M1911.ORG Does Appleseed

By Harwood Loomis for M1911.ORG

Here at The M1911 Pistols Organization, our first love and primary focus is the 1911 pistol platform, but that doesn’t mean we live in a vacuum. There are other types of firearms in the world (and if you’ll give me a few minutes, I’m sure I can think of at least one). One type of firearm that’s notably different from 1911s is, of course, the rifle. Like many youths of my generation, I first learned shooting on a .22 rimfire rifle. It wasn’t until much later in life that I began shooting those little handgun things—and today, I shoot almost exclusively handguns.

Rimfire rifles have a place in my heart, however. So much so, in fact, that a few years ago I bought a used Taurus Model 63 for the simple reason that it’s a clone of the Winchester Model 1903 that my grandfather used to teach me to shoot. The range where I shoot used to have once-monthly rimfire competition nights, and that called for something with a detachable magazine. The Taurus has a tubular magazine in the buttstock, so that was out. To fill the need, I picked up a Marlin 795. And then, after a few competitions, I lost the urge to participate on rimfire nights, so the .22s have been sitting in a corner.

Fast forward to last week. The daughter of a friend in town just enlisted in the U.S. Army, and she’ll be heading off to Basic Training in late June. My friend mentioned that he was certain she was going to have trouble when they got to the hand grenade training because (sorry) “She throws like a girl.” I happened to have an inert, de-militarized WW2 “pineapple” grenade that I occasionally use as a photo prop, so I volunteered to let her borrow it so she could practice throwing a real grenade. They accepted, so I spent last Sunday at their house, giving the young lady all manner of outdated and mostly useless advice about what Basic was like back in 1966.

My friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) is an NRA instructor, so all his children know the basics of shooting. However, the new enlistee never really showed a lot of interest in guns or shooting, so her marksmanship is a question mark. My friend commented that he’d like to see her get some rifle time and some good instruction before she heads off, but he wasn’t sure she’d listen to her dear old dad. I mentioned that there were a couple of Appleseed shoots coming up in our area before she leaves. He jumped on the computer and quickly announced, “Hey! There’s a one-day Appleseed next Sunday. And they still have openings.” The young lady said she was interested. I’ve been meaning to take an Appleseed class for years, so I was interested. So, without further ado, the three of us registered.

What’s an Appleseed Shoot?

You won’t hear this from Project Appleseed™ themselves, but an Appleseed shoot is really a gimmick. The folks behind Project Appleseed™ reportedly started out with the idea of teaching Americans more about the early history of the American Revolution than the watered-down, truncated, politically correct version being taught in most public schools today. The problem they faced was how to get anyone to come out and listen to them. Then someone had the idea of combining the history lectures with a fun activity. What activity? How about learning to shoot a rifle, in emulation of the brave colonials who created the nation that became the United States of America? Yeah, that might work.

Appleseed shoots are a combination of marksmanship training and early American history, focusing on the pivotal events of April 19, 1775, the date of “the shot heard ‘round the world,” the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Most shoots are conducted over the course of two days; the one we attended was a one-day event, so things moved along rapidly, and we started an hour earlier than the usual two-day starting time. We had to be at the range at 07:30 to register. The venue, a private rod and gun club range, was an hour and a half’s drive from my town, so we had to leave my friend’s house by 06:00. That meant I had to be there between 05:30 and 05:45, in order to have time to transfer my gear from my car to his larger and more comfortable SUV for the trip. I set my alarm for 04:00, slept through a couple of cycles of the snooze alarm, and succeeded in dragging myself out of bed about 04:20. Somehow, I managed to arrive across town on time. We transferred the gear, settled in for the ride, and we were on our way by 06:05.

As might be expected, traffic was light at that hour on a Sunday morning so we made good time, and we arrived at the range promptly at 07:30. We weren’t the first to arrive, but we were far from the last. The registration fee includes an Appleseed tee shirt, so now we can honestly say that we’ve been there, done that, and got the tee shirt.

In a departure from what’s usually found at Appleseed shoots, the host rod and gun club included both a continental breakfast and a hot lunch in the range fee, so we had something to drink and a bagel while waiting for the later arrivals to go through the registration process. Once everyone had been registered and fed, the chief instructor (Appleseed refers to this person as the Range Boss) ran us through the Appleseed safety rules. The fact that they are the Appleseed safety rules is an important distinction because, while they aim for the same goal as the NRA rules and Colonel Cooper’s four rules, the Appleseed rules are different. At an Appleseed event, there are four rules for firearms safety:

  • Always keep the muzzle in a safe direction. (down range)
  • Do not load until given the “LOAD” command.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  • Make sure those around you follow the safety rules.

The cadre take these rules very seriously. After every cease fire, shooters safe their rifles and step back from the firing line. Instructors check each rifle to verify that the magazine has been removed, the chamber is empty and has a flag in it, and the safety has been applied. Only when the instructors have given an all clear are the shooters allowed to go down range to view their targets.

With the safety briefing out of the way, before we left the clubhouse for the range the Range Boss presented the first of three talks on the history of the opening of the American Revolution. Most of it was familiar to any American of my (ancient) generation, with mention being made of Paul Revere’s ride (and mentioning other riders who carried the same message in other directions), but he brought out several details and names of participants on both sides that were not taught in my history books.

With what the Range Boss called the “First Strike” of the revolution thoroughly explained, we then headed out to the range.

Shots Fired

Up to this point, all firearms had been kept on our vehicles. After a pop quiz to be sure that we (most of us, anyway) remembered the four Appleseed rules of safety, we were allowed to bring out our shooting mats and firearms. Most participants also brought folding chairs, to set up a few feet behind the firing line for resting between courses of fire, and while listening to the next installments of the history of April 19, 1775.

We started out uncoached, firing at a target that Appleseed calls a “Redcoat,” to establish each shooter’s baseline, for assessing progress.

The “Redcoat” target

The shapes are reduced-scale facsimiles of the U.S. Army pop-up silhouettes used for training our infantrymen (and woman). The uppermost image is scaled so that at 25 meters it looks like a full-size silhouette at 100 meters, the second image is scaled to appear at 25 meters like a standard silhouette at 200 meters, the third row represents a standard silhouette at 300-meters, and the bottom row is what a standard silhouette looks like at 400 meters. I did fairly well on this first target. I scored three out of three at “100 meters,” two out of three at 200 meters, three out of three again at 300 meters, and one out of three at 400 meters. The small rectangle to the left of the 300 meter silhouette represents a shingle. The story as told by Appleseed is that a colonial marksman had to be able to shoot a wooden shingle at 300 yards to be a rifleman. If he missed, he was a cook.

I’m a cook.

This is more distressing than you can imagine. During my time in the U.S. Army I managed to qualify as a Sharpshooter with the M14 rifle, Marksman with the M1 Carbine, and Expert with the M16 rifle. Being demoted to cook is humbling. To make it worse, I was wearing a “Vietnam Veteran” hat. I dishonored my brothers in arms. Getting’ old ain’t for sissies.

Getting serious

With the shooters’ baselines established, the instructors went into explaining and demonstrating prone shooting position and the use of the GI web sling, both as a loop sling and as a “hasty” sling. The loop sling is supposed to be significantly steadier than the hasty sling (which, in turn, is considerably steadier than not using a sling). I shot using the loop sling, but I wasn’t happy with it. I’m an old dog and, as we know, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I’ve been shooting with a hasty sling for more than fifty years, so I found the loop sling to be less comfortable rather than more comfortable. Furthermore, the GI web sling is different than the leather M1907 sling that was used with both the 1903 Springfield rifle and the M1 Garand rifle. I have an M1, set up with a proper M1907 sling. Throwing another variable at me when I had to wake up at 4:00 a.m. was just unfair. Nonetheless, I persevered.

Not that it did me any good.

Demonstrating the prone position

Our next step was to zero the rifles. Based on my results from the first “Redcoat” target, I should have been pretty much set. In fact, I had previously taken the rifle I was using (a Marlin 795 semi-automatic) to Chris’ Indoor Shooting Range and zeroed it at 25 yards. At Appleseed we were shooting at 25 meters, but that works out to 27 yards. Two yards shouldn’t make a significant difference.

Any readers who have done much shooting with scoped rifles have probably encountered a standard sighting-in target, such as this:

100-yard Sighting-In Target

As a quick refresher, and as they explained at the Appleseed, in zeroing a rifle to shoot at long distances we need a standard way of measuring. Some clever person long ago determined that angles worked well for this. A circle is divided into 360 degrees, a degree is divided into 60 minutes, and a minute is divided into 60 seconds. Thus, one minute of angle (which we see abbreviated as 1 MOA) is 1/360 of one degree. It conveniently happens that at a distance of 100 yards, one minute of angle also measures almost exactly one inch. That means if you have a rifle that can shoot a one-inch group at 100 yards, your rifle is capable of shooting 1 MOA.

The standard 100-yard sighting-in target (above) is marked with one-inch grid squares. Each grid square represents 1 MOA. If you aim at the exact center of the center bullseye, where the bullets actually hit tells you how much you have to adjust your scope to hit what you’re aiming at. Most rifle scopes have click stops that provide ¼ MOA for each click so, to adjust the point of impact by one inch downward, you would turn the elevation turret on the scope four clicks in the DOWN direction.

The nice thing about angular measurements is that they are completely proportional. That means that if 1 MOA equals one inch at 100 yards, it also equals one-half inch at fifty yards, and one-quarter inch at 25 yards. We were shooting at 25 meters, which is pretty close to 25 yards. So the Appleseed sighting-in targets are divided into one-quarter-inch grid squares. Each grid square represents 1 MOA.

25 Meter Drill Target (for zeroing)

We shot three 5-shot groups at the target. Based on my results from the baseline “Redcoat” target, I should have been right on the money. I wasn’t. I had one excellent group, measuring about three-quarters of an inch and centered about a half inch high; but I also had one mediocre group that was a couple of inches high and right, and a third group that was mostly all in the same county. Things were going downhill, rapidly. Shooters who showed up without having zeroed their rifles beforehand made adjustments, and we then repeated the firing exercise. The new recruit had shot good groups on the first targets, but a bit high. Her father adjusted her scope, and on the second target … her groups were higher. Oops! Wrong way. Sorry, honey, we’ll get it the next time. I knew my scope was zeroed for my eyes, so I didn’t make any changes.

My groups got worse. Worse than that, I knew why they were getting worse, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

Magnifying scopes all have something called the “eye relief” distance. That’s the distance from the ocular (rear) lens to the viewer’s eye at which the image fills the full diameter of the ocular lens. If the shooter’s eye gets too close or is too far away, he encounters a phenomenon called “vignetting.” This is where you see the outer circle of the lens diameter, but the circular image doesn’t completely fill the viewfinder; the shooter sees an image of the target surrounded by a fuzzy dark ring. Unless the parallax of the scope is set precisely for the distance at which you’re shooting, if you can’t keep the image centered within the viewfinder, you can’t reliably hit what you’re aiming at.) This issue was to prove to be my undoing later in the day. We were shooting at 25 meters; an off-the-shelf rimfire scope (which is what I had) is set for zero parallax at 50 yards.

To add to that, what I had completely overlooked is that when shooting from a standing, sitting, or kneeling position, or off a bench (as I had when I zeroed my rifle), the torso is basically vertical and the head is above the shoulders. In the prone position, the torso is (for lack of a better term) … prone. Your body is laid out flat, and the head is forward of the shoulders rather than above them. This forces the shooter’s eye closer to the ocular lens of the scope. In my case, I was so close that my shooting glasses were making contact with the scope. Between a bad hip, a bad knee, a bad back, and a stiff neck, there was nothing I could do to get my head far enough away from the scope to eliminate the vignetting, and it was painful trying to center the smaller, round image within the larger circle of the lens. (And I couldn’t simply move the scope forward, because the mounting rings were already at the forward limit of the rimfire dovetail grooves on the receiver.)

I was done before I even got started.

Second Strike

After everyone (except me) was zeroed, we took a break and the chief instructor presented the second installment of the events of April 19, 1775. He again brought out a lot of detail, and named lots of names, that I had not heard before and that I’m fairly certain kids won’t learn in public schools today. This is the real appeal of the Appleseed Project™. It either reminds people of the sacrifices our colonial forebears made to achieve the freedoms we take for granted today … or it educates for the first time people who may never have learned anything about the revolution and had no idea what the colonials went through.

This lecture break coincided with lunch. The host club served up a three-course meal of corn chowder, potato salad, and hot pasta with venison sausage in tomato sauce. We brought our victuals outside and ate while the instructor went through the second section of the history of April 19, 1775.

A man’s got to know his limitations

After lunch, we progressed to learning the sitting position. If I am remembering correctly, I think it was at this point that they introduced the concept of Natural Point of Aim. One of the assistant instructors demonstrated the sitting position, using an inert, blue training rifle fully kitted out with a GI sling. Along with the sitting position, he also showed us how to shift point of aim by rotating the body rather than trying to force the rifle off the natural point of aim (which introduces strain in the muscles, and that detracts from accurate shooting).

Demonsttrating the sitting position

I already knew about natural point of aim, so that wasn’t new information for me. It didn’t give me any advantage over the other shooters, though. In fact, at this point I had to throw in the towel and retire to my folding chair. The combination of physical ailments I mentioned earlier in this report conspired to make it impossible (not just difficult or painful, but impossible) for me to get into any semblance of a good sitting position. Just the effort of trying to get there left me in such spasms that I needed a boost up by my friend to get back on my feet. I left my rifle on the firing line, but only because I didn’t want to interrupt the class to case it up. I was done shooting for the day.

Those who continued, though, were now shooting at practice targets referred to by the Range Boss as “Greencoats.” These green-colored silhouettes are scaled to simulate different firing distances, in preparation for shooting the actual AQT targets later in the day.

The “Greencoat” practice target

Moving along

After everyone (except yours truly) had fired several groups from the sitting position, the instructors segued right into demonstrating the kneeling position. The assistant instructor again used the blue training rifle to show the proper position, including use of the loop sling (which he used for all positions) and, once again, how to shift the point of aim by shifting the body rather than using muscle power to pull the rifle off the natural point of aim. Shooters then fired a series of groups from the kneeling position.

Last up was the standing position and, once again, the assistant instructor brought out the blue training rifle to demonstrate the proper stance. We learned that proper use of the sling is most beneficial when shooting from the standing position, because there are no solid objects or nearby body parts to help brace the rifle. A properly adjusted sling steadies the aim considerably.

Demonstrating the standing position

Having demonstrated all the firing positions and given the students an opportunity to shoot from each position, the Range Boss called a break to allow everyone to relax before being called on to fire for trying to qualify as a rifleman. During the break, he presented the third segment of the history of April 19, 1775 (the “Third Strike”). By the time this portion of the lecture was finished I knew a surprising amount more about the events at Lexington and Concord than I had known before.

I consider that surprising not because I had thought my middle school education should have covered that (I know better than to believe in unicorns), but because of my own family history. One of my ancestors was the founder of a town in Connecticut and was an active participant in the Revolution. I learned a few years ago that my paternal grandfather was a member of the Sons of the American Revolution. Since my grandfather was a member, I am eligible to join the SAR, and I did all the research and compiled all the documents needed to submit my application. Then health issues arose, and I never followed up.

The point of mentioning this is that the Revolution was discussed a lot within my family when I was growing up, much beyond what we were taught in school. Even so, the information presented at Appleseed added a new layer of detail to what I already knew. If you are at all interested in “the shot heard ‘round the world” and want to learn more than you’ve probably ever heard or read before—sign up for an Appleseed, and learn about our ancestors.

When shooters returned to the line after the “Third Strike” history lesson, they put up the official Appleseed AQT (Appleseed Qualification Test) targets, and prepared to shoot for their scores to see who could make Rifleman.

The AQT Target

First, however, there was a very important matter to be attended to. The historical date of the Battle of Lexington and Concord was April 19. The date of the event I attended was April 22, so it was the weekend closest to the actual date, and the event was considered to be an anniversary event. So, before firing for qualification, all shooters lined up and fired a volley in commemoration of the militamen of 1775.

I didn’t shoot for qualification. For those who did, the final test involves shooting a four-stage course of fire:

Stage 1: Upper silhouette (simulated 100 yard target), one mag, 10 rounds, 2 minutes, firing from standing.

Stage 2: Second row silhouettes (200 yard targets); magazines loaded with 2 and 8 rounds, 5 rounds in each targets, 55 seconds, start standing, shoot seated or kneeling.

Stage 3: Third row silhouettes (simulated 300 yard targets), magazines loaded with 2 and 8 rounds, 3 rounds in each of the first two silhouettes and 4 in the third silhouette, 65 seconds, start standing, shoot prone.

Stage 4: Bottom row silhouettes (four simulated 400 yard targets), one magazine, 10 rounds, 2 2 3 3 in the targets, 5 minutes, shoot prone (this stage counts double).

To score Expert and get the Rifleman's patch, the qualifying score is 210 or higher.

We had sixteen participants in my class, which meant fifteen shooting to qualify. We had two people who earned the Rifleman patch (one of whom was a repeat offender).

Lessons Learned

Although I wasn’t able to complete the course, the event wasn’t a complete loss for me. First, of course, I spent a day with people who enjoy shooting and who were serious about improving their skills. It also allowed me to spend a full day with my friend and his daughter. He’s a busy guy, so it’s not often that there’s an opportunity to have that much time without competing interests to divert attention.

I also learned a lot more than I care to know about my current physical limitations. What I learned wasn’t good news, but it’s important to understand what you’re capable of handling and what you’re not, so that was valuable. As it happens, I have an upcoming appointment with the Physiatry Department at the local VA hospital, so my newly-obtained knowledge of my limitations will help me to discuss with them what I might be able to do to regain some of my former flexibility.

And I learned a lot that I didn’t know was left to be learned about my rifle, and about scopes. Before the event, I thought that my rifle was sighted in and zeroed, and that the eye relief was set for me. The realization that the prone position changes that geometry significantly was an important discovery. Beyond that, seeing what happened to my group sizes as my neck tired and I had increasing difficulty keeping the vignetted sight picture centered brought home to me the importance of parallax when shooting a scoped rifle. Previously, I sort of knew what parallax was, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. I put “rimfire” scopes on rimfire rifles, and other scopes on everything else. I now have a much better understanding of exactly why that’s not enough.

Correct view through a scope (left), compared to vignetting (right)

I spent several evenings after the event researching scopes, parallax, and eye relief. I’m looking at offset scope mounts to help alleviate the eye relief problem I encountered, as well as possibly adding a slip-on recoil pad to the butt stock to increase the length of pull so that my prone position won’t result in my eye being jammed up tight to my scope. I’ve also resolved to be more discerning in choosing scopes. Especially for the Marlin 795 I used at the Appleseed, I will probably replace the scope that’s on it with a similar-powered scope that has adjustable parallax (Look for the abbreviation “AO”—for “Adjustable Objective”—in the scope nomenclature. For example, 4x32AO or 3-9x40AO). I know a lot more about scopes now than I did a week ago. Although I didn’t learn all this new information at the Appleseed, I learned it as a direct result of having attended the Appleseed, so it was a good learning opportunity.

Will I do another Appleseed? I don’t honestly know. I certainly would like to redeem my shattered reputation, and I am already looking at the Appleseed schedule to see when the next ones will be that I might be able to attend. But … in the end, it’s going to depend on whether or not my body is going to cooperate. If I can’t get into a seated or kneeling firing position, or get up from them to standing without outside assistance, I simply can’t do the course of fire. Only time will tell.

About Project Appleseed™

The group behind Project Appleseed™ calls themselves the Revolutionary War Veterans Association. Rather than try to paraphrase their mission statement, I’ll just cite what I found on the home page of their web site:

In today’s world of 24-hour news cycles, changing technologies, and push-button gratification, it’s a challenge to stay connected to the values that our great country was built on. Ideals like integrity, commitment, and personal responsibility are what our founding fathers relied on to win our independence and to then make America a great nation. At Project Appleseed™, we’re dedicated to keeping these timeless values alive. We promote civic responsibility through the teaching of colonial history and the American tradition of rifle marksmanship. Even after all of these years, there is much to be learned from our forefathers’ examples of perseverance, commitment, and civic virtue. With a full calendar of shooting clinics and events, Project Appleseed is here to make sure these timeless principles live on for generations to come.

You can find their web site here.

What was missing

There’s little negative about the Appleseed Project™. It’s a dedicated organization, and the events are well-planned and well-run. The one thing that I was disappointed in was the lack of a real tie-in to today. Early on, the Range Boss stated that Appleseed is non-political, so he wouldn’t be making any political statements. That’s fine, and that’s entirely appropriate. Nonetheless, Appleseed IS about the start of the American Revolution and the role of the militia. I was, therefore, very surprised that there was no mention of the fact that the militia lives on today.

That comes as a surprise to many people, but the fact is that the United States has a current law establishing a militia, and defining who is a member of the militia. I think many Americans today, especially those who are anti-gun and anti-militia, would be quite surprised to learn that they are the militia. It’s defined in federal law under Chapter 10 of the U.S. Code, Section 311:

10 U.S.C. § 311 - Armed Forces – Militia: composition and classes

(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b) The classes of the militia are-- 

(1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia;  and 

(2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.

The tie-in between the colonial militias and today’s Militia Act seems to be like a natural connection but, for whatever reason, Appleseed skipped right over it without a mention. So, if you are a male between the ages of 17 and 45 … welcome to the militia!

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