View Full Version : My Appleseed Experience: Summary and Review
07-23-2011, 12:54 AM
This summary and review is dedicated to Dave, who continues to be a source of knowledge and inspiration as both a mentor and a friend.
I'd like to take a second (or two) to write a not-so-brief summary and review of my experience with the Appleseed Project. I’ve broken it down into three parts: the summary (the first one is long and goes into greater detail than the rest), the review, and a little conclusion to tie it all together. As an honest reviewer, I hope I haven’t offended anyone, reader and instructor alike.
Quick disclaimer: I should point out that all the Appleseeds I have attended have only been with the first day of instruction (Saturday). As a result, this summary and review only covers my experience with the Saturday portion of the Appleseed shoots I’ve attended. While I do generalize a little bit in the review, I hope that you’ll understand that this is a reflection of my experience with the Appleseed Project and may not be applicable to Appleseed shoots being held all across America. However, given my encouraging experiences, I certainly hope it does.
Please also note, I use the term ‘staff’ and ‘instructors’ interchangeably. I’m referring to the Appleseed Project volunteers. From Instructors-in-Training (ITTs) all the way up to Shoot Boss, these individuals have donated their time to making these shoots possible.
I hope you enjoy reading about my experiences with the Appleseed Project and my experience inspires you to attend an Appleseed to see for yourself.
SUMMARY (Reads more like a personal narrative):
Prior to coming down to San Diego for college, the extent of my experience with guns consisted of airsofting (akin to paintball but with added realism) and what I saw in video games and movies. In essence, I'd never held, seen, or shot a real firearm.
Once at college, I eventually befriended a co-worker named Dave, who even now, continues to be my go-to guy for firearm laws, what's hot on the gun-market, and general firearm advice. My interest, combined with his sheer enthusiasm in helping a fledging familiarize himself within the firearms community, led me to purchase my first rifle. It was a CZ 453 Varmint (a formidable tack-driver of a .22 rifle) that I would frequently take to the range and every Appleseed thereafter.
Dave later introduced me to the Appleseed Project. He explained that the Appleseed Project hosted two-day rifle marksmanship classes in various cities throughout that US that focused on teaching Americans how to become better marksmen as well as the historical significance of the American Revolution. By attending several of these classes and practice, the Appleseed Project hoped that their attendees would be able to shoot what they called a “Rifleman’s score”. Shooting a qualifying score earned you bragging rights among your friends as well as the coveted Rifleman’s badge, a patch to you’re your pride and skills as a marksman. The description of the shoot, opportunity to show-off, and promise of ‘unique shooting techniques’ immediately interested me. To top it all, being under 21 at the time, it was free for me to attend.
07-23-2011, 12:56 AM
Shoot #1 (Azusa):
After some deliberation, Dave and I eventually decided to attend the August 7th Appleseed in Azusa. As we gathered the items on our packing list and made preparations for the shoot, my anticipation for the shoot only built up more and more. When the day finally arrived, we energetically set off bright and early in the morning from San Diego toward Azusa, our very first Appleseed.
Despite having been on the road for two hours, we arrived at Azusa's Burro Canyon Shooting Park eager and excited (partly because, for me, I had just shot my newly purchased rifle for the first time a few days earlier to zero my scope). Registration / check-in was efficient and the staff was friendly. After we checked-in, we met up with the staff and marksmen to make some quick introductions. Although our group was predominantly males, the ages, ethnicities, and experience levels (measured in number of previous Appleseeds attended) varied greatly. The diversity of characters surprised me and I was comforted in knowing that we weren’t the only guys new to Appleseed. After our quick meet-and-greet, the staff gave us a quick but very thorough safety briefing along with the range commands and how they were used. Afterwards, we were instructed to grab our rifles and the remainder of our gear and placed them where they were needed.
Once set up, we had our first course of fire: the traditional Redcoat Targets. They look like this: <http://www.dpmsinc.com/forum/uploads/20081109163626653.jpg>. This was done in the prone position with little to no instruction other than how many holes to put in which targets. At the end of the course of fire, we would make our rifles safe and back away from the firing line. Once the firing line was clear of shooters and all weapons were deemed safe by the staff, we proceeded downrange to examine our targets. Having no real concept of how to use a scope, I maxed out the magnification of my scope at 9x zoom (this would change frequently throughout the day). Given this power setting and no prior instruction, this ‘pre-test’ of my abilities set my effective range at 200 yards.
We then rallied for instruction where we learned the ‘steady hold factors’ (or the fundamentals) of shooting in the prone position as well as how to use the USGI web-sling that we were asked to bring. During instruction, one instructor laid down in the prone position, acting as a teaching aid, while another pointed out each aspect of the steady hold factors. Once he finished explaining, he briefly touched upon each aspect and asked us to repeat it in more detail, ensuring that everyone remembered the fundamentals.
We then moved on to sling usage. The instructors showed us three different utilizations of the sling and explained the benefits and drawbacks of each. I opted for tightening the sling around my bicep, the preferred and most stable and platform of the three. When it came time to put on the sling, I was immediately lost. Fortunately, one of the instructors noticed my looks of bewilderment and came to my aid as I tried to mimic what the shooters around me were doing. He reviewed what was taught during instruction and showed me how I had put the sling on backwards. Although slightly embarrassed, the friendly and patient demeanor of the instructor never made me feel hastened or pushed. Once finally set up, I was amazed at how well the application of a simple sling could make such a huge difference.
We then engaged in several courses of fire, targeting various one-inch boxes that represented four minute-of-angle (MOA) at 100 yards. The first course of fire was in the prone position, following instruction on the steady hold factors and how to use the sling. The second course of fire followed instruction on the ‘six steps to firing a shot’. This included how to align your sights, where to focus your eye, proper breathing, trigger pull, and the follow through. Once we completed this second course of fire, we headed down range to check out our targets where we circled our groupings and received some individual commentary from the staff. Based on the size of our groupings, the instructors made recommendations and reminded us of the six steps and the steady hold factors.
We then gathered again for instruction, this time downrange, on how to calculate minute-of-angle at various distances as well as how to adjust scopes based on their individual measurements. Utilizing the information on making MOA conversions, we also learned how shooting an adjusted target at 25 yards could translate into hitting a target center-mass at further distances.
We engaged in another course of fire, again focusing on the six steps and steady hold factors in order to get our groupings as tight as possible. Once we finished shooting, we proceeded downrange to check our groupings. We met for instruction on how to ‘interpret’ our shot groupings; namely the effects of anticipating the shot, putting too much or too little finger on the trigger, blinking, dragging wood, etc. We then participated in what I’m calling a ‘partnered dry-fire drill’.
We paired off into twos, with one shooter and one loader. Without the shooter’s knowledge, loaders would load a magazine (either empty or loaded) and advise the shooter whether or not he/she flinched, anticipated the shoot, blinked, etc. as the shooter pulled the trigger. This feedback allowed shooters to correct their mistakes and perfect their technique. Afterwards, shooter and loader would switch and take on the other’s responsibility. I enjoyed this drill immensely and got to know a fellow shooter a little bit better as a result of the exercise. The drill was incredibly informative, not to mention fun. The effort of lining up a shot and pulling the trigger only to hear the ‘click’ of an empty magazine was aggravating but incredibly entertaining. Once we completed the exercise, we engaged in another course of fire to demonstrate what we had learned. After heading downrange, we pulled down our targets and posted new ones.
For those that had fairly tight groupings, the staff made recommendations on how much to adjust a scope or sight and in which direction. This was soon followed by another course of fire and a reexamination of how the sight adjustment affected where the shots landed. We repeated this one more time before reconvening for instruction.
Now that our sights were on target (or close to it), we learned about ‘natural point of aim’ (NPOA). This is the point that your body will naturally want to aim at in its relaxed state during respiratory pause. We learned that closing your eyes helped to ascertain your NPOA, and that we would able to pull off better shots using a relaxed body and adjusting NPOA as opposed to ‘muscling’ the rifle on target. We then continued to learn how to adjust our natural point of aim while in the prone position by utilizing the hips and pivoting around the elbow supporting the rifle.
We then engaged in a course of fire, focusing on finding our natural point of aim and adjusting so that our sights ended up on target. Once the course of fire was completed, we headed down range and put up new one-inch square targets.
We then met up behind the firing line for a history lesson. I’ll be honest; I don’t recall every detail from these stories (it’d be impressive if I did), but what I feel was more important was the overall sentiment that has since remained with me to this day. These lessons focused on ‘the three strikes of the match’ that led to war before the American Revolution could even call itself a revolution, much less a war. I don’t consider myself a history buff or aficionado and usually pass over programs focusing on the America Revolution on the History Channel (World War II and modern combat are more my taste). However, these stories were riveting. They went into great deal, describing some colonists whose names seemed only remotely familiar while others I had never previously heard of. Despite some unfamiliarity, the stories behind each name were particularly moving. The stories reflected the sheer dedication and oftentimes-selfless acts that many early colonists performed to protect their liberties and rights as colonists under Britain. As I said earlier, these narratives were particularly poignant and gave that ‘Oo-rah!’ sense of pride to be an American. We concluded the first strike of the match and proceeded to learn the next course of fire.
Having learned how to shoot prone and with sights on-target (or close enough), we learned how to shoot sitting and kneeling. Again, using another instructor as a teaching aid, we reviewed the steady hold factors and learned how they varied slightly for each of the three sitting positions as well as the kneeling position. We then proceeded with a course of fire for each individual stance (three sitting and one kneeling) to determine which we felt most comfortable (and thereby most accurate) with. I personally found sitting to be aggravating given my body type and flexibility. This, coupled with some “less than attentive” listening skills, coincidentally resulted in me shooting “less than ideal” groups. Proof that the adage “stay in school, kids” remains true.
After heading downrange to examine our targets, we posted an AQT (Army Qualification Test) in preparation for the next course of fire. After returning back to the preparation area, we rallied for a much-welcomed lunch. While some shooters left the range to grab lunch, the majority of us stayed on the range. Lunch was accompanied by the second and third “strike of the match”. As the instructors took turns telling their part of the tale, one instructor was particularly “passionate” with his portion. While there was some exchange of awkward glances, I believe that the general consensus of the group was that this instructor’s absolute passion was recognized and commendable. After lunch, we resumed instruction with the standing position.
We reviewed the steady hold factors while incorporating aspects of shooting in the standing position. In addition to the fundamentals, the instructors also demonstrated the importance “resting” while shooting standing. This didn’t make much sense to me until after we began the course of fire. Targeting a 100 yard adjusted target, I quickly realized that the weight of my rifle, complete with scope and bull-barrel, was utterly exhausting. Adage #2: The Six P’s (prior planning prevents piss-poor performance).
Following this course of fire, we learned how to safely transition from different positions: standing to sitting/kneeling and standing to prone. During this period of instruction, the instructors imparted little tidbits of advice including having your magazines within hand’s reach as well as marking your position to minimize time spent trying to find your NPOA. As I would soon find out, I would need every second.
07-23-2011, 12:57 AM
We then engaged in transitory courses of fire, beginning with standing to sitting/kneeling. I quickly learned the importance of “counting shots”. There were multiple occasions where I wasted time trying to line up a shot and pulling the trigger only to hear the ‘click’ of an empty magazine. Overlooking this simple concept led to frustration and, in many instances, hearing the ceasefire command without completing the course of fire. While shooting in the sitting position, we engaged two 200 yard adjusted targets with one reload in-between. Transition to the prone position, we engaged three 300 yard adjusted targets with one reload in-between. Following these two courses of fire, we began the “slow-fire” course of fire in the prone position. Starting in the prone position and given five minutes to fire off ten shots, we were given an ample amount of time to shoot at four 400 yard adjusted targets. After we finished, we headed downrange to examine our targets and post the targets for our final course of fire for the day: the familiar Redcoat Targets. Heading back to the firing line, the instructors reminded us with the themes from the lessons throughout the day and the sacrifices that our forefathers made. Finishing off the Redcoats, we headed downrange to evaluate how much we had improved. All across the board, most (if not everyone) showed improvement. If not through their maximum effective range, shooters saw improvement through considerably smaller groupings.
We rallied for a brief pow-wow and general overview of the day. We quickly reviewed the steady hold factors, were encouraged to practice the core fundamentals at home, and not only to not forget the sacrifices that our predecessors made but also to protect those rights given to us by exercising those rights through voting, writing letters to our representatives, etc. We then ended the day with a quick clean-up of the range (mostly grabbing our gear and dusting off our pants), hopped in Dave’s car, and started the long journey back to San Diego.
07-23-2011, 12:57 AM
Shoot #2 (Escondido):
(My apologies. I don’t remember this shoot nearly as well as the other two; hence the length of the summary.)
Having finished off my first Appleseed, I returned home and soon began making preparations to attend a second shoot in hopes of shooting a Rifleman’s score. With my newfound knowledge and sling in hand, I frequented a local indoor range to try to apply what I had learned to decrease my groupings and place my shots on target. Confident that I had improved in my shooting abilities, Dave and I signed up for another Appleseed, this one on March 26th in Escondido. Having heard our positive experience with the previous shoot, Dave and I were joined by two co-workers: Carlos and Wayne.
While our experience did not change that much from the first shoot, there were some small differences. Unlike the previous shoot we had attended, there seemed to be some disagreement in the leadership structure among some of the instructors. After the shoot, Wayne said that he felt confused at times given the instructors use of slang without fully explaining what it meant. Toward the end of the instruction, Carlos got into a disagreement with one of the instructors in his technique, leading him to “sit himself out” of the final Redcoat shoot. We also seemed to be spending more “dead” time walking from the firing line, downrange, and back for instruction than the previous shoot. This surplus of “unused” time, coupled with a late start and another group’s reservation of the range after our shoot, led to what felt like a “rushed” instruction period. Given our experience with the previous shoot, I noticed that we didn’t have the opportunity to shoot in all the sitting positions nor did we get the chance to participate in the partnered dry-fire drill. Overall, the whole shoot seemed… rushed.
Granted, the whole experience wasn’t negative. I re-learned some stuff I forgot, finally understood and applied the principles of NPOA, found a scope setting that I found manageable, learned a few tricks to speed up my shooting, and, as a result of all these, found myself shooting tighter groupings. Wayne said that he liked the fact that the instructors rotated as teaching aides in order to educate both left- and right-handed shooters. Overall, both Wayne and Carlos enjoyed their first Appleseed experience and said that, despite some prior firearms knowledge, the instruction proved to be useful.
07-23-2011, 12:58 AM
Shoot #3 (El Cajon):
With yet another shoot under my belt, I became even more determined to attend a Sunday shoot and see how I would score on an AQT (Army Qualification Test to attain a Rifleman’s score). I increased the regularity of my trips to the range to about three times a month and began to practice dry-firing at small print-out targets at home. As a member of the UCSD Marksmanship Club, I was thrilled to hear that the club was hosting an, albeit one-day, Appleseed shoot at Project 2000 in El Cajon during the Memorial Day weekend. Like the previous Appleseed, I convinced several friends to give an Appleseed shoot a try. This time three co-workers, the son of a co-worker, and even my sister found themselves registered for the shoot. As the instructors say during the history lessons, “The ranks began to fill…”
We showed up bright and early on Memorial Day at Project 2000 slightly ahead of schedule only to find the entry gate locked. As we sat in our cars waiting, we noticed a familiar face standing by a car. Donning the indisputably trademark green polo shirt and orange hat of the Appleseed Project, Jaime Franks (from Season Two of Top Shot) stood waiting with us. Throwing excited glances at each other and whispered comments of anticipation, we were let into the range after about twenty minutes.
After a delayed registration and preparation of the range by staff, we quickly realized that the number of attendees vastly outnumbered the number of shooters the line could hold at one time. It was decided that we would have two “relays” of shooters, with half of the shooters in each relay. We would rally for instruction, then the first relay would engage in their course of fire, followed by the second relay’s course of fire, and finished with both relays heading downrange to examine and post new targets. This was repeated for each new period of instruction. For the most part, instruction was the same; covering the rules for making a rifle safe, the range commands, the steady hold factors for each position, and the six steps to firing a shot.
Because of the size of the group, this shoot was considerably different from the other shoots I attended. Unlike the other two shoots, the history lessons were not scattered throughout day. Rather, they were “lumped” together during lunch. The length of the combined stories, combined with the hot weather that day, made it difficult to focus on the instructors as they gave their interpretation of American history. One of my co-workers noted that there was almost no one-on-one instruction, something I had previously mentioned after my Azusa Appleseed. She said that only one instructor briefly commented on her kneeling stance and received no help in getting her sling set up the first time around. She also mentioned that the instructors never commented on her shot groupings and, more importantly, how to make the necessary changes to tighten them. However, given the size of the massive group, she chose to reserve judgment on this Appleseed and understood that the teaching capacity of the instructors were limited.
Overall, I felt that this shoot was a success. My previously mentioned co-worker felt that, despite some pitfalls, the class was a great introduction to shooting and she enjoyed the tie-in with American history, the paper handouts, as well as the knowledgeable instructors. Another one of my co-workers called the instruction “invaluable” and the amount of trigger time “satisfying”. Personally, I was impressed with how the instructors handled the number of people and was able to provide informative and safe instruction for so many eager and college-age students who were completely new to shooting. Like the previous Appleseed, the co-workers I mentioned felt that the instruction was definitely worth their time and both look forward to attending another shoot in the near future.
07-23-2011, 12:58 AM
After three one-day Appleseeds, I can proudly say that I succeeded in shooting a Rifleman’s score of 226 / 210 during the Memorial Day shoot. So, does the Appleseed Project work? In my opinion, absolutely. I saw tighter groupings and received new advice on how to place faster and more accurate shots downrange each time I attended a shoot. I accomplished my goal of shooting a Rifleman’s score through attending shoots and repeated practice.
While the $70 price tag for non-exempted males may seem like a turnoff to some, the value of instruction is well worth it. Compared to other multi-day rifle marksmanship courses, which oftentimes run more than $200, the Appleseed Project’s price point is excellent. Toss in the fact that a significant portion of potential shooters have free admission and you end with a huge incentive to go to a shoot with friends.
I love the idea of using the Redcoats as a pre- and post-test of instruction. They’re an excellent motivator at the beginning and a great confidence booster to see how much you’ve improved at the end.
Many of the instructors brought loaner rifles for attendees that didn’t have their own firearms. While most attendees brought their own rifles (with the exception of the massive number of attendees during my third shoot), I think that having loaners is an excellent way to expose attendees who are somewhat apprehensive of firearms to a fun and safe experience.
Possibly my most positive overall experience came from my first shoot. Partly because it was my first shoot and I was itching to throw rounds downrange but also because of the close and personal one-on-one instruction that the instructors gave. Every time we were on the firing line just before a course of fire, I had an instructor make some small correction on my position, offer a piece of advice, or just reassure me that I was doing fine. In either case, with eager instructors hovering nearby, I never felt neglected or confused for too long. A staff that attentive made my first shoot worth the trip and encouraged me to continue attending Appleseed shoots.
I enjoyed having a historical theme as an aspect of Appleseed. The stories provided a deeper meaning and greater significance to the shoots. Plus, taking intermittent breaks between periods of instructions and time spent on the firing line allowed shooters to recuperate and refresh themselves for the next round of instruction. Granted, I felt that the total amount of instruction in my first shoot was a bit overwhelming; however, I retained a significant portion of that knowledge and slowly ‘built-off’ that knowledge with what I learned from each shoot. Even during my third shoot, I was still learning little tricks here and there. In this regard, I don’t think anyone should have shooting a Rifleman’s score at their first Appleseed shoot as a realistic goal. Granted, I’m sure it’s possible and been done before but for the common shooter, I think multiple shoots are needed to fully master the steady hold factors, NPOA, and each shooting position before attaining Rifleman.
Another aspect that makes the Appleseed Project so successful is the power found in word-of-mouth by its attendees. As far as I can tell, not much advertising is done on the part of Appleseed, short of a few online banner ads, a section on Calguns, and a flyer included with the purchase of Techsights. Rather, shooters that have attended Appleseed help propel the Appleseed Project forward by encouraging their friends, family, and co-workers to attend these shoots. Much like the ‘contact trees’ the colonists made to get word out, shooters who enjoyed their Appleseed experience persuade others to attend, who end up telling their friends, and word begins to spread like wildfire. In this regard, I doubt the Appleseed Project will ever have difficulty in finding motivated attendees with the highest expectations.
To the Shooter (sorry if this sounds rude or harsh):
The short version: Have an open mind and come prepared to LEARN. :)
I would like to think that most everyone who attends an Appleseed shoot has a good time, but from my experience, people who don't have a good experience either came with the wrong expectations (usually an opportunity to just throw lead downrange), didn't have an open mind to learn, and/or refused to try something new. This is an over-arching concept and encompasses not only to time spent on the firing line, but also the willingness to learn during periods of instruction as well as pre-shoot preparation (ex. refusing to prepare a sling or showing up with a preconceived idea of what's 'correct'). All the knowledge shared at an Appleseed shoot is strictly for the benefit of the shooter, not the instructors. For shooters, the main purpose of attending an Appleseed is to LEARN, and refusing to do so is simply a poor use of time.
Regardless of the instruction (whether it comes from an Appleseed shoot or a tactical shooting course), I think it's in everyone's best interest to try things with an open mind, make an informed decision on whether or not certain techniques works, and implement them AFTER (not during) the course. This allows shooters to try a new technique, instructors to have an easier time to teach, and promotes a better learning environment for everyone.
07-23-2011, 12:58 AM
In Closing, “The Follow Through”:
Shooting a Rifleman’s score is no easy task. It takes practice, an open mind, and not to mention a steady hand. However, I feel that the title of Rifleman isn’t merely a rite of passage into an exclusive club of skilled shooters.
While shooting a Rifleman’s score may give shooters a tangible goal to strive toward, I have come to realize that making Rifleman should not, by any means, be the be-all and end-all objective of a shooter. While such a goal isn’t easy and shows mastery of the instruction provided, I think that making Rifleman and immediately abandoning the skills and practice of shooting is somewhat superficial. Instead, because marksmanship is a perishable skill, shooters should continue to practice the core fundamentals of shooting at home and on the range, continue to attend Appleseed shoots, introduce friends and family to the Appleseed Project, and/or take the challenge and responsibility of becoming an IIT. The opportunity to learn to shoot weak-handed or with a bolt-action also provides an added challenge for those who have made Rifleman. As such, the journey of becoming a better marksman is endless and wearing a Rifleman patch is by no means the end of the road.
I have since decided to embark on the path of those who taught me by accepting the orange hat of an Instructor-In-Training (IIT). I’ve done my best to write this review in as un-biased manner as possible because I realize that writing a false review would rob the Appleseed Project of the credit its due as well as be of no use to anyone that reads this. I am a genuine proponent of the Appleseed Project and, since my first shoot, have become an active promoter of these shoots among my friends.
From here on, I hope to move up the ranks of an IIT to a full-fledged instructor while continuing to promote Appleseed shoots among my friends and family. I look forward to working with the Appleseed Project and hope that, in some small way, I can share what I’ve learned with the countless number of potential shooters that I may meet along the way. For those new to the Appleseed Project, I hope that this review has motivated you to look into attending a shoot. For those familiar with Appleseed, I hope I have inspired you to continue striving for excellence in marksmanship.
Thanks for reading, and hope to see you at a shoot.
07-23-2011, 5:12 AM
Great review. I'd like to do it but the only scope I have is on my Remington 700.
07-23-2011, 11:44 AM
You don't need a scope, and may actually get more out of using good adjustable irons.
07-24-2011, 5:19 PM
Aaron: Great writeup, very honest.
See you on the trail!
07-30-2011, 2:01 AM
Excellent write up! I hope to make it to Appleseed one day. Thanks for the multiple reviews as well. It really shows people that just because you had one good/bad experience doesn't mean it won't be completely different next time.
07-30-2011, 10:45 AM
Be aware that although kids and women attend (some) events free, there are no such considerations for seniors or veterans
08-08-2011, 12:05 PM
Thanks, forgot about that.
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