How to Hit a Moving Target: Forward Allowance
Author: Luther Cutts, Head Instructor (NSCA Level 3), Competitor
Perhaps the most discussed aspect of shotgun shooting is the manner in which a shooter establishes the forward allowance, or lead, required to hit a moving target. Forward allowance is essentially how far in front of a target the projectile(s) must be directed to account for target movement during the time of flight of the projectile(s) from the muzzle of the firearm to the target. While it applies to all kinds of firearms, in this context we will only be considering shotguns.
From a technical perspective, determining forward allowance is a mathematical problem that requires a significant amount of data input to achieve a firing solution – things to be considered include:
- Target speed
- Angle to the target’s trajectory from the firing position
- Distance to the target
There are other considerations, but these three are the main elements to be determined if the shooter is going to successfully engage a moving target. As I am sure you can imagine, doing the math is both complex and time-consuming. Thankfully, however, our predatory nature has equipped each and every one of us with the unique skills required to accurately assess the required amount of forward allowance by simply looking at the target.
Factors that are less important to the average shooter include the weight of the payload of shot, the size of the shot and the muzzle velocity of the shot. These factors do have some influence on the firing solution, however, they are almost insignificant when compared to the target’s speed, the angle of the flight path and the distance to the target.
A multitude of different methods of obtaining forward allowance exist, but most can be categorized into one of the following three basic systems.
Swing-Through – Swing-through is a technique that has the shooter start with his firearm behind the target. The shooter accelerates the firearm along the flight path of the target, passes the target and then discharges the firearm in front of the target when the proper amount of forward allowance has been applied.
Pull Away – The Pull Away technique is one favoured by many English instructors as it has considerable intuitive appeal to new shooters. In using this technique, the shooter points the firearm directly at the target and tracks the target for a short distance. In doing so, the shooter has their firearm moving along the same line of movement as the target and at the same speed as the target. The shooter then accelerates the firearm, pulling it ahead of the target and discharges the firearm when the proper forward allowance has been applied.
Sustained Lead – When using this technique, the shooter never allows the target to get in front of the muzzle of the firearm, which is to say if the target is moving left to right, the target never appears on the right side of the firearm – the muzzle of the firearm is always ahead of the movement of the target. When the required amount of forward allowance is applied, the firearm is discharged and the target broken.
These techniques, while quite different from one-another in application, have several common traits. First, they all require that the firearm be pointed to a point in space ahead of the target along its line of movement. The shooter cannot be successful if the firearm is pointed to a point in space behind the moving target, or if the firearm is pointed to a location that is not on the line of the target. Second, they all require that the shooter focus on the target and not look at the firearm. Finally, they all require the shooter to estimate how much forward allowance is required, something that is gained only through shooting experience.
None of the generally accepted methods of achieving forward allowance, or lead, involve looking at the firearm. If the shooter is to hit a moving target, the shooter must know what the target is doing – that information is only available from the target. Taking ones focus from the target cuts off that vital flow of information and prevents a proper firing solution from being consistently formulated by the shooter.
The most obvious question is, “Which one is the best one for me?”
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Some of the best shooters in the world employ all of these techniques. Some shooters can only ever make one of these systems work for them, while others rely on one but have one or both of the others in their repertoire for particular target presentations. It is important that the technique used by the shooter is one they are comfortable with and which has some intuitive appeal to the individual. Good instructors will get a student to try all three styles, as well as different variations on each of these, and allow the student to gravitate to whichever system makes the most sense for them. Factors that might lend themselves to one system over another include the age of the shooter, their upper body strength, their visual acuity and their level of aggression when engaging the target.
 Some shooters will argue that on a true going-away target presentation, the target is hit when pointing to a point in space behind the target. While this may be true, it is only half the story – as the firearm is also simultaneously pointed to a point in space in front of the target, thus confirming the statement that the only way to hit a moving target is to point to a place in front of it and along its flight path. In this case, which exists exclusively with the direct incoming target, for a short period of time, the point when the firearm is pointed is both in front of and behind the target.