Ready, aim, fire

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Kathy Tabert, left, and instructor Ron Litz examine Tabbert's target at the Fernan Rod & Gun Club on April 17. Twenty-two shooters and nine instructors participated in a Project Appleseed event, learning the finer points of rifle marksmanship.

Pop, pop, pop.

The rifles barked like a strand of firecrackers, their small-caliber bullets whistling toward a line of paper targets 100 yards distant. Empty casings twirled into space, fresh rounds chambered. Twenty-two shooters, lying prone on the concrete floor, readjusted and peered through sights.

Pop, pop, pop - the rifles expelled a second volley, muzzles flashing.

"Fundamentally, we're trying to teach people safety and marksmanship," explained firearms instructor Larry Cernik. "Coupled with that, we're trying to illustrate character."

Cernik is the Idaho state coordinator for Project Appleseed, a nationwide shooting and history program administered by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association. Shooters of all ages, male and female, blasted targets at Fernan Rod & Gun Club on April 16-17, learning the age-old craft of marksmanship.

They aimed for a challenging goal: Score 210 out of 250 possible points on the Army Qualification Test (AQT), firing 40 shots at 25 yards - a "rifleman's score."

When the bullet holes were counted and the final scores tallied, three participants had accomplished the task.

"There's an (Appleseed) shoot in Coeur d'Alene every month this year, and there's ones all over the country," said 15-year-old instructor Dirk Seymour. "Anybody can come as long as they're willing to be safe and listen to what we have to teach them."

Seymour learned to shoot when he was around 8 or 9 years old, he said. In 2009 he joined Project Appleseed, refined his marksmanship skills and became an instructor last May.

The project improved his shooting, Seymour said, but also focused on Revolutionary War history - particularly the early battles of Lexington and Concord, where American militiamen first clashed with British regulars.

"By teaching that history, we're trying to get people to remember what it was once like," he said. "I thought the Revolutionary War started in downtown Boston, and I was pretty wrong."

At the April shoot, instructors set up maps of the Revolution battlefields. They talked about the minutemen who fought on Lexington Common, and the brave patriots who stood their ground at Concord Bridge.

The weapons of 1775 - smoothbore flintlocks that fired wobbly lead balls - bear little resemblance to the rifles of today, Cernik said.

"It really is in many ways unfair to compare a smoothbore musket to a .22 long rifle firearm," he said. "The smoothbore... it was almost more of an art than a technique."

But Project Appleseed is more concerned with the man behind the musket. Instructors examine the humanity of the Revolution, Cernik explained, not necessarily the weapons and tactics of the conflict.

"(We) try to explore the value of individuals' contributions," he said. "These people had families, they had communities. They had an understanding that what they were trying to bring about would affect generations to come."

Cernik is 60 years old and lives in Troy. His dad taught him how to shoot at a young age, but, like many riflemen, Cernik over time developed bad habits that affected his accuracy.

Then he found Project Appleseed.

"I realized right away my deficiencies," Cernik said, and now he's the expert.

His wife, Shawn, and three of their children are also Appleseed shooting instructors. Shawn began the program in 2009, having little experience with a rifle.

"I grew up in a family of hunters, but I personally never cared to hunt," she recalled. "I was just a recreational shooter once in a while with handguns."

As Shawn progressed, she worked on the nuances of marksmanship. Her technique improved quickly, her groups becoming tighter, her aim truer. She shot standing, sitting and prone.

At her third Appleseed event she earned a rifleman's score on her AQT, and went on to become an instructor.

One key to accurate shooting, she said, something she learned through Appleseed, is called natural point of aim.

"You just relax and rest, and that is where your body will naturally hold the rifle," Shawn said.

With practice, natural point of aim becomes second nature, and leads to better marksmanship in the long run. Instructors at the Coeur d'Alene shoot discussed natural point of aim, as well as body positioning, elevation and windage, bullet drop and many other topics.

The 22 participants fired at close- and long-range targets. Most used a .22 rifle - cheap ammunition, very little recoil - but some shooters brandished larger centerfire weapons.

Good riflemen can shoot consistent groups at four minutes of angle, Cernik said - four inches at 100 yards, eight inches at 200, and upward from there.

"Safety is key," Shawn said. "We hammer that into our attendees from the get-go."

Project Appleseed is open to just about everyone, she said. Attendees range from 8 to 80 years old, and the program can accommodate most shooters with disabilities.

Experienced sportsmen and women, even those who have been hunting all their lives, would likely benefit from the program, Shawn said.

"You'll be surprised how much more there is to learn," she added. "If (hunters) would just take the time to shoot an AQT, that's where the light bulb usually goes on for them."

Another round of shots echoed across the Fernan Rod & Gun Club range. The smaller sounds of the .22s mixed with the heavy blast of bigger calibers. Thin smoke rose from warm barrels.

Seymour stood behind the firing line, offering tips and advice, helping out where needed.

"(Appleseed) teaches you to shoot better, and it teaches you about our American heritage, which is very important," he would say later.

Still snug against their rifles, still focused on the small targets in front of them, the shooters again squeezed off.

Pop, pop, pop.

•••

Project Appleseed event May 21

Project Appleseed shoots are open to participants of all ages and ability levels. The next Coeur d'Alene event will take place on Saturday, May 21, at Fernan Rod & Gun Club. To register for a shoot, log on to www.appleseedinfo.org

Project Appleseed participants fire at 100-yard targets at the Fernan Rod & Gun Club earlier this month. The shoot brought 22 participants to the gun range near Coeur d'Alene.

 

James Cutter of Sandpoint takes aim with his .233 at the Appleseed Project shoot earlier this month.

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