I barely noticed the crisp fall afternoon as I drove through the eastern Pennsylvania countryside. The season had been good to us and no snow or mud coated the ground yet; despite the sunshine and blazing color, I was still in a funk about my weekend plans.
Several of my shooting friends and I – mostly female – had planned to meet in Manheim, PA, to attend a Project Appleseed event. Life has a way of interrupting shooting schedules – one person was in the middle of a break-up with a boyfriend. Another had health issues with which she was dealing. A third friend, an articulate and bright professional, had read a review of the program in the New York Times. As a resident of the state of New York, I recognized the liberal bent of the paper and (despite the fact that I love their book review section) refuse to subscribe to it based on their anti-gun stance. The article had drawn some parallels to modern-day militia training which made her feel uncomfortable. With all of this, our merry band of the initial eight had dwindled to three.
All of that aside, it was my own physical deficiency that had me scared. How was a short, pudgy redhead going to shoot a rifle when she was right-handed and left-eyed? Darn cross-dominance all to heck! I had spent my shooting life avoiding long guns. Deer hunting? No problem! Thompson Contender, one shot pistol, .45-70 barrel. Self defense? No problem! My Glock 30 chambers loud enough to scare off bad guys. I could cheerfully live my entire life without ever shouldering a rifle and dealing with my right/left left/right issues.
When we planned this trip several months before, it had seemed like such a good idea. Appleseed, sponsored by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association (RWVA), teaches a combination of history and rifle marksmanship. The volunteer instructors teach attendees how to shoot a rifle interspersed with the history of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
Guns, Girls, History – how much fun we would have! But then that whole long gun thing reared its ugly head…..
Imagine my relief when friends Cindy, Annette and I pulled up to the gun club early Saturday morning. Not only would I have shooting girl friends with me, but one of the instructors, Frank Tait, also shot IDPA with me in the past and was a warm, friendly face. Before acknowledging my physical shortcoming, I wanted to know a little more about the other instructors. It didn’t take long for the guys to introduce themselves. Michael-Angelo Lafredo (also known as Mal) was our Shoot Boss. Mal is an IT person at a truck leasing company with a background in physics/anthropology and geology. I learned that the job of the Shoot Boss is similar to an IDPA Match Director. Mal was friendly, direct, and was no-nonsense about safety being his number one concern.
The Pennsylvania State Appleseed Coordinator, Tom Scheller, was next in line for introductions. This tall, bearded man had a background I didn’t expect – a double degree in music and criminal justice. Despite his intense persona, he warmed to the subject of history and held us all spellbound with his renditions of the Revolutionary War battles and the people who played a large part in them – many of them women.
Finally, my buddy Frank delivered hugs to the three of us. The IT guy works for a software company as a product manager and is very focused in his professional position. Outside of work, he is warm, patient and kind spirited, the penultimate instructor for men, women and youth.
Knowing I didn’t have a rifle, Frank brought an AR-style .22 for me to use. The adjustable stock allowed him to fit it to me perfectly and he helped me put on sling – my first one ever! – without feeling any discomfort at all. I decided to shoot left-handed and left eyed to see how it felt – Frank assuaged my fears by telling me if it didn’t feel right, I could switch whenever I wanted to and see how using my right hand and eye worked for me.
After throwing down our shooting mats on the chilly ground and getting our guns/slings fitted to us, class began in earnest. After a safety briefing, I learned some new concepts, including NPOA (natural point of aim). While familiar with the concept from pistol shooting, my NPOA for a rifle was far different and we spent some time finding that.
Minute of Angle (MOA) was a different story! This calculation is used to define how distance affects accuracy as you extend angles out and how this corresponds to the adjustment needed on your scope. This concept was foreign to me, but as the 2 day class continued, I became more comfortable with it.
Just as IDPA and USPSA have custom targets, the objects we used were specific to Appleseed. Based on the Army Qualification Target (AQT), these targets presented four silhouettes in red to represent the British regulars or “Redcoats” at distances of 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards and 400 yards. A fifth rectangular target represents a head shot at 250 yards. The class covered shooting the Redcoats while standing, sitting, and prone, and used a few other targets for practice, as well.
Learning a lot about shooting a rifle did not surprise me, since 98% of my shooting is done with a pistol, so I was a tabula rasa. The biggest surprise was what I learned about American history that I thought I already knew! Between each practice session was a history lesson and our instructors truly enlightened me. I was stunned to find out that Paul Revere likely did not ride through the streets bellowing, “The British are coming!” Frank explained that at that time the colonists were themselves British, so saying “The British are coming!” would be like us hearing “The Americans are coming!” The British regulars were the armed forces of the King of England who were enforcing the crown’s mandate to disarm the colonists, so Revere’s chant would have been, “The Regulars are coming!” Who knew??
The modified AQT targets were used as an assessment tool – much like the IDPA Classifier – so each morning and afternoon, we measured our progress. Our goal was to be classified as a Rifleman by scoring a minimum score based on accuracy in a timed drill.
At the end of first day, the three of us had the opportunity to join the instructors for dinner and learn more about the program. Appleseeds are run every week in many states and are geared to teach not only marksmanship skills, but heritage appreciation, as well. Mal defined for us that, “Heritage is the history we care about.”
George, an instructor in training, also shared with us that many of the participants they see come as a family or a group of friends, much like the three of us had. He said it is a very female-friendly event, and it is “not uncommon for first time women to outshoot the men because they are better listeners and learners.” There is a program called Ladyseed, for women only with all female instructors, and an Adaptive Appleseed for physically challenged shooters.
As the Appleseed folks continued to talk, the similarity of skills learned in IDPA/USPSA and rifle shooting became more apparent. Persistence and trigger control were easily identified, as were the importance of follow-up shots and breath control. Mal mentioned that, while NPOA is used in pistol shooting, “…many pistol shooters are unaware or unconscious of it”. Practical shooting also provided us with an understanding of how our physiology affects our shooting, information that helped us know what we were capable of with a firearm. Unlike practical shooting, “Appleseed is one of the few programs where folks buy a gun the night before and bring the gun and a brick of ammo to class the next day. We help them learn to use the new firearm safely.”
As dinner was ending and we were digging into dessert, I finally blurted out the question I had been dying to ask all day. “So, when do we get to the militia part of the class?” Knowing that I live in New York and had probably read the Times’ article, the question didn’t come as a surprise to the crew, including my IDPA compatriots. Tom patiently explained that Appleseed instructors are not allowed to discuss their political leanings in class. He reminded me that every article reflects the perception of the writer or the publisher, and that “their editorial staff prepares copy for a certain audience” which might explain the perception of that piece. “There is no secret handshake; once you get folks to an Appleseed event, they get it” and when they find out it was designed to teach safety, marksmanship and history, they usually come back. “The only politics discussed at Appleseed are those that were current 200 years ago”, Frank said, “and while we do use the “M” word, we use it in the context of the Revolutionary War”.
The program also has a wonderful mentorship process, we learned. Participants who qualify as a Rifleman have the opportunity to become Orange Hats, or an instructor in training. After this apprenticeship has been completed, they can progress to a Red Hat, or instructor; finally, a Green Hat, or Shot Boss, position can be achieved.
The second day of Appleseed involved more history and more practice, while the struggle between my left hand and the right side of my brain continued. I just couldn’t bring myself to feel discouraged while I was having so much fun, and especially not after hearing Frank share some information with one of the other shooters. “Many rifle shooters have never had formal training, so you are one up on them by learning the skills to shoot well after some practice, and to identify how to fix the issues that may hold you back.”
In the afternoon, we began our last few qualifying shoots for the coveted title of Rifleman. Let’s cut to the chase – I did NOT qualify as a Rifleman, although pal Cindy did, and Annette already had her Rifleman’s patch from a previous Appleseed visit. I had learned so much in the 2 day class it was impossible to feel anything but delighted. Tom, Mal and Frank had also recruited Cindy as an instructor-in-training, a brilliant move on their part. Before we departed, our coaches encouraged us all to return and bring a friend or two, to share with them the fun and accomplishment of Project Appleseed.
Last week, my new Smith & Wesson AR 15-22 arrived. When I return to Appleseed late this year, it will be with my own rifle, using my right eye/right hand this time to compare effectiveness with my left eye/hand – and it will definitely be with more friends so I can share the experience with people I love.