Challenging Targets - Quartering, Chandelle and Rabbit by Mike McAlpine, Photos by Johnny Cantu

It’s important to remember Chandelles such as this left–to–right quartering presentation are always in transition. The intercept method will do the trick here.

y friend said, “As usual, I blew it on the quartering shots. For some reason, those targets always cost me a punch or two. Actually, I shot very well, and if it hadn’t been for that Chandelle station, I would have won my class. How about you?”

Some shooters say quartering targets and Chandelles are the easiest presentations. They say Rabbits are the tough ones. This argument is as old as sporting itself. As a coach, I am always amused when I hear these comments. Not because I can always hit these presentations but because they are all “not hard to hit but easy to miss.” As a targetsetter, I use these presentations to create a little deception on my courses.

I contend there are no hard presentations, just those we haven’t mastered yet. Let’s take a look at these three common presentations and see if we can work through a logical plan for how to attempt each. All can be broken with any method for achieving lead, but for each individual it might be somewhat different.

Quartering Targets

For many shooters, this presentation creates a lot of problems. For some shooters, the problems may even be created by their instructor.

We have all heard that most misses are either high or behind. Being a former NSCA Chief Instructor, I can tell you on the Level I test one of the questions is: “Where does the average shooter miss most targets?” The answer is high or behind.

Quartering shot

Quartering shots like this give many shooters fits. Just remember, quartering targets do not require as much lead as a true crosser.

I have always said: “If you are going to miss, miss in front.” For crossing targets, this is good advice, but for quartering presentations, it is the exact opposite to the solution. Quartering targets take less lead than crossing targets.

I have been shooting trap (made up of nearly all quartering targets) for over 40 years, and I can tell you that, for me, the longest perceived lead on the trap field is a hard right from Station Five at the 27–yard line. I think I see about two feet of lead. A quartering presentation in sporting clays is normally not any farther than this trap target. I believe, because of the angle and direction of this presentation, the shot string is in play longer than on a crossing target, simply because they both are going away from the shooter.

I am sure someone who is a lot smarter than me can prove or disprove that theory, but if you look at the diagram of the crossing target below, you’ll see what I mean. Have someone hold the page directly in front of you, and you will see a target and an X where the hypothetical placement of the muzzle would be. Have the person holding the magazine slowly turn the diagram away from you until it becomes a straightaway and watch what happens to the lead.

Target diagram

Diagram 1

The change in angle makes the lead look shorter than that of a crosser. At least it does for me and thousands of people I have taught in the last 20 years of being a professional clay–target instructor. You can use this diagram to figure out any shot. Try it.

In my opinion, the best way for most shooters to take a quartering target is to use the “intercept” method. The intercept is really a combination of swing–through and maintained–lead, with the exception the muzzle starts farther below the target line, as well as behind it. As your muzzle intercepts the line at your chosen break point, it will be in the right place, so pull the trigger.

To practice quartering targets, go to the trap range and lock the trap to a hard left or hard right. Then simply move to different shooting stations on different yardage lines. This practice is less expensive than sporting clays and will let you duplicate a variety of quartering targets, and it will help you improve on these presentations.


Another target that seems to give many shooters a lot of trouble is the Chandelle. If you think about it, the only real difference between a Chandelle and a crosser or quartering target is the flight of a Chandelle is always in transition. In other words, the line is not steady and is always changing.

There is nothing really hard about a changing line, if you understand the best method to use on such a presentation. Again, the intercept method will do the trick. Just remember, a quartering Chandelle will take less lead and should be shot like any other quartering presentation.


Now here is where missing in front will cause the most misses. Let’s start with a full crossing Rabbit at about 30 yards. If this was a flying target like on skeet’s Station Four, you would see some lead. But does a Rabbit starting off at the same speed as the flying target take the same lead? Nope. It doesn’t take any lead at all! I know someone will say everyone is different, so some people may see lead. While I guess that might be true, I bet it is not for the vast majority of shooters.

Why would a Rabbit starting out at the same speed and same distance as a target in the air be different? It seems logical that it should be exactly the same. Well, if you think about what I said concerning the speed of each target, you have to remember the Rabbit is running along the ground and is slowing down much faster than a bird in the air. This is caused by friction with the ground, which is kind of like tapping on the brakes in your car.


When most shooters miss a Rabbit target, they will see a dust cloud behind it. They naturally think they shot behind and apply more lead the next time. But did they really shoot behind it?

When most shooters miss a Rabbit, they see a dust cloud behind it, so they naturally think they shot behind and it needs more lead. There are two optical illusions at work here. First, the Rabbit is slowing down, but because it is on the ground, the target looks faster than it really is.

Think about an airplane flying across a clear sky. If it is a big plane, it will probably look like it is barely moving, while, in reality, it is moving at several hundred miles per hour. This is because there is nothing to get a reference from up in the sky (just like a tower target). When that same plane is landing (at a much slower speed), it looks a lot faster than when in the sky. The reason it looks faster is now you have reference points — the ground and different things along the plane’s path. The same applies to a Rabbit target.

If you see a dust cloud behind the Rabbit after you shoot, how could you possibly have missed in front? Here is the second optical illusion. When the shot string kicks up dust, our eyes stop for a fraction of a second to look at the movement of the dirt. When we look back at the target, it has rolled past the dust cloud, so it seems we were behind the target. The same illusion happens when shooting a target over water.

Let’s go back to the quartering target once more. Depending on muzzle speed, a quartering Rabbit may actually look as if you have to shoot behind it. Oh boy, now this guy is telling me not to miss in front any more but to miss behind a quartering Rabbit! If you have trouble with a quartering Rabbit, this just might be good advice. The only way you will know for sure is to try it. If you are not breaking this presentation, what do you have to lose? Experiment a little, and don’t be afraid to miss.

One thing I hope you get out of this article is to understand all quartering targets — outgoing, incoming, Chandelles and, yes, even Rabbits — will take less or no lead and, in some cases, a negative lead. Just remember, there are no hard targets. They are just targets and are what you make of them.

Mike McAlpine is the owner of Clay Target Academy and Claybird Specialties. His three–day Target Reading & Presentation Seminar (TRAPS) teaches shooters of all levels how to read targets and their lines, as well as how to break any presentation. Mike was NSCA Chief Instructor for seven years and is a member of the Texas Sporting Clays Hall of Fame. He is recognized nationally as a premier targetsetter and course designer and has set targets and taught in three countries and 40 states. Claybird Specialties builds equipment for clubs and ranges. You can reach Mike at (325) 656–6319 or visit his website.