01 July 2014

Tok, Alaska - the Appleseed A.A.R.

Last Friday morning, Older Daughter (the Appleseed instructor-in-training) and I set out bright and early for Tok. The distance from home to the range, located several miles north of Tok, is about 330 miles.

There are hundreds of miles of this:

... which is not a bad way to spend a day of driving. That's the good news part. The bad news is that over a hundred miles of that is also replete with whoop-de-woos, some major frost heaves, and orange road signs warning of "bumps" and "road damage". The latter is where a foot or more of the outside edge of one or both lanes is crumbled into gravel.

Gas prices on Friday varied from $3.99 here in Anchorage, to a high of $4.59 in Glenallen. Another station in Glenallen was only $4.51, but if you're heading south/west from Canada when you come to the first one, that's what you'll pay. The other is on the same highway, but a mile past the first, and rather tucked out of sight. Fortunately, it's the first one we saw.

Gas in Tok was $4.16, and we have no idea why. But never look a gift horse in the mouth, and all that. At any rate (see what I did there?), it cost nearly $150.00 for gas to spend a couple days shooting .22s. And you thought ammo was expensive.

Sigh ... and today, gas is up to $4.04 here.

* * * * *

We'd been told that the range was "at mile marker 1323", and had been watching those signs for about 30 miles as we approached Tok, because we had no idea of the range's actual location. The numbers are different on every highway of course, so the number we had was useless - the numbering system changed every time we changed roads, so the "1323" made no sense at all - until we were within a few miles of the range.

When we found the right marker, there was only one turn-off in sight; there was no sign, either. We got there around 1530 hours, and discovered that the gate was locked. There was a small sign with a phone number and the legend, "Call for memberships." That's when we discovered that there's no cell service at the range.

We drove back toward Tok for about 3/4 mile until two bars appeared on the phone. So we called and asked about access, but that person told us they hadn't been part of the range for over a year and couldn't (or wouldn't) provide any useful info on the current board of directors.

Then we called one of the other Appleseed guys, who was about 100 miles behind us. He'd just given us the right number when that call was dropped as he lost cell service.

We finally reached the range master, who gave us the code for the digital padlock on the gate, and we got in. Knowing that no one else would be there for a couple of hours, we set up our camp (shown here with the shoot boss's tent in the background).

It was a bit snug for two; good thing we're related. :)

When others began arrived, it stopped feeling quite so remote. Think bears and wolves, and you'll know why we all remained armed at all times. Because in Alaska, "not prepared" can make you dead.

Next morning, we discovered our setup was very popular: we had the community coffee pot.

I was pleased that I hadn't forgotten how to rustle coffee in a percolator; it's been awhile, but everyone liked the results. The five of us went through two pots each morning.

Knowing Stephen's fondness for old Coleman stoves, he'll appreciate the outfit the shoot boss was using:
That's a Coleman pot, too.

He had the hot water supply for all those eating Mountain House breakfasts (freeze-dried, in case you aren't familiar with the brand).

Then it was time for the shoot. In case you're not familiar with the Appleseed Project, let me quote from their website:

Through Project Appleseed, the Revolutionary War Veterans Association is committed to teaching two things: rifle marksmanship and our early American heritage. We do this for one simple reason, the skill and knowledge of what our founding fathers left to us is eroding in modern America and without deliberate action, they will be lost to ignorance and apathy. 

Is there a direct relationship between understanding our country's founding and civic virtue? The answer should anecdotally be quite clear. As our citizens' knowledge of founding principles has declined, so too has our involvement in this government 'of, by and for The People.' Instead, our citizens seem all too content to relegate governmental decisions and knowledge to those that have been elected, all the while assuming these officials' abilities and agendas are working on their behalf. We believe that if this trend continues, our country will be left with an expansive gulf between the populace and the government.

John Adams
John Adams, Founding Father and 3rd President of the United States
Anticipating that our nation would one day find itself in its current plight, John Adams warned:

"Posterity! You will never know how much it cost the present Generation to preserve your Freedom! I hope you will make good use of it. If you do not, I shall repent in Heaven, that I ever took half the Pains to preserve it." 
Our forebears committed their lives to eight years of war so that their sacrifices would never require repeating. They would endow us, their posterity, with a republic from which our freedoms would be given enduring life. 
... The Revolutionary War Veterans Association is committed to renewing civic virtue - prioritizing civic responsibility over personal interests and indulgence. We are wholly comprised of volunteers who commit time, resources and passion toward achieving the RWVA mission. As a 501(c)3 organization, we promote civic responsibility through the teaching of colonial history and the American tradition of rifle marksmanship in a safe, non-partisan environment.

For what it's worth, I highly recommend this organization. It's worthy of your time and donations.

* * * * *

Saturday morning, the students began arriving. There were veterans, experienced shooters, teenagers, wives, hunters, a couple of pastors, and an eight-year-old girl whose dad, a State Trooper, stayed by her side to observe her safety precautions and behavior (she was very grown-up, so no worries in that regard). That was greatly appreciated by the instructors, whose time was thereby freed so they could spend more of it with the remaining students.

We all wanted to learn what Appleseed teaches:
To learn to shoot a rifle — to learn to shoot it just as well as your forefathers.

To hear the story that every American should hear. About how your forebears took up arms, on the first day of the American Revolution, and did things no other people in the world have ever done. To learn things you don't learn in school, about that day. About where the Revolution really started — it did not start in Lexington, nor did it start in Concord. According to John Adams, it was over before it started. Be there to hear The Story, because to hear it is to remember what they did, that day. And to remember, is to honor them for doing it.

To gather new hope for the future. To see Americans — volunteer Americans — not sitting around complaining: no sir, out doing something about it — like saving their country, one person at a time.

To meet other Americans with whom you can enjoy learning to shoot, and learning more about the momentous events of April 19th, 1775. So you'll go home with your hope for America re-kindled and enlarged because you know that there are others just like you.

No one is allowed to uncase a firearm until after the safety instructions are taught. ("The only safe directions to point a rifle here are straight up, and down range." "NEVER touch the trigger until your sights are on the target." and so on.)

Students are taught how to clear and make safe their weapons, along with range safety and etiquette. Several of the teenagers had never held a firearm before.

Very clear and concise instruction is provided in shooting while standing, seated or kneeling, prone, and transitions between those. There were courses of fire involving magazine changes, and much attention was paid to how to find and establish your natural point of aim, as well as how to reacquire it after moving, changing magazines, etc.

The use of a sling was taught, along with several possible configurations for different positions. That helped me immensely, by the way, as it does most folks.

Progress is checked after each course of fire by walking to the target line and marking where each shot hit.

The targets were fairly close together; several shooters (this author included) placed at least one shot in their neighbor's target.

Ready on the left ...
Ready on the right ...

We were instructed in how to measure the size of the groups, noting the center of the group, and how to calculate necessary adjustments to the rifle sights, to compensate.

I also had to add a 1" riser to the comb on my Marlin, as my "cheek weld" was more of a "jawline weld". I knew the little rifle was too small for a fellow of my height, but I never realized how much it was affecting my accuracy.

At the end of Day 1, we all shot the Army Qualification Test, or AQT, for the first time, to see exactly what is necessary to win the much-coveted "Rifleman" patch.

From 25 yards, the large silhouette is the simulated "100 yard" target. The 2nd row is how it would appear from 200 yards, and so on. Sadly, not my target.

A score of 210 points (10 points per hit, plus 20 points for each hit on the 4th row) inside the thin line surrounding each silhouette is required to qualify for the title of "rifleman".

How did I do? I scored a 158, which the Army would rank as "marksman"; the range for that appellation is any score between 125 and 169. Sadly, I would have had a 168, if not for the perfect 3rd row bullseye I placed on my neighbor's target.

Dang it.

There was a Day 2, but something came up, and Daughter and I were unable to remain.

The trip home was mostly uneventful, except for the 90-minute delay which we encountered 20 miles from home, making a 6.5-hour drive into an 8-hour one.

I've left a great deal out of this condensed version, including how they teach focus, breathing, and relaxation on the line, all of which serves to make shooters into riflemen (and women!).

UPDATE: last night's phone call from an instructor provided the info that three of the shooters achieved 210 or better, thereby becoming riflemen. Bravo Zulu to all who received that patch!

There will also be more pictures soon, as quickly as they're posted on the Appleseed event forum.

* * * * *

In short, the training is absolutely invaluable for anyone who wants to be a better marksman, even for long-time shooters who are no longer shooting as well as they used to. (That describes me pretty well, right there.)

Mount Drum, at the western edge of the Wrangell Mtns, as seen on the eastbound leg of the trip. It's 12,010 feet in elevation.


Teresa said...

Sounds like it was time well spent. :D Glad you had a chance to go!

Earl said...

Thank you for visiting Appleseed and the great write up, this is a good one. You are not really exactly on your NPOA, but close enough. The next thing is to be exactly on it and then trust it and fire in Rifleman's Cadence.

Again, thanks for the long trip to connect with your heritage. You rock.

Sandy said...

Rev. Paul,

You spent time with your daughter enjoying the countryside, and the Appleseed organization.

Now that is what I call a great setup and you have the coffee pot to boot!!!

Rev. Paul said...

Thanks, all!

Jefferson Selvy said...

Six kinds of awesome. A nation of riflemen indeed

Old NFO said...

Well done, and sorry you had to miss day 2.

Rev. Paul said...

Earl, I thank you for those comments. I WILL continue to apply the principles I learned.

Welcome, Mr. Selvy! You're right.

Thanks, NFO. It was tough to leave in the middle, especially after the long drive to get there.

Murphy's Law said...

Sounds like a great father-daughter outing and it motivated me to find one of these events around here so thanks for that!

Rev. Paul said...

ML, I guarantee it's worth the time. I'll have to consider one closer to home, next time, but that's just me.

Keads said...

Great write up! Glad you had fun and yes. Appleseed does wonderful things. The home range for them is in this state. Perhaps I can coax ML to come sometime.

Rev. Paul said...

Thanks, Kelly. It was a very good thing, and I will be attending one of the local (i.e., within 40 miles) weekends this fall. I hope you & ML can get together.

Cathy said...

This was downright inspirational Rev. Paul.
It's very moving to know there are people committed to a project like this.
Congrats on your Marksman status.

Rev. Paul said...

Why thank you, Cathy. :) It's a wonderful organization.