It's been two weeks since #2 Son and I went to the Appleseed shoot. I've held off posting (much) because I wanted to digest the experience. Here are those impressions.
Friendly, family experience
This is no exaggeration. There were several family groups, and not just fathers bringing sons. Daughters were well represented, as were some girlfriends and wives. The good folks from the Revolutionary War Veteran's Association, who organized the training event were friendly and patient to the extreme. Feedback and coaching was entirely positive - there was no yelling, with a single exception that I'll describe shortly.
One data point does not guarantee that my experience is the same as the other hundreds of training events nationwide, but my strong impression is that women and children ten and older will feel comfortable at Appleseed. For potential lady shooters who are still unconvinced, there are Ladyseed events designed specifically for women.
It's worth pointing out that the Appleseed folks feel so strongly that women and Middle School age children should shoot that they can attend the event free of charge.
This is your heritage
Appleseed was formed to preserve the American heritage of marksmanship, and the day alternates between rifle instruction and practice, and history lessons. The history is the story of the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This particularly appealed to me: Dad was a history professor, I had a love of history on my own, and when we were in Massachusetts we lived in the town next to Concord.
But that explains why I liked the history. So why did #2 Son like it? I think that it was the instructors, one of whom was younger than he (16). The Appleseed instructors are all volunteers, and are not only versed on rifle instruction, but on the history as well. The presentation had times where it felt memorized (particularly with the younger instructors), but the older ones gave a series of talks that would not be out of place in a High School history class, and all the instructors had a clear love and respect for the story. Heritage, indeed.
Safety, safety, safety
I've taken the family shooting a fair number of times, and I've liked to think of myself as a safety Nazi. The Appleseed line safety monitors put me to shame. The only time anyone raised their voice was when someone was not observing the entire protocol that keeps everyone safe. People forget, and the line safety monitors were there to remind everyone.
The Appleseed safety rules are somewhat different from Jeff Cooper's Four Rules, but they were clearly described, consistently enforced, and very, very effective. I never once felt at risk, even with more than a dozen live firearms in use.
See the improvement
At the top, the target is printed with the only rule that matters for a Rifleman: Hits count. The rifle makes a fine noise, but the point of Appleseed is to teach you how to hit, repeatedly.
The target has four quasi man-shaped red targets, each smaller than the last. The largest is mathematically designed such that when you place the target paper at a distance of 25 yards, the largest appears the same size as a standard U.S. Army Basic Training target placed at 100 yards. The next one is equivalent of the standard target at 200 yards, the third equivalent to 300 yards, and the smallest reflects the standard Army target at 400 yards. This reduced size target lets Appleseed train people with long distance marksmanship skills on a 25 yard range.
The tiny rectangular target represents the target used by Ethan Allan, who formed a rifle company in 1775. Unlike the smooth bore muskets used by the British regulars and American militias, this group used the Pennsylvania long rifles. So many volunteers showed up that he had to set up a marksmanship test to select only the best shots. He set up a wooden shingle at (if I remember correctly) 150 yards, the first rifleman's target in the Republic's history. The small red rectangle at 25 yards is the equivalent of that shingle.
Hitting, and hitting repeatedly is the goal. The first time you shoot the goal is to set a baseline for your incoming rifle skills. The goal is to get three hits out of three shots on each of the five red targets.
Checkpoint: My incoming marksmanship
In a word, lousy. Perhaps "inconsistent" is a better description - remember, only hits count. When we collected targets, the instructors asked for a show of hands for who had hit the small rectangular target three times. No hands. The 400 yard target? Maybe a couple. The 300 yard target? Few. 200? A bunch. The largest target, the 100 yard one? Most.
Me, I had zero targets with three hits. None. [Big sigh.]
At this point, the Appleseed instructors began in earnest. The instructors are well versed with U.S. Army rifle marksmanship training doctrine. They teach the shooting positions: prone, sitting, and standing. They teach the sight picture, how to accurately line up your rifle on target using the sights. They teach how to "zero" your rifle, making sure that it's not shooting to left or right, or higher or lower. They teach the use of the shooting sling - using the sling used for carrying the rifle as an aid to much more accurate shooting. They teach how to control your breathing to increase your accuracy. They teach you how to squeeze the trigger to increase your accuracy. They teach reloading.
Most importantly, they teach the mental concentration that helps you forget your previous misses, ignore upcoming shots that you will have to take, and focus only on the shot that you're taking at the moment. As Napoleon said, the mental is to the physical as three is to one.
Does it work?
It uses the same size targets as the first one we shot that day. There are four flights of shooting, corresponding to 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards. Each flight uses ten rounds contained in two magazines (you have to reload once on each flight). Each round except for the last is timed, with a 60 second time limit for all ten rounds. You can take as much time as you like on the last flight.
Hits are scored - the closer you are to the center of that target, the more points you get. All targets are identical, other than size (in other words, you can score the same number of points on each target, except that the smallest targets count double.
The points all add up to a score. 210 counts as "qualifying" as a rifleman - this score corresponds to the "Expert" qualification at Basic Training shooting qualification. Dad was a reluctant warrior, but was proud to the end of his days that he - a city boy - earned his Expert badge. That's what I was going for that day.
I didn't get it, although I did better than I thought. 189, which is equivalent of "Sharpshooter" at Basic Training. I intend to go back to get my "Rifleman" patch - Appleseed gives you 90 days where you can go back and try again without paying again.
1. Equipment fails. I got military sights for #2 Son's Ruger 10/22 rifle specifically for him to use in this shoot, and the magazine release lever pin broke, making the entire rifle hors de combat. The Appleseed folks came prepared with extra rifles.
2. Adapt and improvise. #2 Son wanted to use his 30 caliber SKS, rather than the Ruger. OK, I had brought a bunch of ammunition for it, and it's sights aren't that bad. But it was designed for mid 20th Century Soviet conscripts - soldiers who were considerable smaller than #2 Son's strapping 16 year old size. The stock was too short for him to get a good site picture repeatedly, under timed trials. We Duct Taped a rolled up T-Shirt to the buttstock, which made the rifle much easier for him to shoot.
3. Bring an attitude willing to learn. The instructors are the very picture of patience. Actually when you consider that they are all volunteer instructors, it's nothing short of astonishing. But even this patience will not prevail against someone obstinately determined to keep using his bad habits. Me, I'm delighted to ditch my bad habits, and believe that I did so - at least for many of them.
4. Appleseed is my kind of group. The combination of history, technical learning and practice, and (perhaps) the opportunity to volunteer myself and help train future riflemen (and riflewomen) is a very seductive idea. First, though, I have to qualify myself.
5. Who would have figured that I'd prefer shooting sitting rather than prone? Hits count, but prone is actually pretty uncomfortable. I was surprised at just how uncomfortable it was, and how well I shot from the sitting position.
If you haven't gone before, this will make you a better shot (unless you're already an expert). If you haven't taken your family, you'll find that this makes quite a fun family outing. The lovely and is-already-plenty-dangerous-thanks-very-much Mrs. Borepatch didn't come, but she looked at me with those eyes that still know how to shine as I headed out with #2 Son. That look made me think that she thought I was being a good father, and that was worth the price of admission (for me; #2 Son was free because he was under 16).
And on the drive home, he said "Thanks for bringing me here, Dad."
So there you have it - there's a sex appeal here (and ladies, if you don't think that your man won't look at you with those eyes that still know how to shine when you're on the firing line, you're very much mistaken indeed). If you have kids, this will let you spend time with them in a way that means something.
Because this is your heritage, and theirs. It is a perhaps uniquely American experience, that's ours by birthright. The Appleseed instruction is on target, in all the ways that count.