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Project Appleseed AAR

I stepped outside my comfort zone last weekend and attended an Appleseed event. For those not familiar with Project Appleseed, the organization’s website states:

“Project Appleseed™ isn’t a gun club or a militia, nor is it a historical society. Instead, we are a non-partisan group of men and women (known as the Revolutionary War Veterans Association) who are committed to upholding the values and principles of America’s founding fathers. We use rifle marksmanship instruction as a gateway to help bring our nation’s history to life and to show that many of the values that our forefathers relied on to win our independence are still very much in demand today.

Through clinics and events, we teach rifle marksmanship and early American heritage to introduce individuals of all skill levels to the knowledge that was so crucial to the success of our nation’s founders. Aside from the fun and camaraderie of these events, the designed takeaway is a renewed sense of civic responsibility that each attendee can then implement in his or her own community. If we can reconnect enough people with the selfless civic virtue of our forefathers, we as a nation will all be better off.”

The event was a full enjoyable weekend with good people. The student to instructor ratio was fairly instructor heavy, with 8 instructors (including 3 “instructors in training”) working with 13 students. It was a mixture of American history and rifle marksmanship. History was presented in the form of storytelling and focused on the events of 19 April 1775. We now know this date as Patriot’s Day. General Gage sent British troops to seize powder from colonial militia at Lexington and Concord, MA. The militia met them, sparking the actual fight for what would become American Independence.  History lessons were interesting as they delved into some of the well-known and not so well-known personalities that participated in the festivities that day. Discussions also covered how the events and fighting unfolded. They tied in to the American spirit and why we cherish the right to keep and bear arms as we do. The historical lessons were placed at various points in the event. The event truly was a mixed weekend of shooting and talking about the Revolution, not a class and another class.

Marksmanship portions were just that. Appleseed events do not teach tactical use of the rifle, nor are they intended to. They do not teach gunhandling skills including speed or tactical reloads, or stoppage reductions. The focus is pure marksmanship. I heard the phrase “traditional American marksmanship”, meaning field shooting positions, multiple times. We did not use supported positions at all and fired from standing, kneeling, sitting, and prone positions.

Most attendees had .22 rimfire rifles, while one other and I used 5.56mm AR pattern carbines. Many Appleseed events allow only .22 rimfire and shooters are encouraged to use them at all but known distance (KD) events. This event being held at the RWVA home range, centerfire rifles were allowed. All shooting during the actual conduct of the course was done at 25 meters.

A safety brief began each day as it should. This safety brief was specific to the cold range philosophy that Project Appleseed follows. After the safety briefing we fired a 13-round redcoat target. The redcoat target features scaled F Type targets to present a visual representation of the silhouettes at 100, 200, 300, and 400-yards, and a rectangular target representing the shingle used to select personnel for Daniel Morgan’s corps of riflemen during the Revolutionary War. Course of fire was three rounds at each silhouette and one at the shingle. This was conducted cold to establish a baseline. A survey was taken of hits then we moved on to marksmanship instruction.

We began marksmanship by discussing the six steps of firing a shot. This is another way of explaining the fundamentals of marksmanship that many of us learned long ago or the functional elements of the shot process that is now used in the U.S. Army. The six steps according to Project Appleseed are sight alignment, sight picture, respiratory pause, focus, trigger squeeze, and follow through. I personally prefer the shot process and the functional elements thereof as it’s an easily taught comprehensive system. That said, the six steps get most of the points across to enable accurate fires.

We then discussed and practiced the prone position. The key difference in the prone was the use of a loop sling as opposed to magazine supported. The loop sling method is very stable but doesn’t lend itself to rapid target transitions, movement, or weapon retention with muzzle discipline. It also works (barely) with modern tactical slings. This is intended solely for shooting. The primary instructor stated as such and added that many other nation’s militaries use the sling to carry a gun, where the U.S. Marine Corps uses it for shooting. We conducted grouping exercises on sighting squares at 25, zeroing if needed. Instructor staff assisted in diagnostics, coaching, and zeroing.

After the prone position, we discussed and practiced the sitting, kneeling, and standing positions. All used the sling. The standing position discussed and demonstrated was the heavily bladed classic target shooting stance. Instructor staff walked the line coaching shooters throughout the day and diagnosing errors.

We fired the AQT, Project Appleseed’s qualification course of fire, twice. This consists of 10 rounds fired from standing and kneeling or sitting, and 20 rounds from the prone. Scaled silhouettes on the target simulate 100-yard shots standing, 200 yards kneeling or sitting, and 300 and 400 yards prone. Shot strings are timed and scored according to the AQT target’s scoring zones. The total possible is 200, but the prone slow fire is counted twice bringing the total possible score to 250. “Rifleman”, or expert ranking, requires a score of at least 210. This isn’t all that difficult but isn’t the cakewalk one would think either. The standard is much more difficult to achieve than is expert qualification on the Army’s ALT-C 25-meter alternate course of fire. Added difficulty is due to firing positions, F Type instead of mostly E Type targets, and the use of scoring zones and points instead of hit/miss.

 

Another redcoat target with comparison from the morning finished the day’s training. Most everyone had improved. The day concluded with awarding Rifleman patches to those that qualified on the AQT with a score of at least 210.

Day two began with discussions of target detection, range estimation, external ballistics, and the effects of wind, conducted on the 500-yard range. The block of instruction included lecture only with no practical exercises. This was a decent block of instruction but I wish it had gone deeper into ballistics. From there we had another history lesson and moved back to the 25-meter range.

We shot another redcoat target and recorded results, followed a rehash of the material covered on day 1 and began shooting the AQT for practice. We fired approximately 6-8 iterations then another redcoat target. Over the course of the two days, 7 shooters attained the Rifleman qualification.

At this point, the official weekend was over and those with centerfire rifles prepared to move to the 500-yard range. I re-zeroed my rifle for 200 (my BDC is designed to be zeroed at 200) using a ballistic offset before moving and began on steel by confirming at 200. We then proceeded to work at shots from 100 to 500 yards. Targets were steel F Types. The biggest variable from the work to this point was ballistics and the use of holds. The known distance work was good reinforcement for what had been done at 25 and a good way to finish the weekend.

Lessons learned/ Takeaways:

  • A Blue Force Gear Vickers sling isn’t designed as a loop sling but can be pressed into service as one. This is accomplished by simply shortening it on its adjustment point and putting the nonfiring arm through. Hand placement and a few other things change to use the sling. It’s not perfect and not quite as stable as a purpose-built sling or GI sling, but does the trick.
  • Field shooting vice magazine supported makes you a better person. Training this way forces you to truly drill down on the shot process. When going back to supported positions with greater stability, the results of the unsupported work are immediately noticeable. Besides, not every shot allows for a supported position, even magazine supported. Normal supported positions should be trained as well and should take priority of course, but working unsupported makes supported work seem effortless.
  • Banging F Type targets at 500 yards from a prone unsupported position is a pretty satisfying experience.

Comments on the course and instructors:

  • The event was well run and a great value. Blocks of instruction were well organized as was the progression.
  • History lessons were well focused and presented. This type of event is good for bringing people in to learn of our nation’s founding.
  • Instructors are more knowledgeable than the average NRA certified instructor, at least on the narrow focus of delivering accurate fires.
  • A four MOA goal was applied through the entirety of the weekend. This was explained as the accuracy needed to score a hit on a threat out to 500 yards. The phrase, “Infantryman’s quarter mile” was used numerous times to drive home the four MOA goal and reason.
  • Target analysis will give indicators but watching shooters tells the story of what they are doing correctly or incorrectly. Diagnose the shooter; don’t rely on the grouping.
  • Outside of the narrow focus of firing a shot from the positions used at 25 meters, the knowledge base demonstrated by some was somewhat lacking. It was acceptable for building a solid shooter purely from a marksmanship standpoint.
  • The material presented was very dogmatic. One way to do things isn’t necessarily the only way and rarely is. Open mindedness to different and updated techniques or best practices would be preferred.

Conclusion: The Appleseed event is one people should participate in. This should not be where a beginner stops as there is much more to being proficient with a rifle than firing from an unsupported position at 25 meters, but is a good primer. I do not believe the skills taught produce a true “Rifleman” as Project Appleseed doesn’t work manipulations to keep a gun in action, nor does it work supported positions that allow for more stability and greater accuracy. For an experienced shooter, it’s a great chance to rehash basics, hear a different way of saying the things we equate to good shooting (albeit in a different manner), and be put to a pretty good standard. It is good for reminding one’s self where we came from while taking an opportunity to burn powder in a structured environment with standards of performance attached. The weapons training is a very narrow scope of being able to place accurate fires on a target from an unsupported position. That said, it’s always a good idea to revisit and take those things into a personal training plan. Attendees, especially newer shooters, should take the skills worked out into more progressive training programs and courses. The Appleseed event was a good experience overall. I will continue to dedicate some of my personal training time to firing from the unsupported positions worked over the weekend, using the AQT target and course of fire as well as pushing true distances.

 

 

Mike Lewis
Retired Senior Noncommissioned Officer of Infantry with 20 years of active service in the United States Army.

"During my tenure, I was blessed to serve in some of the most storied units in the Army, including the 82nd Airborne Division and the 506th Infantry Regiment (AASLT) (Band of Brothers), and with some of the finest human beings one could know. I have deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan in support of combat operations, served on deployments to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in support of peacekeeping and stability operations, and served on the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). My final assignment in the Army was as the 82nd Airborne Division Small Arms Master Gunner, developing and instituting weapons training, conducting force modernization activities pertaining to small arms weapons and enablers, and consulting with the Maneuver Center of Excellence (Fort Benning, GA) on said subjects. I have attended both shooter and instructor level classes from some of the best trainers in the industry, am an NRA certified instructor, and have conducted firearms training on the civilian market for concerned citizens since 2007."

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