What an event!
I arrived at the range on Friday afternoon, pleased to find our local IIT, Theri, ready and willing to give me a hand setting up the firing line. After a few hours toiling in the hot Florida sunshine, we knew that this event was going to be warm, and that we would HAVE to be sure our attendees stayed well hydrated. With the target line up, and our firing line dutifully covered by carports adorned with the flags of our forefathers, Theri and myself departed the range, to finish final preparations for the upcoming weekend. "We'll be here about 7:30, Theri, see you then" says I...
Saturday morning dawned with 21 shooters ready to begin their journey from rifle owner to Rifleman, arriving earlier than anticipated, just so that they could get an early start... But where, or where, could the Shoot Boss be? A technical glitch with the hotel-provided alarm clock delayed the Shoot Boss's arrival until 8:45am, only to find that Earl and Theri had things well under control. Some good natured ribbing from all around, but due to superior organizational skills (and a whole lotta luck) we were able to get the morning started right on time.
Introductions made, The Four Safety Rules chorused and memorized, and the First Strike presented by yours truly, it were time to see just where these shooters abilities lie.
Right off the bat, we instructors knew we were going to have our work cut out for us, as there was less than 25% qualification at 100m or beyond on the Hits Count! target.. From the ubiquitous "But my rifle isn't sighted in!" to "I've never SHOT a rifle before!", many excuses were recorded for their inclusion into the "Appleseed book of Useless Excuses".
Happily eating a small slice of humble pie, our shooters took to instruction like fish to water. First up? The Six Steps, followed by the Steady Hold Factors for the Prone Position. Having seen group sizes rapidly shrink from just these two lessons, we pressed on with Natural Point of Aim, Riflemans Cadence, and Inches, Minutes & Clicks. "Hey- I did it! I've got 4/5 IN THE SQUARE!" (But did you CALL that flier?!)
Before their ego's got too inflated, it was time to push them a little further out of their comfort zone; time for the dreaded SEATED positions.. That did the trick. Groups went from 4-5 MOA to "minute of backer" in a heartbeat. Some individual instruction, contorting the shooters into positions they were sure they'd never recover from, saw the groups begin to shrink. Just in time for LUNCH, kindly provided by Sonny's BBQ.
Just when they thought the seated position couldn't get any harder, we threw them a curveball- TRANSITIONS! Then, TRANSITIONS with MAGAZINE CHANGES! MUAHHAHAHAHAH! Just deserts for those who glutted themselves on BBQ pork and turkey, with sides of BBQ baked beans, cole slaw, and garlic bread... I hesitated a moment (about .00001 seconds) before pushing them into transitions, but after 3/4 the line stayed in the air-conditioned clubhouse, a little 'retribution' were in order...
Belts loosened, groups tightened, slings adjusted, and an increasing respect for their shoot boss's mean streak, our shooters were ready for the standing position, and an introduction to the AQT. A brief break for hydration, and the presentation of the third, and final strike, and they were ready.
"This is the moment you've been working toward the whole day. This is your final exam. You will need to utilize everything you've been taught today, from the SHF's, NPOA, Riflemans Cadence, to the "Riflemans Bubble". Some of you may be lucky enough to score Rifleman. The rest of you? MUST COOK! And I know a few Riflemen who are getting HUNGRY!"
With group sizes already diminishing due to heat, I didn't have high expectations for this first assault against the AQT. I was pleasantly surprised to see one or two shooters knocking on the door, with scores from 170 to 200's. Another AQT administered showed scores rapidly dropping, as our shooters (and instructors) began to wilt in the oppressive heat.
Shooters were given another opportunity to try their hand at that dreaded redcoat from the AM, and the improvement was astonishing. Rounds were going off in cadence, NPOA shifts between targets, and rapid magazine changes all added up to well over 50% qualification rate, with most of those being at 300 yards! Significant improvement, indeed!
Rifles cleared and removed from the line, brass and trash cleaned up, good-byes said, our shooters were released to their vehicles, advised to clean their rifles thoroughly, as the
FUN would resume bright and early..
Not trusting the hotel alarm clock AGAIN, I decided that my own alarm clock would better serve us all, and it performed admirably, waking me and fellow instructors JollyNator and JollyMeister up at the ungodly hour of 6:00AM. Preparations for the day's events made, hotel room cleaned up to the best of our ability, and a nice, hot breakfast hastily consumed, TO THE RANGE!!! DAY TWO!
Oddly enough, our shooters arrived in a cheerful mood, ready to continue their transformation from 'rifle owner' to Rifleman. We even had a few new shooters on the line, convinced by family members that this class was FUN! (Incredulous, I asked them how often they had been lied to by their family...)
With the raising of our Nations standard, all present pledged allegiance to the Flag. Some for the first time in their lives hearing those words. Satisfied that I was surrounded by true Americans, we began a recap of the previous day's instruction in earnest. Prone position, NPOA, Cadence, then on to Sitting/Kneeling, transitions thereto, Standing position.. The pace was brutal, but we were in a race against the heat, and not a complaint was heard. Folks were starting to really get into the rhythm, and their groups proved it. As lunchtime rolled around, they were introduced to the Ball and Dummy drill, each shooter in turn getting an opportunity to try their hand at the glorious task of instructor. With some of the most persistent shooting errors diagnosed and corrected, our shooters were once again released for lunch.
Excellent BBQ hastily consumed, a retelling of the stories of Hezekiah Wyman, Mother Batherick, Prue Wright, David Lamson, and Samuel Whittemore, our shooters were ready to try their hand at the dreaded AQT again.
With the ravages of the Florida sun taking its toll, our shooters were once again skunked, left with scores in the high 190's and low 200's, another AQT was administered, with scores beginning to drop. Hearing thunder in the distance, I decided that if we were going to push these shooters out to 100 yards, it needed to be done, and fast.
A brief introduction into the concepts of target detection, range estimation and wind compensation, we broke down the firing line and pushed it back to 100 yards. About the time we got our targets posted up, and rifles situated on the line, the skies opened up, cooling everything down, but turning our once beautiful target line into a soggy mess. Undeterred from our mission of creating Riflemen, we pressed on, getting soaked to the skin, but loving every minute of it. Hey, the water was nice and cool- a welcome relief, indeed!
Just as our shooters got their rifles sighted in for 100 yards, Zeus again made his appearance, throwing lightning bolts all around us. With our shooters safety in mind, we retreated to the air-conditioned clubhouse for refuge. Yup, 75*, when you're soaking wet, and acclimated to 95* is downright COLD. Through shivering teeth, each attendee was asked to give their summation of the weekend, participating in the "after action debriefing" which is usually reserved for instructors.
After determining that mother nature wasn't going to allow us to continue with the rest of our day's event, we bid our shooters goodbye and braved the storm to finish breaking down the range. Instructors and a few hardy attendees made short work of the target lines and covered firing line, packing everything into the back of my big ugly red truck, ready for the next event...
A few slow good-byes, firm handshakes and we were off, returning once again to the doldrums of everyday life. Why, oh, why, can't we be Appleseeding every day?!
To all of you who attended this great event, my hats off to you. Persisting through oppressive heat, rain and a few obnoxious instructors, you proved that you were made of tougher stuff, earning my respect and admiration in the process. You folks who came out, not sure what to expect, but persevering through the worst of it with nary a negative comment, you restore my faith in this country; YOU are the reason we do what we do. With your help, we can return this country to the ideals upon which it was founded.
I would like to close by giving a special thank you to the owners and staff of Ancient City Shooting Range, without whom this event could never have happened. I would also like to thank my fellow instructors, Theri, JollyNator, JollyMeister, and Earl. You guys are the best, and are welcome at any (or every) event here in FL. Earl, I'm sure we'll meet again on the trail, it was a pleasure working with you.