More than two dozen people lay out on their bellies to the marked line, guns ready for the signal to load and fire. The signal given, a stream of pops and booms resonated from the rifles to the target: a redcoat. After 13 rounds the instructor barked out, "Cease Fire! Cease Fire! Cease Fire!"
We are at the Appleseed project in Winchendon Massachusetts, a weekend retreat at the local Rod and Gun club. Sponsored by the Revolutionary War Veterans, the Appleseed Program aims to teach both history of the American militia and marksmanship skills. No muzzle loaders here, but a parade of modern riflry.
In my hands is a Ruger 10/22, a so-called Liberty Training Rifle with a sight, altered trigger, bolt release and magazine. We are firing thirteen, twenty, forty rounds into these targets.
At one point an instructor takes out a revolutionary style baronet and holds it high as an example. "You got to protect your family, the red coats are coming and if you don't get them now, they're going to be rushing at you with one of these. And the red coats move fast." Says Nickel, an instructor.
Despite the intensity of these moments, the weekend Appleseed course is novice friendly, good for a person who hasn't fired a shot in her life and free for women. And yet, despite these incentives it is still a predominately male crowd. A fatigue wearing, rough neck, testosterone man's man with some Boston city-kins to add to the mix.
Before we start shooting, me, the men's men and the city-kins stand in a circle and sing out of tune, "SAFETY RULES: Keep your FIN-ger off the TRI-gger until your target has been sighted."
"We make them sing it back because it imprints in their subconscious" Says Nickel.
Garrison, one of the most enthusiastic instructors adds, "I tell my nine, ten year old kids 'keep your booger hook off the bang switch."
Nickel, Garrison, Schnider and the rest of the Revolutionary War Veterans are volunteers, all unpaid, running the program on a shoestring budget.
They symbolize the new wave of gun enthusiasts, those that use the Internet and gun forums to arrange marksmanship training in large magnitudes, up and down the New England countryside.
Despite these technological advancements, The American Veterans are delightfully old school. 'April 19, 1775, militiamen defended the area against the redcoats. Two thousand people mobilized without email, cell phones. How many could you rally if your life depended on it?" asks Nickel.
The Revolutionary War Veterans are adamant about putting guns in civilian hands. For them, this is the best way that a citizenship can control the government. [Project Appleseed] reminds people of their rights. That the government is put in place for US." Says Ross Schacher.
Nickel and the others have reason to be concerned. Massachusetts and other states have tightened up their gun laws. 'You can't shoot a humanoid target in Massachusetts. You ever hear of Act 180. Took your freedom and gave it a 180."
The Revolutionary War Veterans are not a militia per se, as one member Rob Schacher says, "You got these survivalist nuts in the woods giving militias a bad name. The militia is the people. Because of Women's liberation, you and I, 16-60 are part of the militia."
However part of the national milita I may be, I experience real troubles when I stand up to shoot. "Too tense, you're leaning way off balance" Says Schacher. Have you ever played a sport?
"I ride the subway." I offer.
"Yes, exactly!" Says Schacher. "It's exactly like riding the subway! You need to absorb the shock."
Taking the advice, the next round my accuracy increases. The instructors come to look at the target and nod their heads in encouragement.
"By the end of the day you'll be shooting good and you'll be signing up for your license," says Schacher.
One of the younger women who have already gotten her license, Laura Leland says, "I've been going 2-3 times a week. Since I got my license I've been kind of obsessed."
Perhaps the most alluring thing about the weekend is the possibility of buying a discounted gun. Buying a gun through the Veterans, scores many gun lovers a rifle worth double the price. One that could fetch for thousands of dollars at gun shows. This deal is one of the ways Revolutionary War Veterans hope that they can put inexpensive rifles in civilian hands. Their program works through a government sponsored program called the Department of Civilian Marksmanship. Through them, The Civilian for War Veterans is a tax-exempt not-for-profit 501 organization.
Of course, there are two conditions to get one of these coveted discount guns, participate in a marksmanship course and be part of an affiliate club. The guns that are sold are WWII and Korean War relics often with the arsenal rebuilt.
John Mudy, one instructor, says about his own rifle, " I do wonder what theaters my gun has played in."
The sun setting at last, we fire our last thirteen rounds. This is the last Appleseed in the Boston area until spring but they are hopeful about the growth of their program.
"We are trying to double our events every year." Says Nickel.
As for me, come April for the next Appleseed gun course, I'll be there.