First off, I would like to thank the orange-, red-, and green-hats responsible for putting this shindig together; I suck at names, and have forgotten most of you all’s carbon names, but I understand the people behind the Appleseed forum names of TnColonel, Tn_Dadx5, Tellico, BonnieBlue, Slyder, and Doyle were all there, so thank you for spending your weekend teaching klutzes like me how to shoot. And for putting up with us as we tried to de-suck-and-fail our rifles on the line. Sorry about that.
Anywise, from the top. I always kind of wanted to attend an Appleseed clinic starting back when I heard about them a few years ago, but we live in something of a dead zone for the events, and I would have had to drive about three hours in any given direction to find one, spend the night, and drive back, which seemed like not an ideal circumstance since Better Half did not appear terribly interested at the time. Then, one of the times we went out to Oleg‘s, she got to play around with his suppressed, bolt-action .22, and realized this whole shooting thing could be kind of fun with right tools. The topic of Appleseeds came up, we picked out a date that would give us enough time to put together our kit and maybe get a little practice in, and off we went.
The courses generally start around 0800 or 0830, so if you are having to drive in from out of town, I would strongly recommend doing so the day before, spending the night, and getting to the range on time or even a little early to help things move along; the course ends on Sunday when everyone is qualified, we run out of ammo, or we run out of time, and I doubt either of the first two events have ever happened, so make sure not to be the person holding up the proceedings. During the first briefing period, the instructors introduced themselves (and, thankfully, everyone wears nametags so idiots like me do not look quite so stupid), talked a little about their history, and went over the rules for the day.
In this particular respect, Appleseed departs from conventional firearms training rather radically. By now, I am sure you are at least passingly familiar with the traditional four rules of gun safety, and while Appleseed has four rules as well, they are a little different. Quoted from memory, they are:
1. Always keep the muzzle of the guns in a safe direction. Preferably this should be "downrange", but "up" will also do in a pinch.
2. Do not load until given the load command. This means that unless you have been given that command or are otherwise shooting, your gun should be on the deck with its magazine removed, its chamber empty, its bolt back, a chamber flag inserted, the safety on, and no one touching it. (And, yes, they check all of those little details on every gun before declaring the range cold.)
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on-target.
4. Make sure those around you are following the rules. The orange/red/green-hats are instructors, but everyone is a range safety officer.
With hundreds (thousands?) of Appleseed events recorded in history, here is a fun statistic for you: no one has ever left one with more holes than they showed up with. You do not want to be the person responsible for breaking that record of safety.
From the safety briefing, we moved into the first of what they refer to as "The Three Strikes of the Match", which explain, in significant detail, how the Battles of Lexington and Concord might be a little different than what you remember from your history books, and how the match that started the Revolutionary War took three separate strikes to finally ignite.
After that, it was off to the shooting! Well, first, it was off to actually get our rifles. Before the announcement, you are more than welcome to get your mat, ammunition, gloves, magazines, ear/eye protection, and whatever else you like on the firing line, but do not go grabbing your rifle until one of the colored-hat folks tells you to. They started us off on the "Red Coat" target to judge where everyone stood – the silhouette you could plug three holes in (or one, in the case of the head-shot) was your "effective" firing distance; I managed to wing the 400 yard one quite nicely, and Better Half scored the head-shot perfectly.
Once they had an idea of where everyone stood in terms of shooting ability, we moved on to the Six Steps of Firing the Shot, again quoted from memory:
1. Sight Alignment. For peep sights, center the front post in the middle of the rear sight ring. For open sights, line up all three "posts". They disrecommend open sights. For scopes, line up your head behind the optic, and slide it back and forth until you see no black ring around the image coming through.
2. Sight picture. They recommend the "pumpkin on a post" method of using peep sights – put what you want to hit right on the top of the front post; do not bisect the intended target with the front post. Obviously, you will be putting a different part of the target on top of the post for the 100 yard shoot than you will for the 400 yard shoot. If you use a scope, just put the crosshairs where you want the bullet to go.
3. Respiratory pause. Take a deep breath in, naturally let it out, and pause – right then is the period they believe offers the best time to take your shot. Oddly, this was the exact opposite of what I seem to recall learning in air rifle, so that was an annoying chore for me. Do not force the breath out, and do not hold it out for more than ~5 seconds; breathe back in and try again.
4. Focus. Focus your eye on your front sight post (or the target, if you are using an optic), and focus your mind on the target. Yes, the target will be fuzzy behind the front post; that is ok. Your eye can only focus on one plane at a time, and given that your rear sight, front sight, and target are all on different planes, you have to pick one, and apparently the front sight works the best.
5. Squeeze the trigger. Do not jerk it. Do not pull it. Do not slap it. Just keep applying pressure with the pad of your finger until the "click" of the hammer falling comes as a surprise. They recommend using a ballpoint pen as a training aid for this, conveniently enough.
6. Follow through. Hold the trigger back – do not immediately let go, as this may affect things (I have trouble with this) – take a picture in your mind of where the bullet went, and slowly let off the trigger until you can feel the mechanism reset. Then you are ready for your next shot. It is important to know where your bullet went, because then you can work out why it went there, and try to adjust/correct.
Then we went over the appropriate use of a sling – they teach the "hasty sling" and the "loop sling"; I will not even bother to try to explain them (a great photodocumentary of both is available here) except to say the hasty is far easier to get into and out of, and I, personally, did not suffer that much in accuracy when using it compared to loop. It is a matter of personal preference, though they would prefer you used loop for everything except standing.
And speaking of standing, then came the discussion on the shooting positions – standing, kneeling/sitting, and prone. You need to attend an Appleseed to get the full explanation of those (if only to have someone show you them), but they all come down to one basic premise: the body’s Natural Point of Aim.
Now, I still do not grasp this, and despite shooting quite well (a 233) I never seemed to find mine, but the basic idea is this: when you are in a shooting position and lined up on the target, if you are in your natural point of aim, you should be able to close your eyes, breathe in and out a few times, breathe out one last time, squeeze the trigger, and be relatively close to your target, if not on top of it. This is the "natural" position for your body to be holding your rifle, where you are not having to muscle anything into place, or fight anything. Like I said, my NPOA was on an extended LOA, but Oddball did a great job getting acquainted with his.
Then came the black squares. The ultimate goal for Appleseed is for you to become a "4 MOA Shooter". What on Earth does that mean? Well, take a look around you – you can see 360 degrees, so long as you turn your head. Now, take one of those degrees; how do we subdivide it? With 60 minutes. MOA is an abbreviation for "Minutes of Angle", and "4 MOA" describes a cone four minutes across at the base that the Appleseed instructors would like you to be able to shoot within. So how do minutes translate to inches? Well, that depends on your range. At 100 yards, 4 MOA is approximately equal to a circle four inches in diameter (really, it would be 4.1888 inches in diameter, but we mere recreational shooters can toss that fraction and deal with whole numbers). At 200 yards, it works out to 8 inches in diameter; at 50 yards, 2 inches in diameter; and at the 25 yards most Appleseed shoots take place at, it is 1 inch in diameter.
So, basically, discounting atmospherics, ballistics, and those other kinds of details that factor into long-range shots, if you can consistently hit a 1" square target at 25 yards, you can consistently hit a 4" square target at 100 yards, and a 16" square target at 400 yards.
Coincidentally, how wide is your chest? Remember, the goal of Appleseed is "a nation of riflemen".
Anywise, that "one inch / 4 MOA" goal explains why the first half of the first day, and most of the second half of the first day, was spent shooting targets with black 1" x 1" squares surrounded by 1/4" grids – the goal was to keep all your shots inside those black squares, and if you had a good grouping outside of those squares, the grid would tell you how to correct for it. In short, functionally every sight and optic on rifles has some way of adjusting it, and most of them are kind enough to print those adjustment instructions directly on the device itself; match up those instructions ("1 click = 1/4 MOA", for example) to how many grid squares you are off from the center of the black square, and guide yourself right in.
The only catch happens when you do not have a "group" so much as you have a "pattern", and then the Appleseed instructors have to spend some quality time with you. This is, unfortunately, the one place where Appleseed falls down a little, or, at least, ours did. There was the one shoot boss and then another five instructors of varying hat colors, and, honestly, that simply was not enough people to provide adequate teaching to all 24 shooters. I shot within that 1" square the first time we engaged them, and the only times I fell out were when I made mistakes I identified, but I always want to learn how to shoot better, and there just was not enough time for the instructors to tell me how. In fairness, the shoot boss did speak to me once about my trigger release – I come off too quickly, and now that I know that, I need to work on that – but that was about the only interaction I had (aside from troubleshooting failures, but since I was mucking with a gun on an otherwise cold range, that makes sense).
On the other hand, Better Half shot about 2" groups just to the right of the squares at the beginning and was able to dial herself and her optic into them by the end of shooting the squares with some help from the instructors, but she felt she did not have enough time with them either, especially with her relative newness to the concept of rifles.
Please do not misunderstand – this is not meant as a slight against the instructors; in fact, they did the very best they could with the time and people they had. They just needed more people. Unfortunately, this is not something the organization itself can do something about… it requires folks like you and me to step up and fill those roles so everyone gets a good, solid training experience on these weekend shoots.
Anywise, after shooting the crap out of some black squares (fear us, Flatland!), we moved on to the first Army Qualification Target, and we got to learn just how small people are at 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards. Damned small, it turns out, even at 9x magnification. I qualified, as did two other people, though my score was only the 210 necessary to pass – apparently I would have been "dunked" if the air temperature was something above "freakishly cold". We closed out the day with another Redcoat Target (I actually did worse), and headed back to our hotels.
I spent the night scrubbing and lubricating the hell out of both our rifles, to basically no avail the next day.
The following day started with another Redcoat Target (they kind of use these as a measuring stick of people’s progress), some more black squares, and then the "AQT Grind" – shoot until everyone qualifies, we run out of ammunition, or we run out of daylight. Sadly, the last happened first, but they still had a 40% qualification rate, including Better Half and commenter Lynn H. Lunch was a discussion of "dangerous old men… and women" who helped the Revolutionaries despite being quantified as "mature", even by today’s standards. For example, at the age of 55, Hezekiah Wyman was, or may have been, quite the badass.
Some things to note from the AQT grind: Do not get in a hurry. Somehow or another, the first round loaded into one of our magazines had its bullet bent 30 degrees off the axis of the cartridge. I will be damned if I know how, and I still have not managed to extricate it from the magazine, but all I can figure is that we got rushed loading the mag, and the first round was not seated so well before we tried to shove the second one in. In any case, we were down a mag for the rest of Appleseed, which can be disastrous. The same goes for shooting – in the first standing position and the last prone position, you have damned near all the time in the world; if your sight picture does not look right when you exhale, breath in again and try again.
On the flip side of the coin, the instructors do not really (read: "at all") approve of this, but it is entirely possible to crank off more than one round per breathing cycle, and do so accurately. I did it. A lot. Especially on the standing-to-prone section. I would not recommend it, but it can work.
Get a good sling, and one that is designed for both "loop" and "hasty" uses. I finally gave up on mine after it slipped out of tension once too many times and bought one our shoot boss brought, and thereafter never had a problem. Oddball and Wizard only brought slings that were really meant for hasty use, and will be replacing them, I believe. Likewise, QD attachments for the sling are a must, since you generally just leave your sling on your arm when it is in loop configuration, and just undo it from the rifle.
Scopes are not mandatory, but they surely do help. With my functacular eyesight and limited training, I doubt I could have done as well as I did if it were not for the assistance of a scope that turned out to be quite the value for the price; as the Chiefs’ Mess on my first ship taught me, "If you are not cheating, you are not trying" (or, as the Marines say, "If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck."). On the other hand, the two teenage girls who qualified as Riflemen did so with fairly bone-stock Ruger 10/22s with iron sights. And on the gripping hand, a retired military helicopter pilot qualified rifleman with iron sights… on a bolt-action rifle. If that does not make me feel inadequate, I do not know what will.
Do not get frustrated. This kind of goes along with not getting in a hurry, but I actually passed on the last two AQTs and the last Redcoat Target because (1) I knew I had already qualified on the former and cleared the latter, and (b) I knew I was getting annoyed at the mistakes I was making, which was only compounding the mistakes. So time to call it a day and load magazines for those still shooting. Oddly, it appears as though I shot better as they day progressed, but the mistakes I was making were annoying, along with my rifle being increasingly pissy, so it was probably for the better.
Bring enough padding and clean your guns. I have touched on this before, and they are self-explanatory, so I will leave it at that.
Finally, have fun. After all, you are there learning more about our American history, getting in touch with that history yourself, and becoming a better Marksman, and all that at a price that simply cannot be beaten. Enjoy yourself, take away what you can, and come back next time for another dose.
Thanks again to all the instructors!