This past weekend, I spent two days at the gun club where I’m a member taking part in a Project Appleseed event. This class took place shortly after the April 19th anniversary of “the shot heard around the world.” This is an important point, as the Appleseed Project is fundamentally based on Revolutionary War history and heritage.
I first learned of the Appleseed Project listening to the Polite Society podcast. The concept was interesting to me, but nothing that I ever pursued or researched. These days, constant participation in the “traveling roadshow” training circuit isn’t really in the cards for me due to time and finances. But I’m still a training junkie at heart. When I saw that my club was hosting an Appleseed event, it was a quick decision. The class was held at the club I belong to, I had a S&W M&P 15-22 languishing in the safe, I had the ammo on hand, the class was inexpensive (a very reasonable $75), and I am always trying to improve my marksmanship.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but I got a lot out of the weekend. I knew that Appleseed events were often shot at short ranges with reduced size targets, and I knew that they emphasized the lessons of history, but I really envisioned it as something more suited to kids or newer shooters. While I still think the experience is invaluable for the younger generation, all ages and ability levels can benefit. Yeah, it’s only shooting 22’s at 25 meters, but those targets are awfully small! I learned a lot, and I came to some harsh realizations as well.
Planning to minimize my investment and focus on the fundamentals, I shot the entirety of the weekend with the stock iron sights that came on my M&P 15-22. I did order the suggested sling from the Appleseed store somewhat last minute. This left me with the quandary of how to mount it to the rifle. The rear sling loop on the stock was ideal, but my rifle didn’t even come with a front sling mount! Digging around in my parts bin, I found a Daniel Defense Rock & Lock bipod mount. This is essentially a QD sling mount for Harris bipods, so a regular QD sling swivel would fit. This arrangement worked great, and I have no plans to modify it.
I have a Black Mountain Tactical rifle case (from Cabela’s) that unfolds out to a shooting mat that I used both to transport my gun and as my shooting mat. In the future, I will probably order the mat available from the Appleseed store as I do have a few criticisms of the Black Mountain Tactical mat. One, the folds become divots that are annoying when trying to get into position. Second, a mantra from SCUBA diving is, “an open buckle is a broken buckle.” There are four external securing straps on the case/mat. They are by design unbuckled when the mat is unfolded. By the end of two days of training, two of those buckles were broken.
Appleseed is again allowing the M&P 15-22 on the firing line. For a while, they weren’t, due to the recall on the M&P 15-22 from a few years ago. (I had checked my rifle at the time of the recall with the supplied gauge that S&W provided, and had found it in spec.) While the M&P 15-22 is again allowed, Appleseed requires shooters using the M&P 15-22 to be on the far right side of the line. I’m not quite sure the rationale for this approach, but where I was on the line was largely irrelevant to me. Similarly, they asked the center fire shooters to be on the far left, leaving the center of the line consisting of mainly Ruger 10-22s and a few other rimfire models.
Day one began with the requisite waivers and introductions. Appleseed teaches four inviolate safety rules, but these are not Col. Cooper’s traditional four rules. Instead, the Appleseed rules focus on muzzle awareness, trigger finger discipline, and management of the loading of the guns. Appleseed runs a cold range. That’s not a model that I personally like, but it is probably smart and necessary given the wildly disparate experience levels that may show up to an Appleseed event. Comfort does indeed breed complacency, but the cold range mentality and practices are taken to an extreme in Appleseed. Participants are given a chamber flag before the guns are even taken out, and if your gun isn’t loaded, it needs the flag in place. I don’t mean to be critical of their safety practices, but I was amused that having magazines staged for the next string of fire next to a decked rifle with the bolt locked back and a chamber flag in place was considered to be against the safety rules. Instructors walked the line after every cease fire and verified that the rifles were locked open with safety on and chamber flag in place. All in all, I had absolutely no safety concerns, and I’m sure their practices are tailored to their primary audience.
The shooting portion of the class started with a target that they refer to as a “Red Coat.” This target features silhouettes scaled to represent a 20” torso at 100 yards, 200 yards, 300 yards, 400 yards, as well as a 250 yard “shingle” about the size of a postage stamp. At 25 meters (82 feet), those aren’t very big! My first target was not impressive, and I’m glad that I at least improved over the course of the weekend.
We then transitioned to essentially a zeroing target with 1/4” squares designed to represent a MOA at 25 meters. This made it easy to adjust sights accordingly. Throughout the day, a few more targets were introduced, all at 25 meters, as fundamentals were taught interspersed with history lessons presented as stories.
In covering the fundamentals, the instructors discussed proper sling use (both as a loop sling and as a hasty sling), natural point of aim, steady hold factors, and positional shooting to include prone, sitting/kneeling, and standing. The instructors were relatively agnostic on sitting and kneeling, showing us a few different variations that we could try to see what worked best. My best group in this position was fired from kneeling, but I’m attributing that to happy coincidence. Ultimately, I felt most stable in a sort of crossed ankle seated position for the strings of fire that required a transition into that position from standing.
Before the day was done, we had the opportunity to shoot the AQT, or Appleseed Qualifying Target. My first attempt was distressingly unremarkable, not even scoring the minimum threshold needed to qualify at any level. But that’s why I was there! The end goal, at least from a marksmanship perspective, is to score Rifleman (Expert) on the AQT. There were nearly a dozen opportunities for this over the course of the weekend, but I plateaued at the Marksman level despite my best efforts.
I do have a few thoughts on this. First, obviously, is my skill level. I’m just not there yet, despite all the rifle training I’ve done to date. Second, my eyesight is simply not good. I consciously made the decision to shoot irons, right, wrong, or indifferent. The one time I was actually able to visually resolve the front sight post, I made really good hits. But being able to visually resolve the sights in contrast to the target was a perpetual challenge over the weekend. Ideally, the rear sight and target would be blurry, with a sharp focus on the front sight post. Unfortunately, I couldn’t visually resolve much of anything beyond blurs with my existing myopia and presbyopia.
This has prompted a change for me. I had a Leupold VX-I 2-7×28 Rimfire scope on my Marlin Model 60. In browsing the Tech Sights website (the favored option among Appleseed shooters), I discovered that they offer sights for my Model 60. So I cashed in some Cabela’s reward points and picked up a Leupold Mark AR scope mount. The Rimfire scope is now on my M&P 15-22. I’ll see how it works out at the range in the near future and will use the rifle with the scope the next time I attend an Appleseed event. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that for my vision, optics on long guns are a virtual necessity. Having said that, I will experiment with the Tech Sights peep sight on my Model 60, but I suspect that I’m past the point of no return on optics.
There are some other peculiarities inherent in using the M&P 15-22 (or any other AR variant) in an Appleseed event. The loop sling technique that is taught largely involves the support arm and literally ties it to the forend of the gun. Most manipulations that I would normally do with my support hand (loading, etc.), I had to do with my strong hand. No big deal, and I adapted quickly and found easy workarounds, but the normal manipulations that I have habituated over multiple training evolutions weren’t a viable option.
Both days, we started and ended shooting with the Red Coat target. The first time I shot it, I didn’t have all the hits on all the silhouettes. Morning of day two, I had the hits at 100 and 200, but misses at the other simulated distances. The last time I shot it, I had all the hits at 100 and 300. So I did improve, just not consistently.
On day two, we also did a brief known distance (KD) shoot where we carried the target stands down to the 100 yard line. Aiming at the 100 yard silhouette simulated what it would look like at 400 (we had previously fired a group at the 400 yard silhouette from 25 meters). The point of this exercise was to see the trajectory out of our individual rifles. For my part, my group size actually improved, and I only had roughly 3 inches of drop using standard velocity CCI ammo. Appleseed does offer known distance events, both for rimfire and center fire rifles. I would be interested in such an event in the future, if for no other reason than an excuse to have fun.
Just in case anyone is wondering, I had only one magazine related malfunction over the course of nearly 600 rounds through my M&P 15-22. On the whole, it was boringly reliable. The one malfunction I experienced can be directly attributed to the magazine, as the final three rounds didn’t advance and jammed the follower when they took a nose dive in the magazine. I suspect this is due to the fact the .22lr is a rimmed cartridge that doesn’t necessarily feed well in a box magazine. The only other thing I’ll mention about ammo is how refreshing it was that the advertised required round count matched up with what we actually shot. I fired 112 rounds on day one and 456 on day two, for a total of 568 rounds. I actually had to run up to the clubhouse on the afternoon of day two to buy some more ammo since I only brought a 500 round bulk pack.
The lessons imparted in the historical stories shared are not anecdotal. Rather, they speak to the essence of individual liberty and personal responsibility. Small deliberate and decisive actions can have lasting effects, whether that is running for a local public office or even just voting to support your rights.
I also need to mention the instructor cadre. If my understanding is correct, they are all volunteers. The shoot bosses and instructors at the event were all there because of what they believe in. Their dedication showed and they were all there because they wanted to be there. Hard to ask for more…
All in all, I think the Appleseed event was a valuable use of my limited free time, and I will make time for another Appleseed in the future. I will definitely try to get my kids involved when they are of appropriate age. I found myself on the line next to a family where the father had brought his two sons, aged 13 and 10. Just watching from the mat beside them, I think this was a great experience for all of them as well.
This does bring up one other tangential point. Living in a state with an “assault weapon” ban on the books, the M&P 15-22s used by myself and the 13 year old did not have adjustable length of pull. This is one area where the AR-15 really shines for being fitted to different members of the family. Unfortunately, CT’s misguided legislative efforts made life really difficult for this young man as he struggled to shoulder the rifle and get a proper eye relief with the sights. Anybody with two functioning brain cells knows that length of pull has nothing to do with preventing violence, but gun control proponents display an astounding ignorance in crafting legislation that does nothing to address the problems of society while infringing on natural rights and making life difficult for those of us that choose to abide by the laws of our relative jurisdictions.
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