Range Reports, Shooting Analysis

Range Report: Project Appleseed, Santa Barbara, CA, 2-3 August 2014

Well, that was fun! It was exhausting, to be sure, but I think I definitely came away with some good pointers and assurances. Since most anyone reading this is already familiar with Appleseed, I’ll just skip right to the report.

Most attendees brought along a Ruger 10/22 with a variety of open sights, peep sights, or magnified optics. As for myself, I brought along the DMTR as a primary, and Ascalon as a backup (never ended up breaking it out). I was the oddball in that I spent both days shooting a centerfire.  On day one, there was another individual with a SKS, and one more AR-15, but those two did not return for the second day. I brought along a 420 box of Federal XM193, and five 10-round magazines (3 PMAG10’s, and two Lancer AWM).

The instructors were great. The shoot boss was a friendly Irish guy who clearly loved what he did. The fact that he was from “the other side of the pond” made it interesting to hear his perspective on the events of the Revolution as well as the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Day 1

It was sunny and in the mid-80’s all day. Towards the afternoon, a 15-20 kt wind picked up from the 7 o’clock and blew fine brown dust everywhere. I was glad I wasn’t using nice optics, as I’ve had that very same type of dust get buried in all the little nooks and crannies of my TR24 when I lived in Montana.

The day started with a safety briefing, as it should. After the briefing, the shooters could retrieve their rifles. The first shooting event was the “Red Coat” target, it has shapes similar to the Appleseed qualification targets, which is itself an updated WWII rifle qualification “D-Target,” but without the scoring marks. The idea is simply that “hits count.” Shooters fire three shots at each of the silhouettes, and a single shot at the square “head shot” mark. The performance on these targets let the instructors know the relative skill level of each shooter. As for myself, I wasn’t really satisfied with the initial target. The TAB sling kept sliding down my support arm due to the slick dri-fit shirt, and became effectively useless. The sights were still zeroed for 100 yards rather than 25 meters, and I miscalculated where to holdover to compensate (I should have been holding higher, not lower like I did). After this target, I immediately removed the TAB sling and put on the Turner AWS 1907, which proved MUCH more stable.

Once the baseline was established, the instructors began a series of basic instructions for position use, sling use, breath control, etc. Between each bout of instruction, students fired five shots at black 1” squares (roughly a 4 MOA standard). A LOT of time was dedicated to correctly finding one’s Natural Point of Aim. Once I swapped slings and got my sights dialed in, meeting this goal was very doable from prone and sitting, but got progressively more challenging as time constraints, reloads, and changing targets were incorporated. Every magazine change and target shift necessitated reacquiring a correct NPOA, which is made doubly difficult when done under time limits.

This is the first sheet of 1″ squares. I had still not fully adjusted the sights for group 1, but you can see the dramatic improvement in stability. Groups 2 through 4 were also from the prone. I am actually pretty happy with this sheet, as it shows that I already arrived with a lot of the fundamentals in line with iron sights. It was also a nice display that being fairly precise on a 4 MOA target is very possible with a 12 MOA front sight post.

This is the second sheet. Group 5 was from the prone, firing two shots, reloading, firing one more shot at the first square, and then firing two shots at the second square (left to right). Group six is from a crossed ankle sit. Group seven is crossed ankle sit with a mag change (same pattern as prone). I noticed a shift of my hits to the right when switching to sitting, and I think this was due in part to the tension on the sling slightly canting the rifle.I adjusted one click of windage and remembered to focus on keeping the sights level in the future.

This third sheet incorporates everything together. Group 8 is from a standing to crossed ankle sit, loading, firing two shots, reloading, and then firing three shots at the second square. This required reestablishing NPOA several times. Group 9 is the same pattern, but going from standing to prone. I am VERY happy with group 9, and I don’t think I matched it again for the rest of the weekend.

Towards the end of day one, we all shot the Appleseed Qualification Test to see our progress. This course of fire consists of four phases, all at 25 yards.

Phase 1 is ten shots offhand with a two minute time limit, “D-Target” is scaled for 100 yards (50 possible points)

Phase 2 is started unloaded in the standing position. The shooter must drop to the sitting position, load and fire two shots, reload, then fire three more shots on target one. The shooter then transitions to the second target for five more shots. 55 seconds are allotted to complete this phase. Target is scaled for 200 yards. (50 possible points)

Phase 3 is started unloaded in the standing position. The shooter must drop to the prone position, load and fire two shots at target one, reload and then fire one more shot. The shooter then transitions to target two and fires three more shots, then transitions to target three and fires four shots. 65 seconds are allotted to accomplish this stage, and the target is scaled for 300 yards. (50 possible points)

Phase 4 is slow fire prone. The shooter has five minutes to fire one magazine of ten rounds. There are four targets, with the shooter firing two shots at the first two, and three shots at the second two. The target is scaled for 400 yards. (100 possible points)

This is the sole AQT from day one. I scored a 172, well short of the 210 required to get the coveted rifleman patch. Overall, I think the shots look good. There was some loss of focus towards the end, though, and that cost me where the points were doubled. I definitely felt fatigue setting in as we got towards the end of the day, and I could feel my focus waning. I was having trouble remembering fundamentals like front sight focus, breath control, and trigger control. I was definitely rushing a bit on the timed phases.

For scale, the “5-zone” on the smallest target is about the size of a quarter.

The last event of day one is to reshoot the “Red Coat” target to demonstrate improvement from the start of the day. I’m not sure if it was fatigue, or some quirk of the red boxes providing less contrast for my sights, but I don’t feel terribly good about the end-of-day target relative to the performance I was having earlier.

I was planning on not cleaning the rifle between days, but with the amount of dust that was blowing around I decided it would be prudent to wipe it down, swab out the bore, and re-lube the bolt.

Day 2

Day two started overcast, mid 70’s, with light rain most of the morning. The afternoon turned into mid-80’s, and beating sun.

On the start of the second day, only about 10 of the original 16 shooters returned. Most of the boyfriend/girlfriend duos ditched (including the SKS and other AR-15, leaving me as the only one running a centerfire rifle). Three more shooters left during lunch.

Day two starts with the “Red Coat” again. I was happier with this one, and I think being fresh from sleep helped quite a bit.

Following that is an accelerated review of all the shooting positions and fundamentals from the day before. We shot at a series of 1” squares again to make sure everyone’s equipment was dialed in. This is sheet 1. Group 1 was from the prone with unlimited time. I was quite happy with this, and even called the one that landed a bit to the outside due to faulty trigger control. Group 2 was also from the prone, but I adjusted my position twice during the five shot string, you can see this in the group itself as there is the one shot to the left, then two a bit high, then two towards the bottom of the box. I found the previous day’s information about adjusting NPOA by shifting hips forward and back to be quite helpful, as I had previously been attempting to do it by adjusting hand position on the front of the rifle. Group 4 was supposed to be from sitting. Since I had done well with crossed ankle the previous day, I decided to try crossed leg instead. You can see the result of that experiment were not great, as only two shots even hit near the square, and the other three vanished. I found that crossed leg just puts my NPOA far too low, and I was struggling with it. One of the instructors commented that had seen that before with people who have long torsos and arms like me. Similarly, the female shooters had best results with open leg seated. I suppose there is quite a bit of individual anatomy involved in choosing position.

The second sheet was back to transitions. We started from standing, dropped to position, loaded, fired, reloaded, changed target, and fired again. Except this time we were being timed. You can see from these two groups that the pressure of timing definitely had an effect. Group 5 is from prone and group 6 is from crossed ankle sitting again.

Right before lunch, we shot another AQT- I did much better than the day before, scoring a 193, but still fell 17 points short of the 210 points required to earn a “Rifleman” distinction. I noticed that my hits were coming in low during the timed prone portion, and I think this was purely an issue of rushing. I don’t think I was exhaling fully before firing, which means my sights were low on the target. You may also note that there is only three holes in the right target for the timed sitting portion. I ran out of time. Had I managed to keep my breathing and sight picture under control, I think I would have made the required score.

After lunch, we began the “grind.” Six more AQTs were shot back to back to back. My best score was 198 for the day, but then started going downhill due to a mix of fatigue, dehydration, and otherwise loss of focus.

Here is the first AQT after lunch. At this point, we stopped going down between phases to check our targets. Instead we shot the AQT all the way through before ever getting eyes on the hits and scoring. My offhand got more shaky, and my shots started drifting to the right. Score was 197.

AQT #3 was my best, with a score of 198. I think the solid black target provided much better contrast over the slightly greyed out version we had been shooting earlier. Nine of the offhand shots landed right where I would want them. However, the 10th shot (which was actually #7 of the string, if I recall), ended up in the middle of the whole paper. I was riding the first stage of the trigger and got careless for a second while adjusting cheek weld. You can see that I got a nice NPOA down for the first target in the timed sitting portion, but rushed through the second portion in order get all my shots off this time. With the slow fire prone, the first target was sad, and I hate to blame the environment, but the left edge of the paper did become unstapled and was causing it to blow in the wind a bit. I should have had more patience, as five minutes is plenty of time.

This is where things started going downhill for me. I had not been drinking enough water, and the sweat was starting to drip in my eyes and on my shooting glasses. I was starting to get very frustrated, and was clearly rushing my shots during the timed portions. I just don’t think my focus was there. Score was 187.

I sat out the next round in order to hydrate and calm down for the final AQT of the day. Sadly, this one proved to be my worst of the weekend. At this point, I’m not even sure I loaded the correct number of cartridges in my magazines. There are only 7 shots on paper for phase 1, and I’m not sure what happened to the other three (if I fired them at all). I ran out of time on the seated portion, and just overall lost focus on the prone portions. Final score was 129, and I’m kinda sad to post this one up as it just seems so uncharacteristic compared to the other ones.

We then finished out by shooting the last “Red Coat” target.

At the end of the whole event, only one individual earned enough points to earn the coveted rifleman rating (he shot a 213 using a scoped 10/22). Of all the iron sight shooters, I did the best. But it wasn’t quite good enough.

Notes and Lessons Learned

I was glad I brought two slings to the event. The TAB sling I had been practicing with was just too slick on the short I was wearing. The range I usually shoot at is right next to the ocean, and is cool enough that I often wear a fleece hoodie, which provides more grip. It is also slow to adjust between positions (prone requires more “slack” than sitting or offhand). The Turner 1907 sling proved invaluable for the remainder of the event, as its rubbery material stuck to my clothing much better, and the little hook was fast enough for adjusting between positions. I have a solid ring of bruising around the top of my arm to show how tightly it stayed in place. I have never seen a GI web sling until this event, and I honestly think it would have worked just as well. I still want to pick up a FTW or TAB RAS,though, as I think they provide a great all-around combination of what I want.

Second, I’ve never really had an appreciation of those who talked about shooting “nose to charging handle,” and have never shot that way since I typically use optics. And while none of the instructors told me to shoot NTCH, I found myself naturally starting to do it because it offers a nice index point to ensure there is a consistent amount of space between my eye and the rear peep sight. I found that trying to get fancy with different stock lengths for different positions made my groups move up and down as I was moving my eye closer and further from the rear sight. So, from here out using irons, I’ll be sticking NTCH.

Coming from long range shooting with scope, bipod, and rear bag, I’ve always stuck to the idea of shooting prone with both feet suck out behind me. I allowed for some off-angle due to sling use rather than bipod, but never really used the “Olympic prone” until this event. The instructors kept reminding me to lift up my strong side leg as high as I could. What I eventually found was that this position dramatically increased the tension on the sling and tightened up my groups. It may be less comfortable, but it is certainly more effective (a common trend in all of these positions).

I would have liked to spend more time working on kneeling, but I can always do that on my own. We never touched on squatting position, which is fine. I don’t think the squatting position is usually ever taught outside of some more specialized schools.

Overall, I really liked how the event was structured. I will take the lessons learned back to my own range and keep practicing them with my long term goals in mind. The history lessons that were interspersed throughout the weekend were entertaining and interesting, especially for a history nerd like me. And they offered a nice break for my sling arm, which was practically numb by the end of the weekend.

A brief note on equipment. By the end of each day, nearly every 10/22 was starting to choke. If it wasn’t the dust, then it was the fouling. In contrast, the DMTR just kept happily chugging along in the dust, rain, or whatever. Never had a malfunction of any sort (through it was curiously throwing brass to my 2:30 or 3:00 rather than the usual 5:00, which was uncomfortable for the shooters immediately to my right). Some of the newer shooters complained about the concussion of shooting next to me, but they got used to it by the end. Some of the people there were surprised that the “infamous” AR-15 didn’t jam in such dusty conditions. It all comes back to the quality of the weapon, I suppose.

I am slightly disappointed that I didn’t take home the Rifleman patch. I know it’s rare for a first timer to go out and get it, but every instructor there thought I was going to get it. They were all very encouraging of me, and were actually quite interested in some of my equipment (especially my Rainier Raptor ambi charging handle- which proved AWESOME for reloading while laying in a slung prone position and not wanting to break contact with the rifle). In the end, I know I have the requisite skills. I need to work on my focus, and probably revisit the mental programming I talked about way back at the beginning and partially abandoned. In talking with one of the instructors about my long term goals, he looked at my shooting and pretty much said that I’m already there, I just need to polish.

That’s encouraging, and I’ve still got through the rest of the year.

2 thoughts on “Range Report: Project Appleseed, Santa Barbara, CA, 2-3 August 2014”

  1. Well done. You’ll get the patch next time, for sure.
    The ‘mental programming’ bit you mentioned at the end is critical, it drives everything else. Don’t neglect it.

  2. Your was very similar to my first Appleseed a few months ago. I am hooked and obsessed now. And I too have struggled with optics. Prior to the event a veteran ‘Seeder handed me an AQT target and said “you’re a pretty good shot, try this”, I had scored an untimed 229 at my range. and thought, this is wayyy easy. He was trying to get Rifleman with a M1 Garand. Feeling like a cheater I took off my Nikon scope and put the TechSight TSR200 GI sights on my 10/22. Huge difference. Whole new ballgame. Soo much harder. I think my top score was 190. Lots of lousy Stage 4s. I put my scope back on after a month and 100’s of rounds of frustration with the iron sights. My average with the optics is around 202 with the occasional 212 or so. Like you I struggle with the optics and cheek weld position as well, especially in sitting position. I need more room and there is none left to move scope forward on the Weaver rail. I am thinking about a picatinny rail but I didn’t want to junk up my clean old-school carbine look. I am looking forward to getting back out there.

    For the record I shot a 197 with my AR and Magpul MBUS sights.

    The weather’s getting colder out here in Upstate NY… I hope I get this figured out before the icicles start forming on the target backer.

    Enjoyed your blog,

    Joe K
    Delmar, NY


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