I have spent a lot of time at the range. I show up early. I leave late.
I ignore the weather as best I can, and I have noticed something over the past few years; I am not alone.
I first heard about Project Appleseed around 1999 in an issue of the Shotgun News; a newsstand staple from my youth and early adulthood that is no longer ‘a thing.’ There was a guy, Fred, that wrote about this idea of teaching people about our shared legacy of rifle marksmanship and what it meant to the founding of our nation. He had a vision about a group of volunteers that would teach the fundamentals of marksmanship and a little bit of history, and in so doing, grow a network of volunteers to spread the skills and knowledge more and more; Johnny Appleseed with a rifle.
It’s these volunteers I’ve noticed at the range, again and again, in every kind of weather, showing up early and staying late.
People like Scott Newson noticed these volunteers also. Scott grew up around firearms and worked at the range as a safety officer. At first, he thought it was just a youth event, but then he went to a shoot. It isn’t just kids. The participants were all ages. Not only do the gun enthusiast types show up, new shooters that don’t even own a firearm and skeptics that are there to learn more get in on the events.
Scott found a way to give back to the community through instructing. “This is my thing. I used to be a chief umpire, but this is a way that takes advantage of my skill set.” Now Scott is the Designated Shoot Boss for the state of Alaska and hasn’t missed an Appleseed event at Birchwood in years.
It is easy to look at the group of people on the rifle range and assume that what is being taught is riflery, and you wouldn’t be completely wrong.
After all, they all have rifles, and they are learning to shoot them accurately. However, you would be missing the higher purpose: Involvement. The Appleseed events seem to breed volunteers. Beyond the desire to keep our marksmanship heritage alive, the real message of Appleseed is to “get involved and give a damn,” according to Scott.
Bill Jones, a local Appleseed Instructor, explained about 10% of people that come and shoot an Appleseed event, return in a volunteer role later. Some are instructors, some help wrangle and organize, and some teach kids about the beginning of the American Revolution, April 19, 1775, as part of Liberty Seed, a program that takes Revolution War history into the schools.
One of the people that has gotten involved is Travis Jones. Travis, Bill’s son, is your typical 19-year-old. By his admission, off the range, he’s not any more mature than his classmates. But, he is involved. Travis attended an Appleseed shoot, and it launched a passion for history that ultimately led to a family trip to the sites of the Revolutionary War. On top of that, once he was awarded his Rifleman badge, not an easy task to accomplish, he became an instructor himself, where he not only passes on the heritage of marksmanship, but also gets to educate people on our shared Revolutionary War history.
I asked several volunteers, “What do you get out of it?”
One instructor summed it up by recalling an-after-actions report from a shooting clinic where one participant said that he left feeling he was surrounded by people he would like to call his friends. There is a lot of joy in sharing your experiences with others and watching them grow and excel. Sharing a passion, regardless if it is shooting, skiing, photography or knitting seems to bring out the best in people.
The next Appleseed event at Birchwood Recreation and Shooting Park is the Patriots Day Weekend Marksmanship Clinic, on April 27 and 28. Scott will be there. So will Bill, Travis, and many more. If you would like to join them you can look them up on Facebook: Project Appleseed – Alaska, or at www.appleseedinfo.org. Cost for the event is $60 for adults and $20 for youth. You can shoot an Appleseed event with anything from a .22lr to a .30 centerfire, with iron sights or with a scope. You’ll go through 400 to 500 rounds of ammunition, and a semi-automatic is recommended. Don’t have a rifle? Ask ahead of time. There are often loaners available. You will also need eye and ear protection, a military-style sling, and weather appropriate clothing. For a complete list of required and recommended equipment, see the web site.
See you on the range, both early and late.