Well, we got back late last night from a weekend at Appleseed, shooting with a bunch of bloggers and other folks. Chris and I had an absolute blast! I've never had any formal rifle training myself, and I went into the weekend not even confident in my ability to shoot 100 yards. By the end of the weekend I was hitting gongs out past the 400 yard line on the long distance range. It was awesome! I am very proud to have earned my Rifleman badge as well.
Even though it was rainy on Saturday, the range was covered so we stayed nice and comfy. We started out by shooting the red coat target prior to any instruction to establish a baseline. The red coat target consisted of simulated 100, 200, 300, and 400 man-sized targets as well as a simulated 250 yard head shot. You had three shots for each target plus one for the head. On my first red coat target I wasn't even able to get off all of my shots, thanks to some operator error and an old magazine that wouldn't feed. I did manage to get my three shots in the 100 yard target, but completely missed the 200 yard target.
After the red coat target, we started in on the instruction. The shooting basics (sight alignment, picture, etc) didn't do much for me since I have such a strong background in handgun. On the other hand, the different shooting postures and sling use were all new to me and I found them to be incredibly useful. They advocate the use of a GI sling, and I agree that the GI sling is great (I shot with it on Sunday), but also teach a method using a regular sling which is nearly as effective. They also gave the best explanation of natural point of aim that I have ever heard. We were familiar with the concept before, but not how to put it into practice.
Interspersed through the day were little history lessons and stories. I'll let Chris talk more about those since he's the resident history buff, but I do know that the book they used as source material is one that Chris has read and approved of.
In the afternoon, we started in on the AQT. One thing I think they didn't emphasize enough is that you didn't have to shoot the AQT if you weren't ready - you could continue working with the sighting-in target or practice your positions. They did make that a lot more clear on Sunday. Anyway, we ran the practice AQT, then two scored AQTs. I started at a 125ish and rapidly improved to a 180, hampered by the fact that I hadn't done any work on my 10/22 - specifically, I hadn't improved the trigger. If you're going to run this course with a 10/22, I highly recommend a trigger job! In all honesty, that heavy stock trigger wore me out so much that I was using two fingers on the trigger by the fourth stage of the AQT. In fact, Chris is putting in a Midway order as we speak so that I can correct this!
That pretty much finished up Saturday. They ran a 4-minute AQT which I didn't bother shooting, and another Red Coat target to show how you'd progressed over just a day. I started off the day clearing only the 100 yard target. At the end of the day, I cleared 100, 200 and 300 yards plus I got the head shot. I only missed clearing the 400 yard target by 1 shot, too! Then we packed up and headed out to dinner with the instructors and some of the other shooters. At dinner, the instructors ran a debrief, highlighting some areas that they need to improve on and asking for our input. I really liked seeing that - a hallmark of a good organization. On Sunday they very clearly addressed all the issues they'd discussed Saturday at dinner.
One big downer is that Ramseur has an agreement with some local churches not to start shooting until noon on Sunday. At 9 am they did a class on cleaning the 10/22 which really wasn't of much interest to us. At about 10 or so though we headed up to the long distance range and talked about target acquisition, windage, and all sorts of factors to take into account when shooting at a distance. I found the lecture to be very interesting and we will definitely be putting the information to good use (or trying to, at least) on the Kodiak trip.
We didn't get started shooting until 12:30 or so. I was a bit disappointed by that. If it were me, I'd have had everyone starting the prep period at 11:57 and calling the fire command at exactly noon, so I did feel like there was some wasted time on Sunday morning. We ran a third Red Coat and many people backslid (though some people were using different guns, which accounted for some of that), but I cleared the 400 yard target... missed the head shot though. Then it was back into AQTs or black boxes to work on fundamentals as each person needed. Chris and I scored a 209 and a 208 respectively on the first AQT, which was pretty funny (even if it was a bit annoying at the time!). I made Rifleman on the next shoot with a 217 but Chris had some mechanical problems. By then they were letting us move up to the long distance range if we wanted so I broke out my 30.06. I've really only shot this gun once or twice before and was uncomfortable with the recoil and not at all confident out at one hundred yards. But the Appleseed training was a huge help - I started at 200 yards, using sandbags instead of a sling, and by my second round of shots I had a nice tight group dead center. After that I moved out to 400 and started pinging the gongs they had set out. Unfortunately, they weren't able to get the pop-up targets running. That was all with reduced recoil loads. I then switched to my full-power hunting ammo, figuring to sight in for Kodiak. My groups opened up a few inches, but stayed nice and centered - I'm feeling very comfortable with that gun now! It's amazing what a good shooting position can do!
I want to emphasize that one ought not necessarily come to an Appleseed expecting to shoot Rifleman the first time. In fact, I think that focusing on the AQT score is detrimental. It takes your focus away from actually learning what they are teaching if you are stressing yourself out over qualifying. There isn't a whole lot of time to practice new techniques if you just want to run AQTs, but the folks I saw who chose to work with the black square targets instead of AQTs were making really great improvements. Some of the instructors said that it took them nearly a year to shoot Rifleman - do keep that in mind. As my first firearms instructor said, there's no such thing as a bad day at the range! And given that Appleseed will let you continue to shoot for free for a year or until you make Rifleman, there's nothing wrong with coming out and learning the new skills, taking them home and practicing, and coming back in a month or two!
I think the bottom line on Appleseed is that it is great training for a pretty unbeatable price. You just need to know what you are getting into. This is not self-defense training. It's not close quarters combat. It's long distance shooting. The two are completely different animals and what works for one may not work for the other. As the instructors said, it's different tools in your toolbox and you can never have too many tools! We aren't going to be using this training for home defense but we certainly will be using it on our hunting trips and for target shooting! Remember to do what you need to do and not to get blinded by the scoring or frustrated if someone is progressing faster than you are. It will help a lot of you bring an appropriate firearm - you can't go wrong with a 10/22 (just get the trigger job done first!), and the training does require a certain amount of physical ability - though they certainly work with you to provide alternatives when needed!
Anyway, as I said at the beginning, we had a blast! I've been typing a lot and I just looked over to see that Chris has a post he's working on about Appleseed too, so I'm going to hit enter and sneak mine in before he gets done.
Two young adults talking about personal responsibility, public service, civic preparedness, and whatever else crosses our minds.
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