Project Appleseed is a volunteer program where trainers teach people about rifle marksmanship and a specialized set of skills. It is taught as a martial art they claim is unique to the United States. Gun ownership and gun skills played a role in the creation of our nation. This is a very well-run organization with good procedures, wonderful volunteers, and a stellar emphasis on safety. You can read more about it as well as the NYT (decent but of course, liberally motivated) write-up.
While this training is geared towards beginners, there was a wide range of experiences represented at the training. Some were there to learn, others were there to hone, and yet others were there to get qualified and become instructors of their own.
The ultimate course of fire for this event is to shoot several targets at around 25 yards (or less if that’s all your range has) standing, sitting, and prone, all unsupported (with slings if you have ‘em) with some target switching thrown in, under a time limit.
I didn’t have very clear expectations when I showed up. It took a long time to understand that all the training they were offering was for this specific activity. Granted, there are a lot of universal marksmanship skills that go into this specific thing, but there is also a LOT of optimization, and de-optimization, that one could perform. And boy, did I make a lot of sub-optimal choices before we even got to my skill deficiencies.
I don’t know if I could have picked out a rifle less suited to this game if I had tried. Honestly, I wasn’t trying to. I came with the only rifle that I had, and there aren’t a lot of off-the-shelf models I can work with. Since it was such a terrible challenge to get the PS90 sighted in, at 50 yards, we decided not to do any of that.
But unfortunately, when prone at 25 yards, things look a whole lot different. I started off trying to apply Kentucky Windage. I had discernible groups at the beginning of the first day and figured out what the difference was. I thought I was doing pretty good at compensating for this, and that was my big mistake. As a scientist and an economist, I want to reduce all the noise in an experiment and analyze the difference that specific actions make. This technique I was using—which I was advised against using, made it more difficult for me to see the impact of the other skills I was trying to employ. I started with noisy groups. I added noisy compensation. I then added additional noisy techniques I was trying to learn. That’s not a controlled experiment; that’s a disaster.
Let’s just march on down my other issues. The PS90 has a very big gap between the mount of the scope and the top of the buttstock. This has caused me difficulty overall because it’s hard for me to figure out where exactly to place my head. Part of the philosophy of the Project Appleseed martial art is to remove as many twitching muscles out of the equation as possible. About fifty of those muscles are in your neck. You can imagine how difficult it can be to hold your head steady in exactly the same spot, looking through a scope, when other people can get one of those “cheek welds” (lamest term ever) onto their buttstock and eliminate those twitches.
Another aspect of the Project Appleseed martial art is consistency. When you’re trying to make a chinweld, you’re going to have a harder time keeping a consistent position relative to your gun. You’re also going to get a bruise on your jawline… Turns out my ridiculously nice scope didn’t have the range of angle needed to adjust for the distance between rail mount and rifle barrel at close ranges. In order to get this gun on target, I’ll need a new scope mount. To compensate for this, an awesome volunteer helped me zero the scope in at the top of the thicker stadia on my scope so I have some point of reference. This worked great before I learned (well yeah this is so obvious) that if you change the zoom on the scope the points of reference all change…. The other problem I had was that it’s really hard for me to tell the difference between the thicker lines and the thinner lines on the scope without a lot of contrast. As I wavered back and forth, I lost track of where the line changed. Intellectually I understand this, but I just couldn’t keep track of where exactly that reference point was.
My gun doesn’t come with conventional sling attachment points. The back goes around the buttstock and through the thumbhole. The front wraps around the back end of the rail. The Project Appleseed techniques use a sling attached farther forward so that the strap supports the wrist and attaches your hand to the gun. I had no place for that, so my alternate attempts didn’t work so well. In theory one could drill a hole in the section that sticks out in front of the trigger guard, but that seems a bit questionable. Instead, we zip-tied the sling around the barrel itself. That’s definitely not a long-term solution.
And most significantly, I didn’t have the right attitude. I was playing around and trying to do things my way. I wasn’t devoted to winning the game set before me. I could have done much better, and learned more, if I had played along and tried harder to get it right. That was really a failure on my part that I could have done something about. I didn’t want to play with my scope because of how annoying it was to get it set up and will be to set up again at distance. It was only the second day, when after giving up and trying to adjust the scope and it didn’t work, that I asked for help getting myself sorted out. Not the most effective use of anyone’s time.
So, things weren’t going very well. And I just fell apart. I was frustrated. My scores were declining. I was mad at myself for not taking it seriously before. I wondered, what should I have expected? And overall, I was confused. Intellectually, I understood, that I came out of that event with better skills than when I entered. Even though my shots were further off, and more scattered than ever, my technique is improving. But it’s hard to reconcile this with worsening results.
I know I could have done better. I could have been a better martial artist and a better student. Yes, I had some disadvantages going in, but it would have made a whole lot of difference if I’d handled the things I had control over. And I will do better. I’ve already signed up for another event next month. I might even go on Saturday if I can arrange it. This is a goal I can make. I wavered a bit, because a lot of these techniques are specialized and not useful for anything else I’ll do. But you don’t beat a game because what you learned there is going to beat another game. You do it to enjoy yourself and accomplish something.
I’m going to win this game.
Because I can.