The range was great. They had covered firing ports, a 500 meter full-length range (with steel and paper options) as well as a 100 yard range. There's also a "clubhouse" building. Facilities are limited, with two port-a-johns, but its adequate.
Appleseed teaches early 20th century marksmanship techniques. They err more on the "target shooting" side of the house. To someone who has only received "CQB" and "poor" rifle instruction in the past, this was a major technique change. At some point I'll have to do a post comparing my perspective on the CQB vs. Target techniques. For now, I'll just say that I fully embraced the new style as a learning experience, will use it as a "tool in my toolbox," and saw my shooting improve.
The instruction is very good, but fast paced. There were very cogent discussions of:
- Shooting fundamentals (sight picture, sight alignment, breath control, trigger control/follow through, etc)
- Prone, sitting, and standing positions
- Use of the sling
- Natural Point of Aim
- Zeroing -- MOA, inches, clicks, etc
- Long distance target identification, ranging, and adjustment factors
There were also clinics with the Garand and 10/22 maintenance. I skipped those to sleep in a bit and have breakfast with Sean Sorrentino.
Hands-on instruction on the range was great. I didn't count but I'd say there was a ratio of 1:3 line coaches to students, plus a range boss and 2xRSOs. All of the line coaches were excellent. Two in particular really helped me out: Jeremy (aka Goliath from their forums) and Patrick (aka Sam Adams). They had a good mix of older and younger coaches and found a great balance between sticking with you for a few strings to track your progress/trend items as well as rotating to get a fresh set of eyes on your issues.
The line was very safe. We never felt unsafe. We have been to good and bad ranges and know what safe and unsafe lines are. There was one point towards the end of the first day where the RSOs were getting a bit lax and the range boss immediately cleared the line, dealt with the situation, and then they debriefed to the issue after class.
Another big part of Appleseed is the history. They tell the story of Paul Revere's ride and the ensuing British march from Boston to Concord and back again.
I'm a history guy. I studied it in college and really enjoy the topic. Appleseed's history is based on Paul Revere's Ride. The author of this book has written another which is on the US Army's professional reading list. I've read the source material. I feel that Appleseed did a credible job of presenting the story with accuracy. It is really a rather remarkable story and needs little exaggeration, anyways.
I was a bit worried about this aspect of Appleseed. It is clear that the leaders in the program feel that the country is on the wrong track and headed in the wrong direction (a fairly mainstream view, apparently, given that 72% of Americans agree!). However, Appleseed keeps things carefully non-partisan. Furthermore, they emphasize civic engagement and voting as appropriate ways to effect change.
As for other stereotypes -- we had a good number of women on the line (maybe a fifth or a quarter) and the attendees were from all walks of life. One of the range bosses was an Iranian-American. Instructors and attendees ranged from 13 to more mature ages.
We had a unique opportunity because "Fred" (the pen name of founder Jack Dailey) attended on the second day and said a few words. While a bit long winded, nothing was extremist or crazy-talk.
Despite scary, dark media articles to the contrary, Appleseed is not about extremism or militia training--this was specifically disclaimed and discouraged ("We do not do the 'm'-word here"). Appleseed (A) teaches basic marksmanship skills appropriate to a wide variety of uses, (B) tells the story of April 19th as researched and documented by David Fischer, a Pulitzer-prize winning university professor whose work is endorsed by mainstream groups like the US Army, and (C) encourages people to vote and get involved in civic life with an awareness of the dignity and power of the individual.
I would, however, suggest that Appleseed consider two small changes to the history they tell. First, it should be mentioned that Paul Revere was a great joiner, active in many social and political civic organizations. After all, the whole point of the event is to motivate people to get active in their communities and to vote.
An indicator of his importance, and a clue to the much-misunderstood structure of the revolutionary movement, may be found in a comparison of seven groups of Boston Whigs (Appendix D). Altogether they included 255 men. The great majority (82%) were on only one list. Nobody appeared on all seven of them, or even six. Two men, and only two, were on as many as five. One was Joseph Warren. The other was Paul Revere.Fischer, David Hackett (1995). Paul Revere's Ride (pp. 197-198). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Next, Appleseed needs to include a story about patriot females. They have the three big stories about Lexington, Concord, and the march to Boston; they also cover a significant act of marksmanship and a "dangerous old man" and a "dangerous old woman." However, there were plenty of women who played important roles. With a quarter of the audience being women, I think it makes sense to emphasize that it wasn't just men in the field that made the difference on April 19th.
Heather and I have agreed that of all the problems facing our communities, the solution is usually education. I also believe that lack of civic engagement is a crippling disease hollowing out many aspects of our culture (check out "Bowling Alone," which I had to read for a master's class, for more on that topic). However, the media, public schools, and other institutions of public life seem ill-equipped and/or undisposed to address the issue of civic engagement.
Appleseed takes that challenge head-on. The program features a potent mix of very empowering shooting with a powerful and authentic story from an important day in this country's history. What a winning combination to boost people's feeling of self worth, motivate them, and push them to get off the couch and vote, volunteer, or otherwise get engaged!
As for shooting results, everyone in the group improved their shooting. They do a quick assessment test at the start and end of the day and improvement is dramatic. At the start of the day, around half the group wasn't even on target at simulated 100 yards. By the end of the day, ~95% are on target at 100. Substantial percentages improve well beyond that. I personally went from being consistent to 200 yards to being consistent at 300 with good results at 400. I took my AR over to the known distance range and pinged steel at 425 or so on the second round from a field position.
For the AQT (their qualification test), I improved my score from the mid to low 100s to 209 -- one point short of the coveted "rifleman" qual. So, I had to buy dinner on the way home. Still, I was very happy with my groups. My biggest issues were (A) fighting with the somewhat unfamiliar 10/22 rifle and dealing with malfunctions and (B) sight picture. I was shooting with irons and had difficulty finding a good six o'clock hold on the sim 400 yard targets; I had nice tight little groups that were a bit too high, which cost a ton of points.
The instructors have dinner after class on Saturday and all are invited to attend. As the instructors say, "there are no secrets at Appleseed." We went, and I was really impressed by the manner in which they debriefed. Successful organizations identify problems and fixes to document lessons learned. Appleseed does this.
Overall, I was impressed and I will be back to another event. Whether you want to improve your marksmanship (for any reason) or just have a good weekend with your friends and family, Appleseed is a very cost-effective way to get to the range and enjoy a positive, safe experience with a motivational message.