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Improbable Aiming Skills in literature.


  • There aren't too many of these in Animorphs as the heroes use their morphing ability to fight close-range while the villains mostly attend the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. However, The Arrival subverts this very nicely with two characters: Aloth-Attamil-Gahar and Arbat-Elivat-Estoni. Aloth's a top Andalite sniper noted for scoring the highest target impact rate in the history of their military academy while Arbat is a Badass Bookworm and The Man Behind the Man of Unit 0.
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  • When he's not recovering from torture, Stephen Maturin of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series is a crack shot with a pistol, much to the shock of a few people around him. His first display of this skill involves shooting the pips off a two of spades from 20 yards on a ship deck at sea.
  • In the Brotherband series, Lydia has more or less the same skill with her dart-throwing atlatl that Rangers do with their bows. This is justified by her starting out as a huntress before she joined the brotherband, and a huntress who can't aim well is one who ends up hungry. At one point, though, it's subverted-she makes a fantastic throw between a running man's legs, tripping him...then sheepishly admits she'd aimed for his knee.
  • The Lucky Duck in Callahan's Crosstime Saloon demonstrates literally improbable aiming skills with darts in his first appearance. The second dart goes straight into the hole in the back of the first. Then the third into the second. He throws the fourth left-handed, with the same result. He drop-kicks the fifth - not only does it go into the fourth, but it also knocks the drooping chain of darts up to horizontal. Then he turns around and throws the sixth directly at a bystander. Needless to say, it ends up completing the chain after an unlikely series of ricochets. It isn't skill; just the sort of thing that happens around him all the time.
    • A one-shot character in another of the short stories displays similar abilities; with a halfassed attempt with poor form, his darts always hit exactly what he aims at...and mysteriously everyone else's darts miss, up to and including missing the dartboard entirely. (This would be the equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters suddenly losing all their games 0-200; the dartboard's line has been moved to 50 feet from the board because the local players are so good, they had to be handicapped to make it entertaining.) Turns out he's got psychic powers, and can make the board 'want' his darts. He's caught when someone notices that he's been drinking all night but never bought another drink, he was making his glass 'want' booze. When someone asks him how it works and he thinks about it for the first time, the darts all jump off the board and would have nailed him in the head if he hadn't been wearing a big floppy hat.
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  • The Chronicles of Narnia: In Prince Caspian, Susan demonstrates her skill as an archer in a contest by piercing an apple at such a distance that her opponent, another excellent archer, claims it looks like a cherry, not an apple. Justified in that while she's good at archery, she's also using a magic bow, given to her by Father Christmas.
  • In Codex Alera, skilled woodcrafters have this as one of their powers. They are accurate and powerful archers far beyond what normal humans and bows can hope to accomplish, able to thread arrows between inch-wide gaps in Legion shieldwalls and accurately put arrows into the crewmen of enemy ships moving at full speed on rough seas at three hundred yards note . They can also use their powers for extremely effective camouflage, meaning that (in a wooded area) they could be hiding and firing from almost anywhere, although like all crafters use of their powers are disrupted by the opposite element which is metal in this case.
  • The Dark Tower:
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    • In Stephen King's series (whose first novel just happens to be called The Gunslinger), Roland of Gilead is the embodiment of this trope, with improbable aiming skills demonstrated any time he draws (which is generally done at lightning speed). In fact, Roland is so adept at reloading his revolver he describes it as his "..fingers doing their reloading trick," as if they aren't even under his control.
    • The other three main characters (Eddie, Susannah, and eventually Jake) all may qualify — Eddie manages to pull off an impressive display of gunslinging with no significant experience...in the buff...just after traveling from another dimension. Granted, may have had something to do with his Berserk Button being pressed.
  • Averted in The Dead Zone as Johnny's assassination attempt on Greg Stillson, despite having a clear view, close range, a quality weapon and previous hunting experience, sees him miss with every shot he takes. Security guards are a realistic mix of misses and non-fatal grazes, getting more accurate with repeated shots until they finally get more deadly.
  • Karyl of The Dinosaur Lords is almost supernaturally skilled with bow and throwing darts. The man never misses, at least not in any meaningful way - at one point, he throws a dart at a man fifty metres away and bemoans that he missed the butt-crack by maybe an inch.
  • Comes up in the Discworld novels several times:
    • Parodied in the novel Pyramids. The main character is on his final exam for his Assassination class and decides he can't kill the person sleeping in the bed, even if it means his teachers may kill him for disobeying. So he defiantly shoots his crossbow at the wall, and it happens to ricochet off several surfaces and into what turns out to be a dummy. He passes the final exam, but his instructor chides him for using showy, over-the-top methods in his assassination.
    • Parodied again and deconstructed in Guards! Guards! wherein Colon's claims to amazing feats of archery lead to his friends talking him into trying to shoot at a dragon's Achilles' Heel while wearing a blindfold, standing on his head, and so on, in an attempt to get the shot to be exactly a Million-to-One Chance... because million-to-one chances always work out, right? It turns out he doesn't even hit the broad side of the dragon.
    • Lampshaded in Reaper Man when Death uses his unerring dart skills to play "badly" and hit a bystander behind him. He addresses the fact that, logically, it is a lot harder to intentionally miss the board and have the dart end up hitting a bystander behind him than to get a bulls-eye.
    • Jason Ogg used one of Binky's old horseshoes (the thing) to play horseshoes (the game), and never missed.
      • Somewhat justified in the fact that Binky is the legendary Pale Horse. When you play a game with horseshoes from Death's horse, you have to expect some strange things. Later, one of these horseshoes is called the iron that goes everywhere and the fact it won't miss if thrown is rather important to the Elf being threatened with it.
    • In Snuff, Sam Vimes' butler Willikins manages to hit a woman's broom from in the middle of a mob, without injuring the woman herself. It's noted that the crossbow used is so accurate and easy to use that the model is illegal and most of the production run was destroyed.
  • The Draka: In Drakon, Gwen Ingolfsson intentionally shoots a running man in the knee, at long range, on the first shot, with a notoriously inaccurate and ungainly "handgun" that she's never even seen before as she's just arrived from an different universe. Yes, she's a genetically-engineered superwoman, but that incredibly loud explosion was the Willing Suspension of Disbelief undergoing spontaneous combustion. The same author's Dies the Fire series features a number of improbably good archers, though at least all of them are explicitly described as practicing constantly and having been at it since childhood.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Kincaid first displays this kind of accuracy in a fight with some vampires, firing off dozens of shots with perfect accuracy while dodging the vamps. Harry claims that Kincaid can't be human because of his ability; all humans sometimes miss. Kincaid denies this, indicating that he's just that good. He's lying through his teeth. He's centuries old, and apparently half-demon.
    • Johnny Marcone, Fool Moon. Hangs upside-down, tied up, slowly spinning, throws a knife at and hits/cuts the rope tied to a tree so Murphy, Harry, and the Alphas can get out of the pit and beat loup-garou butt. Did we mention this was at night? He also is almost certainly a fully human Badass Normal.
  • Ayla from the Earth's Children series once hit four clods of dirt thrown in the air with her sling before any touched the ground, and in general has better aim than anyone else in the series.
  • The Executioner. Cold Sniper and Vigilante Man Mack Bolan uses his marksman skills to psych out his Mafia enemies, on one occasion shooting a perfect cross through drawn drapes while talking to a man inside the targeted room on the telephone. Another trick when sniping at long-range is to predict where the target is going to run to once his comrades start dying and fire a bullet into that space. Subverted on one occasion when Bolan realises he's missed because the man is actually crawling away, using a flimsy plastic sunning board for cover. As Bolan is firing a .460 Magnum rifle this does him no good at all.
  • Subverted in Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser, where the title character participates in a duel; because Flashman has rigged his opponent's gun, the opponent misses, and Flashman decides he will not shoot his opponent, instead firing a harmless shot aimed well off to one side... which ends up blasting the top off of a bottle of alcohol some distance away. Everyone takes this as proof of incredible marksmanship, giving his reputation a major boost.
  • Raj Whitehall from The General owes his Improbable Aiming Skills to the computer he's telepathically linked to. The sequel novels that take place on other planets have the same for their telepathically-linked to computer protagonists, although the degree to which this comes up in the story varies.
  • The villain too can have these skills, as seen in Ian Fleming's Goldfinger.
    "I have never needed more than one .25-calibre bullet to kill. I shoot at the right eye, Mr Bond. And I never miss."
  • In Halo: First Strike, Master Chief is getting help in a battle from Linda, another Super Soldier like him, who's armed with a sniper rifle. During the course of the fight, Linda makes a number of difficult shots, often shooting enemy pilots right out of their fliers while in flight (and in at least one case, using a ricochet to do it) note . When Chief finally grabs a flier of his own to go pick her up, he finds her hanging from a cord, and realizes she's been doing all that shooting one-handed. Her shooting skills are helped by the fact that she wears Powered Armor that responds to thoughts, not muscle movement.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • Honor puts 4 rounds into a guy, straight up the center, within centimeters of each other, before he even falls down, from the hip, before raising the gun and putting a fifth one between his eyes. From 40 meters away (over 120 feet, to us Americans not in the military). Over the span of about three seconds. Justified in that she practiced intensely for the duel for weeks. The second duel however, is this trope to a "T" - she was wounded, had rolled on the ground and STILL managed to make the shots that obliterated her opponent's heart.
    • Victor Cachat versus the Scrag kidnappers and their allies in From The Highlands. Granted, simulator training in the Honorverse is highly effective, but Cachat is a just-graduated agent using two days' worth of simulator time (that could not, by its nature, simulate the exact positions and reactions of his opponents). He didn't manage a clean sweep of all the bad guys, but didn't leave much for the Audubon Ballroom (who were supposed to do all the shooting) to clean up.
  • In The Brothers Grimm story "How Six Men Went Far In the World", one of the six is a hunter who boasts he can shoot the left eye off a fly from two miles away. He's certainly able to shoot a horse-skull out from under the head of a sleeping man in order to wake him.
  • Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. She spent years hunting with a bow and arrow, and in the second book during training for the second Hunger Games, she hits five birds tossed into the air at once, before they hit the ground. The other Victor-tributes are noticeably stunned into silence, and several of them request her as an ally that evening.
  • The Imperial Radch trilogy: "Ancillary" Wetware Bodies controlled by a spaceship AI can aim and fire with superhuman speed and accuracy thanks to their enhancements. Breq's Curb-Stomp Battle against a group of assailants gives away the fact that she's not actually human.
  • Jack Reacher: In One Shot the hero realizes that the Improbable Aiming Skills of a sniper are really too improbable. The guy was only an average sniper in his army days and had only sporadically practiced in the years since. He was cheating by shooting his practice targets from short range and then claiming that he did so from 600 yards. In turn another shooter who had below average scores on the shooting range was really an amazing sniper. He 'cheated' by not actually aiming at the bulls-eye but another spot on the target. He always hit what he aimed at but no one else realized that. Both men only used the shooting range when nobody was around to witness their deceptions.
  • The Leatherstocking Tales' Natty Bumppo was probably the first character to do this with guns, or at least to do it with guns and get famous. Mark Twain ridiculed Bumppo's sharp-shooting in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offences".
  • The Legend of Drizzt:
    • In Sojourn Drizzt befriends Moochie, an old, blind ranger who teaches him the trade. Among Moochie's tricks is to have his owl companion fly near a target and hoot, so that Moochie knows where to shoot. He never misses.
    • Catti-Brie. She doesn't do anything very spectacular, but as soon as she happens to find a magic bow, the others can count on her sniping anyone from any distance, even though we've never seen her so much as practice shooting.
  • In Maryrose Wood's novel The Long-Lost Home, Lady Constance (in bed from having just given birth) hurls a bonbon across the room into the one good eye of the man threatening her babies.
  • Legolas in The Lord of the Rings: though not as evident as in the film, he's never depicted as missing his target.
  • Martín Fierro: This is a Narrative Poem about Martin Fierro, a Gaucho who is Press-Ganged into Conscription trying to Settling the Frontier. At song III, he describes the Indians as Badass Natives who can kill any enemy with polearms and the boleadoras.
  • Played a couple ways in the Matador Series by Steve Perry.
    • The primary weapon of the Matadors is a spetsdöd, a pneumatic dart-thrower attached to the back of one's hand and with an effective range of about thirty meters. The Matadors rarely miss, and their celebration upon graduation from Matador Villa consists of the graduates throwing a handful of empty spetsdöd cartridges into the air for the audience to shoot.
    • Invoked in The Man Who Never Missed:
      • The book takes its name from the legend intentionally cultivated by Emile Khadaji, who is a near-perfect shot with a spetsdöd, but would replace the few misses he did make with darts from a hidden supply so that it looked like he never missed at all. He snarked to a Confed officer in The Machiavelli Interface that "the man who only missed a few times" isn't as inspiring.
      • In the framed narrative that takes up most of the book, the man who taught Khadaji to use a spetsdöd told him that you're only as accurate as you try to be. As an example, he used a target of a woman with a gun and asked Khadaji what he was aiming at: Torso? Left nipple?
  • Mistborn: Wax, in The Alloy of Law, fires a bullet from inside a time slowing field, waits to see how it deflects when leaving the field, then fires another bullet with a bit of extra velocity from his telekinetic Steelpushing powers right as Wayne drops the time slowing field, and has the two bullets collide in mid-air, ricocheting off each other in order to hit a man who was hiding behind a human shield directly in the head. He also shoots people's guns out of their hands several times over the course of the first book alone (his opponents Healing Factor meant that it was more effective than trying to kill him). Even his standard gunfighting is remarkable, as his Twinborn powers allow him to launch himself through the air, regularly making shots in-mid air with no apparent difficulty.
    • Flashbacks have shown that despite his competence at the time of the books, he wasn't a particularly great shot at first. Although much of what he does is still wildly improbable, the implication seems to be the his years in the Roughs involved a great deal of practice with his firearms, Metallic abilities and the many combinations of the two.
  • Lasko from the Paladin of Shadows books. In Unto the Breach he turns a Chechen commander into Pink Mist from almost three kilometers away. In A Deeper Blue he goes four-shots-four-Kneecaps-four-seconds from a helicopter, then destroys the gun one of the terrorists attempts to reach for.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians:
    • In The Battle of the Labyrinth, Percy pulls off an incredible shot nailing a monster through all three hearts with one arrow, all the more incredible because he is the worst archer at Camp Half-Blood. This is because he prayed to Apollo and Artemis to improve his shot. We later find out it actually was Hera who helped his shot.
    • A better example would be the children of Apollo or the Hunters of Artemis, who shoot projectiles straight out of the air. Neither of which require the direct assistance of the Goddess-Queen Hera.
  • Yasmini in S.M. Stirling's The Peshawar Lancers has precognition which tells her the precise direction to point her gun and the exact moment to squeeze the trigger. She's got her eyes closed as she does.
  • Every member of the Ranger Corps from Ranger's Apprentice can fire off five arrows and have a sixth at full draw before an enemy could draw their sword. Halt has managed on two occasions to imagine where a target will be, fire without fully seeing where it is, and hit it dead on both times. From the day they start their apprenticeships to the day they retire, Rangers practice their aim whenever they get a moment, meaning that they're expert marksmen in months and uncanny shots in a year. The Temuji are nearly as good as the Rangers if not better in many cases as well.
    • Overall, the trope is generally played as realistically as possible- Rangers are expected to be putting in hours of practice every day from the day they first get their bow, and they take into account things like wind and visibility when taking their shots. At one point, Will is firing an easy kill shot, but it hits the man in the thigh because he'd forgotten he was using a different kind of bow.
  • Lu, a Space Police officer in The Red Vixen Adventures manages to Shoot the Hostage Taker while hanging upside down from a hole cut in an auditorium roof.
  • Subverted in Chasm City, a Revelation Space Series novel - legendary marksman Tanner attempts a trick shot which hits two friendlies, killing one, and misses the intended target entirely.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms—Want to establish that some dude is badass? Give them a moment where they get to show off their stupendous skills at archery. There's even an archery contest between the high-level Wei officers where each subsequent shot escalates in difficulty until a full-on mass fistfight almost breaks out before Cao Cao declares that all of the participants can get the coveted prize.
  • Eddie Drood, hero of Simon R Green's Secret Histories, has a magical gun specifically designed to allow him to do this. The Colt Repeater never runs out of bullets and will automatically hit what you want it to hit as long as you point it in the right general direction. Unfortunately, not everything he meets is vulnerable to bullets.
  • Sharpe: Sharpe has this a few times. Hagman, a former poacher, is an amazing shot, and proves it repeatedly by shooting Frenchmen at just the right moment. The only time he misses is the first time you see him... because he's trying to shoot a rabbit at 200 meters with a blackpowder rifle, without aiming. And he still almost hits.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Copper Beeches", Watson shoots a vicious dog in the head — while said dog's teeth are still buried in the throat of the man it was attacking, without taking the man's head off too. Being Watson, he doesn't mention what an incredibly difficult shot this must have been at any range.
  • In Shogun, the samurai Buntaro nails a gatepost that is behind him with an arrow fired from inside a house. (Admittedly the walls were only paper, but still...) Not only does he hit the gatepost several times, the arrows are stated to all go through THE SAME HOLE in the ricepaper walls. He's also been drinking heavily.
  • Six of Crows: Jesper. While Matthias is also a good shot in keeping with his military background, Jesper just doesn't miss a target he has any sight on. Justified, as Jesper is a Fabrikator who uses his powers to guide his bullets; a hint of Fridge Brilliance as well since all Grisha need to see their targets to use their powers, and the one limit Jesper mentions is he must have some visual to work with.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Imperial Stormtroopers as written by Timothy Zahn, he of the White and Grey Morality where Imperials actually get to be competent. Most clearly seen in Star Wars: Allegiance. Human Shield? Not a problem for a stormtrooper who's trained as a sniper. Just shoot past the hostage's ear.
    • X-Wing Series:
      • In The Bacta War Iella Wessiri scores a headshot with a blaster pistol at range. Her companion hangs a lampshade on it; she explains her sight shoots high; she was aiming for the torso.
      • Wes Janson's skill with sidearms means that any blaster pistol he carries becomes a Sniper Pistol.
      • In Wraith Squadron, Myn Donos can hit targets smaller than a person from kilometers away with his laser rifle. He's the unit's sniper.
  • Sword of Truth: Richard Cypher develops this ability around the second book, apparently a sign of his magical powers becoming evident.
  • Deconstructed (alongside the archetype of The Gunslinger) on John Steakley's Vampire$ with the character of Felix. He's got the capacity to kill with any gun he can get his hands on, always shooting unerringly. The deconstruction (and what unnerves Felix so much about his ability to the point he prefers not to use it) is that this capacity to never miss also doesn't has a "stun" mode, so to speak. He can never shoot to wound, he can never shoot a gun out of a man's hands, he can never pull off trick shots or fire a warning shot, he can never Shoot the Hostage on "the sweet spot"—he will always shoot to (insta-)kill.
  • In Victoria, the elite Jaeger commandos of the Confederation supposedly have both discipline and this in sufficient measure that they can train realistic skirmishes by shooting close to each other with live ammunition without unacceptable losses. Though this may just have been a joke by Chief of Staff Rumford, we never actually see anything like it in action.
  • In the Standard Fantasy Setting inversion of Villains by Necessity, Samalander, the last assassin, always hits something with a thrown knife, even if it's not his intended target. Misses will even ricochet implausibly and hit something, even if it's Sam himself.
  • From Warhammer 40,000's Black Library:
    • The Gaunt's Ghosts novel Honour Guard includes a passage where the character Lijah Cuu effortlessly shoots tiny critters that even the eponymous regiment's marksman Larkin would hesitate about going after. Unfortunately, he's also the regiment's Ax-Crazy...
      • During the last push of Salvation’s Reach every single sniper in the forward push is required to make incredible shots, disabling bombs along their route. Tragically, the best shot of the entire series goes to Merrt, who manages to hit one of the bombs on order to safe guard the regiments retreat, sacrificing himself and Dorden.
    • Ciaphas Cain:
      • In For the Emperor Amberley Vail accuses Cain of "showing off" when he scores a headshot with his laspistol at range. He shrugs it off by saying he was going for a torso shot and the target ducked. However a footnote reveals that Cain is, in fact, uncannily accurate at long range with his sidearm. He attributes it to his augmetic fingers, but nobody else with augmetics has that level of skill.
      • Double Subversion in The Emperor's Finest. Cain has Jurgen take a shot at a fuel tank on a vehicle. It takes him a few tries, then Cain finds out that due to the way he worded the order, his Literal-Minded aide had been aiming for, and hit, the much smaller release valve.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • This is the hat the Two Rivers, and as close to justified as this trope can be: if you regularly practiced with a bow since you were old enough to hold one, and were taught bowyery and fletchery from the same age, you'd be a damned good shot too. One of the main characters almost ends up in a fight with his foreign wife when she jokingly asks him if all of his people are as skilled as he is, and he honestly answers that no, the older men are much better.
    • Birgitte Silverbow takes the trope to its Logical Extreme: she never misses, period, because she's the embodiment of the Archer Archetype. She once cuts a path through a citywide riot by shooting everyone in front of them through the eye.


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