Wednesday, October 22, 2008

RWVA Appleseed Rifle Clinic

Before I get into the details, let me quickly cover a few things that happened, and a few things that didn't happen.

Things that happened:
Everyone was taught the 6 steps of shooting.
Everyone was trained in how to use a sling for stability.
Everyone was told the story of April 19th 1775.
Everyone had their targets "read" to show what they needed to work on.
Everyone was trained with one-on-one attention.
Everyone was taught how to calculate MOA to clicks on their sights.
Everyone who needed it, got help using their gear with the training exercises.

Things that DIDN'T happen:
Nobody was turned away.
Nobody was hassled for using a scope.
Nobody was pressured to buy a sling.
Nobody was singled out except when used for group instruction.
Nobody instructing used the word "kill."
Nobody instructing uttered a single political word.
Nobody instructing said anything bad about anyone except the redcoats.

This post recounts my experience with the program, and as with all things in life; your mileage may vary.

Appleseed is a rifle marksmanship training program that is meant to teach Americans how to shoot accurately. It's run by the RWVA, the Revolutionary War Veteran's Association, which may seem like a silly name since veterans of the Revolutionary War are all quite dead. The group wants to honor the courage and memory of the Revolutionary War vets by training marksmanship.

I signed up for Appleseed because I like rifles. I like being able to shoot them accurately, and I like being able to shoot them without the aid of a benchrest. I signed up with a friend of mine who is an Obama supporter, and he was expecting to get an earful of politics when he went. I too was a little cynical, having read the complaints other people had with the program.

The day started at 8:30 at a local range. We arrived early and helped them set up the target stands at 25 meters. As people trickled in, everyone was told they could set up a spot on the line, and not to bring out any firearms yet. Everyone signed in, got an envelope packet of papers, and got two duct tape nametags to put on their front and back. The attendance was all male except for two females, and the age group went from one young boy (10?) to a particularly seasoned gentleman. Some boy scouts arrived, apparently earning their shooting badges (they still have shooting badges?!), and as soon as it seemed everyone had arrived, they started the introduction and safety discussion.

The instructors used nicknames (from the RWVA forum?) instead of their names, this seemed odd at first, but being from the internet generation I didn't care. The safety was a little longer than I was used to, but we had two new shooters. They also wanted us to repeat the rules aloud, which made sense considering not everyone was the same skill level. After talking about safety, they talked about what RWVA does; specifically teach marksmanship and tell the history of the start of the American Revolution. After that they talked about the 6 steps of firing a shot, and how mastering the rules would dramatically improve our shooting. After that they covered the range rules, and the range commands we would be hearing, and how to react to them. We were to be given preparation periods wherein we would be allowed to handle our rifles, followed by a load command where we would load a magazine filled with the quantity of rounds they specified. Pretty simple stuff, a little cumbersome for me, but all formed around keeping everyone safe.

Safety discussion concluded, we were dismissed to gather our firearms, and bring them to the range while keeping our muzzles pointed in a safe direction. There were a lot of .22s, but there were also full power rifles. An AK or two, ARs, a keltec su-16ca, lever guns, M1As, even a real-life Steyr Scout; all with or without scopes (Though there were more iron sights than there were scopes)

We were introduced to the redcoat target. A long strip of paper with red bell-shaped targets meant to simulate redcoats at the distances 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards (on a 25 meter range). It also had a small red square that was meant to simulate a "headshot" at 250 yards because the snipers of the Revolutionary War were capable of making this shot. The idea was; if we were sent back in time with our modern day rifles, and current skills, how effective would we have been against the redcoats? We were given a prep period to prepare 13 rounds, and prepare to shoot at the redcoat target from any position we wanted. We were to fire three rounds at the four targets, and one at the "headshot." (the "headshot" is called "headshot" on the paper, however, it was called a square by the instructors, except for the last time shooting at it on the second day)

We were given the "load" command, followed shortly by the "fire" command. The berms of the range were meant to direct the sound upward, and I couldn't help but enjoy the sound of my .22 going off next to some 308s and 223s. Whenever someone with a .22 shot, all you could hear was *click!* *sssssh* *wap!* It took a little bit, but I soon realized that the *wap* was the sound of the round hitting the paper and plastic target board. I had brought two magazines, so I shot off my 10 rounds, changed mags to the other one loaded with three, and finished.

Three shots on a target "qualifies" you for that target. Two and one do not count. My results were less than satisfactory... I can't find the first redcoat target I did, but I was not sighted in correctly, and hit about three inches high. Even accounting for the three inch high sighting, my grouping meant I only got three shots on the 100 yard target. The rest were too wide to get all three on the target. When we checked our targets we raised our hands to indicate how well we did. We didn't do very well. We were assured by the instructors that this target was just for comparison after the class was over.

We returned to the line and had an instruction session to cover the 6 steps of firing a shot. They used visual aids for sight alignment of peep sights, and taught a 6 o'clock hold (I bisected the target), but told us it didn't matter as long as we knew how we were aiming, and were consistent.

The six steps to firing a shot were sight alignment, sight picture, respiratory pause, focusing your eye on the front sight and focusing your mind on keeping the sights on target, squeeze the trigger, and follow through. Each step was covered in detail, and explained with examples. We were made to repeat the steps to make sure we knew them, and then we returned to the line to shoot some one inch squares

I adjusted my front sight slightly to reflect the high shooting I was doing (really just gave it a few turns), and decided to do a 6 o'clock hold. After my shoddy performance on the redcoat target, I unhooked the rear of the sling and looped it around my arm for increased stability. I knew I could do better, and I did.

The first group I shot was the one in the middle. 5 shots, all within the black square. I lucked out on the front sight adjustment, but I was just a little too pleased with myself.

At the targets, everyone got an individual review on their target, and were given recommendations on how to improve. We were gathered around some targets as examples to show how you group when you jerk the trigger, push your shoulder, breathe wrong, or don't have your elbows in the right spot. It was all pretty interesting. The holes in the paper were no longer pass or fail, but an indicator of what you were doing wrong, and how to fix it.

We continued shooting the squares until we started developing groups. My groups were getting worse, and I was having trouble identifying the problem. Feh. After we had a few groups on the paper, they told us how to adjust our sights (and recommended we NOT adjust until we had 5 MOA groups) and how to figure inches, minutes, and clicks. Everyone was helped with figuring their sight adjustments where applicable, and we shot some more groups.

We were then introduced to natural point of aim. We were told how to develop our natural point of aim (NPOA), and how to adjust it in the different positions. NPOA is finding where your relaxed body points the rifle while in a properly formed shooting position. I was already introduced to natural point of aim, and thought I knew the right way to use it. We shot some more squares, and switched to some green bell-shaped targets.

After a few more groups we were excused to lunch in some nearby shade. Midway through the lunch, One of the instructors walked into the middle of the group, and recounted some of the history of April 19th 1775, the first day of the American Revolutionary War. The instructors switched off recounting a timeline for the day. The emphasis was on the very real dangers of the day, and the bravery of a bunch of farmers organizing to attack the best fighting force in the world. Being shot in the foot could have been a death sentence, and any maleficence or perceived maleficence against the British meant immediate death.

The passed around musket balls, and showed off British bayonets that threatened the militias of the day. As the story was told, important shots such as the shot heard 'round the world were punctuated by a musket fired by one of the instructors at the range.

I found the history interesting, and really had no idea of the specifics of that day in our history. They then talked about California, and how they were opening up many new Appleseeds in the state. They wanted us to understand that gun owners in California are not alone, and that the only way we're going to change things is by bringing people to the range. Most gun owners in California are "closeted," and need to be willing to be open about their gun ownership (where safe) and offer to bring people to the range.

After lunch, we returned to the line and did a ball-and-dummy (?) exercise wherein, one person shoots, while another loads the shooter's magazine, and watches for shooting mistakes. The magazine could be loaded or unloaded to bring out the flinch, blink, and other bad habits of shooting. Everyone seemed to find this exercise very educational.

We then began training to participate in Appleseed's measure of shooting ability, the AQT. From what I gathered, the AQT was an adaptation on the Army's shooting qualification target. It doubled the score on the bottom row, and used a low contrast gray bell-shaped target to simulate targets that were difficult to see. Scoring 210 or above qualified you for Expert, and got you Appleseed's Rifleman patch.

We practiced switching shooting positions, and learned tricks to track our body positions for our previously established NPOA. The AQT was to be shot, 10 shots standing into a 100 yard target, switch to sitting position and shoot 10 shots at two 200 yard targets, switch to prone and shoot 10 shots at three 300 yard targets, then 10 shots at four 400 yard targets. 40 shots at 10 targets from three positions in four minutes. After practicing on some green AQT targets, and having our positions tweaked by instructors, we ran the AQT.

I fail!

I scored unqualified on the first AQT. I was confused as to why I was getting worse as the day wore on, but just chalked it up to fatigue. (only had 4 hours of sleep)

We packed up, and wrapped up for the day, and two of the boy scouts who had been shooting in the next range over showed us all up by making Rifleman on the first day.

Back in the comfort of my home, I was tired, sunburned, sore, and annoyed with myself. The friends I met there were not going to be going to the second day, and I knew I was going to be sore. I carpooled there the first day, but would have to drive myself the second. I really felt like skipping the second day. My crappy AQT score made me go.

SO! Up bright and early the next day, sore as hell, and feeling two decades older, I made my way to the range.

The turnout seemed to be a little under three quarters of what it was the first day, which suited us just fine, because the first day was crowded. We all kept our firearms in the car again while we set up our positions on the line. After another safety discussion we were allowed to return with our firearms. The second day was going to be about polishing what we'd learned the first day, and shooting AQTs. I was glad for the chance to redeem myself.

This time around we seemed to have even more individual attention, and were given tips, and corrections to improve our shooting. I was shooting like I was the beginning of the first day, and was afraid I'd lose it again. Thankfully, the skill seemed to remain. I think I was able to shoot properly when rested, but once fatigued, I needed to rely on proper NPOA to shoot consistently well, and my NPOA needed work.

As we shot the individual attention we got kept my groups consistent. Using my hips to adjust my NPOA instead of my muscles or breath or feet gave me the boost I needed to shrink my groups a little bit more. We did an NPOA exercise where we found our NPOA, and sighted in on the target. A card was used to block view of the target, we closed our eyes, and took a deep breath. After we were settled again, the card was removed, and we would see if our NPOA really was on the target. Here's where I discovered my NPOA was slipping because my sling (non GI web sling) was too big to get totally tight. I tightened it as much as I could, and was rewarded with tighter groups.

Lunch had some more stories from the Revolutionary War, the second day focused on individuals who were unable to serve in the war officially, but participated in their own way. Individuals who stood out for bravery or effectiveness in the war. These stories were very entertaining, and seemed to go over better than the first day's history.

We started shooting AQTs, and I realized that proper NPOA was making a huge difference. We shot AQTs in stages broken up by reloading and preparation times, and I was seriously improving.

I scored a 187 on the last "staged" AQT test, then we did a "speed" AQT, where all the stages were shot start to finish in 4 minutes. This required 40 available rounds, and I only had two 10 round magazines (having read you only needed two mags for mag change exercises). Fortunately, the instructors were willing to help us by load the empty mag while we shot the the other one.

I was a little worried about the speed AQT, because I felt rushed in the first AQT, and wondered it it was fatigue, or anxiety of the time limit.

I only score 4 points less than the broken up AQT

We continued shooting AQTs, and continued getting tips on our positions, I gradually improved until I scored my best score on the AQT.

4 points short of a Rifleman patch.

We wrapped up by shooting the redcoats as he had the beginning of the first day.

From left to right; End of first day, beginning of second day, end of second day. I described my first redcoat target, and feel that this is a pretty good indication of how the instruction helped me improve.

As we wrapped up, we had one attendee who achieved the Rifleman patch. At first I was a little jealous for having come so close, but when he described the training he did at home, and the three Appleseeds he had attended, I realized it was a little arrogant of me to expect to get my patch on my first Appleseed. During the wrap up, they talked briefly about politics. I readied my guard, and prepared for the worst, but all that was said was, "Think before you vote."

I left with some contact information for the people I had met there. I'm always pleasantly surprised how friendly gun people are. Everyone called eachother by their first name (thanks to the nametags), and was helpful and supportive. Thinking back, I can't think of a single bit of negativity that was expressed. I only head the word "cook" twice, and can only remember people being impressed with their improvements, no matter the level.

One of my friends who attended was new to rifles, and began the first day having difficulty staying on the paper, but ended the same day with five inch groups. He said he understood what he was doing now, and knew what he needed to work on to improve.

I enjoyed some delicious humble pie the first day, and realized that I really needed to allow them to direct me to get the most out of the class. My second day results speak for themselves. To be completely honest, I went into the class wanting the Rifleman patch. I practiced at home with whatever instructions I could find online, and was pretty sure I was going to get it the first class. I realized that being able to shoot a Rifleman score is more involved than just showing up, getting the patch, and moving on. I needed to be able to shoot a Rifleman score consistently, and improve it. That wasn't going to happen in one class.

Throughout the class there was an emphasis on the need for volunteers for the program. It was repeated, but not hammered, or pressured.

I'm going to be attending the next Appleseed at the same range in December. I will be practicing until then. I still want a Rifleman patch, and want to try the class with something bigger than a .22.

If you have any specific questions about my experience, please don't hesitate to ask them in the comments.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm heading to an Appleseed in March, and this helps clarify what to expect. Thank you for posting the details.