This weekend I was able to attend a marksmanship clinic known as an Appleseed Shoot which is put on by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association who’s mission is “teaching every American our shared heritage and history as well as traditional rifle marksmanship skills.” Simply put, it’s a bunch of volunteers who hold a very structured marksmanship training class while teaching about the history surrounding the Revolutionary War. Now don’t be put off by that last part, it’s not a bunch of kooks trying to indoctrinate you with some crazy or extreme political viewpoint or some boring history lesson. Rather it’s a bit of story telling about the events that led up to the start of the Revolutionary War that’s peppered throughout the day during the breaks and was actually very interesting to hear since we sort of glazed over it in history class in middle school.
The aim of the clinic is to teach the fundamentals of marksmanship with a sling in a handful of shooting positions to be validated on the AQT, or the Army Qualification Test with the ultimate goal of earning your Rifleman’s Patch.
The first thing on the list of things to bring to an Appleseed Shoot is an open mind. Well put. These guys have a specific algorithm around traditional marksmanship positions facilitated by the use of an G.I. sling. Some of these styles clash with some of the other methods I’ve learned in other classes and I’m sure there are forums out there with people furiously arguing for/against these shooting positions. For me, I followed their philosophy to the letter to see for myself and ultimately their just another tool in my shooting/problem solving toolbox.
I’ve been shooting for a few years now and I have never learned to shoot with a sling and didn’t even own a two point sling until a few months ago where I bought a Tab Gear sling for a match where I thought it would be handy for carrying my rifle between stages. I played with it a few times but didn’t see any really any benefits downrange with it. The instructors go over the use of the sling in painstaking detail and show you how to adjust it to fit you, the different ways to use it depending on your situation, how to get into it quickly, etc. And they constantly watch you to see if you’re using it properly and reenforce proper sling techniques. Man did it feel awkward at first but after a little time it started to find it’s proper place on my arm and the perfect length started to emerge which translated to results downrange.
One of the things I really appreciated about the Appleseed training methodology was that they repeatedly give a test throughout the clinic called the Redcoat Test that is used to quantify your shooting progress. You are given a series of progressively smaller targets to be shot in a specific process that is used to measure your progress throughout the class. I have to say it is very satisfying and confidence building to see your groups tighten up and be on target more often as we progressed through the class. After shooing the Redcoat Test you know exactly where you stand with your abilities and mine were pretty fair to begin with but not what I would call great. That test continued to vex me throughout the class because I really wanted to clean it and get a perfect score which was just not happening for me yet.
As with any class, we began with a safety briefing and an overview of the shooting protocol. We then stapled up our first target, the aforementioned Redcoat Test, and proceeded to shoot it and we had our baseline. We then moved to a target with five 1 inch squares on it to be sure we were all sighted in or could make adjustments as needed. My plan was to bring my Savage .22LR bolt rifle since it was darn accurate, ran inexpensive ammunition, and would be comfortable to shoot for two days. Nice and quite! But I realized that my Leupold Mark 4 6.5-20 scope wouldn’t come close to focusing at the distance we were going to be shooting at so I quickly rifled through my box of gun parts and pulled out a $60 Centerpoint 4-16 scope that had parallax settings down to 20 yards. Found some 1 inch Burris rings and boom! it was all mounted up and ready to go. The only problem of doing this at 11:00 the night before is that I wasn’t able to sight it in so a quick and dirty look though the bore sight in would have to suffice. As it turns out it was only off a couple of inches high and left and I quickly had it in the sight in squares after a few twists of the turrets.
So the rest of day one was going though the different shooting positions, sling options, a great little bit of storytelling at lunch, great instruction culminating in the first Army Qualification Test attempt at the end of the day. Unfortunately I had some time constraints that forced me to leave before I could shoot the AQT so it would have to wait until day two.
Day two was basically refinement of day one. More Redcoat Tests (which by the way were getting better and better for me!) and sight in targets. Everyone had really found their groove and we were shooting a lot more than day one since we were all moving quicker before stages and didn’t have to be told to load magazines, etc. But day two is were it all came together for me and I switched to using my sling in the cuff configuration instead of the hasty configuration and everything just starting working for me. Now I really stink at shooting offhand while standing. I’ve always had problems with it and have missed some “unmissable” targets during some matches because I was so bad at it. Get me in prone and it’s all over, but standing…well, you know, not great. With lots of help over the course of two days the excellent instruction was really paying off and I was able to shoot very well (for me) standing, shooting offhand with my sling. I also figured out the perfect tension I needed to stabilize the rifle while prone and how to hold it over my support elbow to keep me from getting fatigued after a few minutes. Again, Redcoat Tests demonstrating real improvement downrange. After a while I could shoot groups prone with a sling that were only possible for me to perform from a bipod and sandbag two days ago.
First AQT. Since the AQT is a timed event you really have to be quick with your transitions, magazine changes, and if you’re like me, racking your bolt. I wasn’t quick enough on the first and second stages of my first AQT and wasn’t as sighted in as I though I was since I was grouping a little low, just off of the bottom of the lower small targets of stage four. I wound up scoring a 194, too low to qualify for my Rifleman’s Patch which I really wanted to get! I gave a half of minute of adjustment up on my elevation turret and we did it again.
Second AQT. I went a little too fast on the standing stage since I just spaced out and thought I had less time than I did and could have done better but it was done and you can’t take shots back. Time to move on to stage two. Timed with a transition to the sitting position and a magazine change to boot, all under 55 seconds. I was racking my bolt like a madman but did manage to get all of my shots off before the timer sounded. Third stage, transition to prone, magazine change as well. Not too bad. Fourth stage 3 minutes from prone, all the time in the world to put nice little groups on the little targets at the bottom of the AQT.
Now I thought I knew about NPA (natural point of aim) but the instructors really demonstrated it to me and how I wasn’t doing it well at all. Getting that down and breathing in the “Rifleman’s Cadence” would put the crosshairs right on the target perfectly aligned each time. Now that’s NPA!!!
I’m on pins and needles at this point. Was the last AQT good enough to earn my patch? The scoring seemed to take an eternity and we were already on to our third AQT attempt, not knowing the results of the second. But the Gods of marksmanship were good to me that day and when we finished the third attempt I was told that I had scored a 230, presented with my Rifleman’s Patch and given the three customary shouts of Hizza!! What a great feeling, knowing that I had arrived a relatively poor shot and with the aid of the instructors had passed the AQT.
I wound up shooting a 216 on my third attempt and a 236 on the last attempt, but I think the best target of the day was the last, another Redcoat target which I finally shot clean!
So would I recommend attending an Appleseed shoot? Without hesitation. In fact, you should head over to their site now and regiester today.