Agent and sniper in Berlin during World War 2, had simulated gravity, wind, breathing, and bullet travel time. All except the travel time could be turned off.
  • Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45: Ostfront 41-45 has (fairly) realistic bullet and shell physics, requiring players to learn not only to lead their targets, but also to estimate ranges and compensate for bullet drop. Nailing a moving T-34 with a StuG III is hard.
  • Bullets have a slight delay in Fallout 3, but lasers, correctly, hit instantly.
  • While not the spirit of this trope, it's definitely to the letter to try and play a multiplayer FPS with a particularly high ping. The server won't process your moves until a fraction of a second (or more, if the connection is bad enough) after you do them, so you may have to lead your target (and pray). This has been mostly averted by lag compensation, and is only common in older games like Quake and Doom.
  • The N64 versions of Golden Eye 1997 and Perfect Dark had this inverted; round-firing weapons worked with hitscan, while energy and laser weapons had to lead the target (primarily because the laser beams had to be animated traveling from barrel to target). It's hard to notice this because of both games' default auto-aim setting and slow movement speed, but it's there.
  • Flying Heroes, a flight-based fantasy shooter for the PC, required that you lead your target. However, you could get an "Auto-Aiming" spell that would display a target for its duration to show where you should be aiming to hit.
  • Bungie's Marathon series required you to lead targets with all of your weapons (perhaps except your fists). This is partly due to engine limitations. The engine did not support hitscan weapons so all weapons fired projectiles. Pistol shots in the game move less than 1/5 the speed of real life pistol shots (for the same caliber), and nothing in the game moves faster than pistol shots.
  • League of Legends requires this with every character with a skill shot (especially Ezreal, who, skill-wise, has nothing but skill shots).
  • Team Fortress 2: You have to lead with the Soldier's rocket launcher, since the rockets are slow. The same with the Demoman's grenade launchers, the Medic's Syringe Gun and the Sniper's Huntsman. And the Scout's "milk," the Scout's baseballs, the Pyro's flares, and the Sniper's jarate.
  • S4 League: The Railgun sniping weapon is extremely powerful but has a half second delay when shot.
  • Steel Battalion: 2nd-and-3rd-gen VTs have the Forecast Shooting System (FSS), which can be toggled on or off. The game has a built-in aimbot of sorts when locked on to an enemy target that keeps the weapons trained on said target regardless of where the right stick has its reticle, and most of the weapons fire Painfully Slow Projectiles that can easily be dodged with a slidestep, so FSS helps quite a bit, but is not so good as to make it a Game Breaker. Without it, the weapon aiming is not compensated at all, effectively forcing 1st-gen VT pilots to aim manually without lock-on.
  • Silent Scope. Several levels take place on moving vehicles, further emphasizing this trope.
  • One of the stages in Donkey Kong Country 3 has frequent lightning strikes aimed in this way. The constant need to trick the lightning in addition to the usual platforming challenges makes this level infamously Nintendo Hard.
  • Done quite well by the enemy in the 3D tank games Specter and Specter VR.
  • Mechwarrior 3 had a rather extreme example in ballistics-only online matches due to the typical Internet connection at the time being dial-up. Every player could adjust to bullet lag fairly easily if you loaded a targeting computer, but to be competitive online, you needed to be able to accurately read how much lag there was and adjusting your lead accordingly.
  • In Banjo Tooie, Banjo and Kazooie have to fight Klungo multiple times as a boss. The main source of his difficulty increase between the first and last encounters with him is that he'll throw his exploding flasks where Banjo is in the first duel, but he'll try to anticipate where Banjo will be in the last.
  • In Deus Ex Human Revolution, there are two weapons that have a significant curve to the projectile path: the crossbow and tranquilizer rifle. There is also an upgrade to help you lead your shots.
  • In World of Tanks, this is a necessary skill for hitting any target moving laterally in relation to you, as the shells take a second to reach their target.
  • In Guns of Icarus, unless you're at point-blank range, this is required if you're using the cannon or super cannon. Cannonballs are powerful, but slow-moving, and it takes some practice to get the aiming right.
  • Starsiege: Tribes is one of the poster children of this trope. Very few weapons are hitscan (laser rifles and the like only), few projectiles are really fast, and most have significant bullet drop over long range. Combine this with the fact that everyone is skiing/flying around at 100+ kph, which of course also affects the trajectory of your shots, and you get more fun than you thought you could possibly have doing split-second vector calculations.

Tabletop Games

  • In Aces and Eights, Kentucky Windage is a talent you can buy which effectively makes you a better shot by aiming off target.
    • Except, you know, Kentucky Windage means adjusting your aimpoint for a crosswind, not for the target's movement. If there is a strong wind which moves at a high angle to the direction of travel of a bullet, it can through off aim at long range. You "eyeball" an adjustment and aim to compensate with Kentucky windage, or make an adjustment to the equipment then fire. That's not this trope, and if the game designers are referring to leading the target, it's a misnomer.

Western Animation

  • This is how Fry loses the "real life" game of Space Invaders in the Futurama episode "Anthology of Interest II".

Lrrr: Instead of shooting where I was, you should have shot where I was going to be!!