Fredericksburg is a cute little Texas tourist town nestled in the heart of the Hill Country wine region. It’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find the Appleseed project, a course designed to teach Americans how to shoot a rifle, laced with lessons on U.S. history.
But then Fredricksburg is also the birthplace of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, a man who knew a thing or two about guns. Big guns. So I packed my relatively small rifle, sharpened my pencil and headed to the metaphorical ballistic orchard.
Day one started with the most thorough safety briefing you’ll find outside of a visit to a munitions plant. To ensure safety during the program, Appleseed’s four rules of guns safety are range- and mission-specific, differing slightly from Jeff Cooper’s four rules. Appleseed instructed us to:
1. Always keep the muzzle in a safe direction.
2. Do not load until given the load command.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target.
4. Make sure those around you follow the safety rules.
The Range Officers mentioned “the other four rules” during our briefing, but only in passing. The glaring omission reflected a consistent pattern: the training was at times too rudimentary for the experienced shooter, but not rudimentary enough for greenhorns.
Bottom line on this one: if you’re planning on going to Appleseed, you should have a firm grasp on how to operate your firearm. This is not a class on the fundamentals of loading and firing a gun safely. As such, if you’re new to rifle shooting, or planning on taking someone who fits that description to Appleseed, this is not the beginners’ course you’re looking for.
Once the safety briefing concluded, our assembled RO group, about eight people total, it was designation identification time.
– Orange hats are worn by RO’s that have reached Rifleman status and have volunteered to help instruct and provide eyes and ears on the range
– Red hats are worn by RO’s that have done their time wearing an orange hat and passed a series of tests. They’ve graduated to chief instructors, responsible for running the event.
– Green hats are the shoot bosses, They maintain complete control over everything at an Appleseed event.
Appleseed attendees attempt to receive the aforementioned Rifleman patch. While there’s plenty of history to learn and more than a little work on rifle skills and fundamentals, the patch is proof positive that you can hit what you’re aiming at. To earn it you have to score better than a 210 out of 250 on the Appleseed AQT test.
First up: the “Red Coat” target. I’ve actually seen this target before at stage 2 of the Pecos Run n’ Gun. Trust me, it was a lot less stressful to shoot a Red Coat at 25 yards.
The Red Coat course of fire consists of five targets. Four consist of scaled head and torso targets representing the actual sight picture of an average sized human head and torso and 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards. The fifth target, Morgan’s shingle, represents a square the size of a human head at 250 yards.
From any position of your choice shooters attempt to put three rounds on target on each of the head/shoulder targets, and one in the target zone of the shingle. Careful, historically-minded readers will notice that this requires thirteen shots in all, one for each of the thirteen original colonies (as the Appleseed instructors’ will inform you).
Participants shoot this target series four times during the course of the weekend. Once at the beginning and end of each day. The RO team keeps track of how the group is doing relative to how many people hit each of the target zones. Our group, like most, improved each day.
The diagnostics and practice target above is the second target series. The entirety of the first morning was spent putting these up, shooting at them from various positions, and getting feedback from the instructors on what we did or didn’t do correctly.
The last target is the one that matters most. It’s the test shooters need to pass for their Rifleman patch. Hits in the V count for five points with each corresponding number counting accordingly. Stages 1 through 3 are scored 1 for 1 while stage four has a 2X multiplier for all points. The course of fire is as follows.
- Stage 1 – From standing, fire ten shots at the top target in 2 minutes. Maximum of 50 points
- Stage 2 – From standing, on the fire command drop to a seated or kneeling position. Fire two shots on the target on the left. Perform a magazine change. Fire three more shots on the left target. Transition to the right target and fire five shots. Time limit is 55 seconds. Maximum of 50 points
- Stage 3 – From standing, on the fire command drop to the prone position. Fire two shots on the target on the left. Perform a magazine change. Fire one more shot on the left target. Three shots on the middle target, and four shots on the right hand target. Time limit is 65 seconds. Maximum of 50 points
- Stage 4 – From prone, fire two shots on the left target, two on the next target to the right, three on the third, and three on the fourth. Time limit is 5 minutes and all points count double towards your total score. Maximum of 100 points.
The total round count for the first day was less than 100 rounds with most of the time being spent under instruction. The round count for the second day is closer to 400 rounds or so depending on how quickly you reach Rifleman. Each AQT test burns 40 rounds.
The Appleseed project provides solid instruction. That said, I found the training to be disappointing.
Like any responsible gun owner, I believe that a nation of citizens trained in the safe and effective handling of firearms is a nation of people who are likely to be a bit more civic-minded, responsible and generally “good” to have around. But rifle handling isn’t in and of itself enough of a draw to get newbies to the range. Appleseed sells the sizzle: U.S. history.
I’ve offered friends and family the opportunity to go to shooting classes in the past on my dime as a way to get them involved in the shooting sports and I’ve been met with a resounding chorus of “maybe”, “that might be fun”, or “meh.” Contrast that with the same friends and family universally exclaiming “oh cool!” when I told them about Appleseed.
The delivery of these history lessons left a lot to be desired. In one long lunchtime rant, the instructor shared anecdotal stories meant to promote the Appleseed ethos of “citizen marksman make for stronger countries.” In practice, the lessons were a rambling, haphazard retelling of American history that wandered aimlessly between stories of British regulars, militia men and various characters. Count me as one of the people who mentally checked out and focused on the sandwiches and chips I’d brought.
I would have loved to have seen those same stories broken into bite-size chunks and told throughout the course of the day.
The shooting instruction was also lacking.With four instructors supervising 20 participants, bad habits remained uncorrected. The shooter next to me struggled for two days with the kneeling position without assistance. He was obviously frustrated by his performance on the various tests and none of the instructors helped him out. Breaking up our large group into two or three manageable sub-groups could have done quite a bit to increase the level of attention.
Not one instructor used a spotting scope during the shooting stages. We had to make our rifles safe, call a safe line, and walk downrange to check targets with instructors. There was a long delay between poor technique being applied and corrected, which ultimately slowed a lot of people down over the course of the weekend.
There was only one rifle stock with a laser pointer for the instructors. I’m glad there was at least one there, but I found out later it belonged to the shoot boss and wasn’t owned by Appleseed. This setup is an excellent diagnostic tool and should have been used widely before anyone fired a single round.
Further frustration: a sizable portion of the participants, myself included, were running aftermarket stocks on their guns. Had Appleseed accepted stocks and laser pointers instead of the entry fee (or for a discount on the fee), I would have gladly brought an old stock and cheap laser pointer to the party.
The end result of all this: I received very little in the way of individual training. I can think of only one time when one of the instructors addressed something I was doing while shooting. It was a warning to keep my support hand loose and it happened at the exact moment I was preparing to break a shot.
I paid $60 for the weekend. Despite all my whining, I think I got my money’s worth. The Appleseed project offered an excellent primer on the fundamentals of rifle marksmanship. Next time, I’ll be taking an AR with a can and a set of target irons or maybe my Garand. My marksmanship improved over the course. Both of the guys I came with earned their Rifleman patch, which made for a much calmer ride back to Austin (much trash talk had taken place on the first night over beers and fried chicken).
In short, Appleseed training is not top tier rifle marksmanship training, nor is it the best place to receive civics lessons. But it’s good enough to get non-newbies and non-marksmen out to the range and help them further down the path of rifle proficiency.