I would like to attend and review shooting schools periodically. Being that the ones I want to go to cost a whole lot, it probably won't happen (if I haven't cemented my reputation as a cheapskate by now then you're not paying attention). I'll start with one that I attended some time ago: Appleseed. If you're unfamiliar with the program, the Wikipedia entry is also helpful. There is a shooting component and a history component. I'm focusing on the shooting for this article.
In 2009 I decided to give Appleseed a try. I signed up myself and Mrs. Rifleslinger. It cost me about $70 for the entire shoot, which is all day Saturday and Sunday (women shot free at that time- I don't know if that's still the case). Prior to the shoot, for several months in fact, I researched what to expect, worked on positions, made sure my equipment was squared away (rifles, sights, slings, extra mags, plenty of ammo, etc...). I fitted my new Ruger 10/22 with Tech Sights, which are aperture, aka "peep", sights.
We travelled about 180 miles to get to the range. The safety briefing started around 0900. We then shot a target used to show what the shooter's baseline level of accuracy is. Then they covered prone position, use of the loop sling, the "six steps of firing the shot", and natural point of aim in the morning. The topics were covered well and concisely. Between each instruction point we shot a group or 2 of 5 shots on 1" squares.
All of the firing was done from 25 meters. I suppose this cuts down on walking to the targets and back. Speaking of walking to the targets, the instructors would often yell "Quickly, quickly, quickly" if we were doing anything other than shooting or instruction. There was not a lot of time to stand around looking at cows in the adjacent pasture, which repeatedly drew the wandering attention of Mrs. Rifleslinger.
During lunch, which we ate at the range, they covered some history. After lunch, they went over sitting and offhand. At maybe 1530 or 1600 we started shooting the AQT, which is the target which is shot for score. A score of 210 or above out of a possible 250 will get you a Rifleman patch. I got a score of 213 on the first or second target and was presented the patch in a very nice way. No one else got one on the first day, so it was a bit embarrassing.
I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn't hurt. And the beer I had for breakfast wasn't bad, so I had one more for dessert. Oh wait, that's a country song. No beer for breakfast that day, but I was sore and had a headache from being in prone so much the previous day. Also, I was sunburned, because it was hot and I forgot something important. We had to run to the store and get staples for the staple gun, because the previous day, I was "that guy", the one slowing things down due to running out of staples. So bring sunscreen and a loaded staple gun.
After a second safety briefing, we did some drills to work out some bugs. We did "carding the sights" and "ball and dummy" with a partner. This was a nice way to ease through the soreness. It was also helpful to get down natural point of aim and getting rid of the flinching and/or blinking. After that we pretty much shot a lot of rounds, maybe 300-400 on AQT's. 2 or 3 other attendees got their Rifleman patch out of maybe 30 shooters.
If you aren't familiar with using a sling, or it's been a while, or you're doing it wrong or something, you'll get really familiar with using it at an Appleseed. In fact, after an Appleseed, you'll notice a lot of people who don't know that the sling can be used as a shooting aid, and a lot of people who don't know how to use the sling properly.
I came away with a pretty darn solid understanding of natural point of aim. I already knew what it was, but I can say that I understood it well after the shoot. If you fire a shot and your sight jumps right back on target, you got it. If it goes anywhere else you don't. They show you how to get there.
They cover positions and techniques fairly completely, but if you're looking at cows you'll miss it, 'cause they do it fast. I recommend doing some study in advance to get the most out of it.
You'll have a much better idea of how your equipment functions after the shoot, because you'll be putting it through its paces in whatever weather happens to show up. I recommend putting some thought and consideration into your equipment prior to the shoot. Maybe even take your rifle out of the box and put some rounds through it! There appeared to be people who didn't consider doing even that.
The intended scope of the course is, by design, somewhat limited. The target market is, I think, basically the average American who needs to learn to shoot. If you took the instruction to its logical conclusion, you'd end up with a good knowledge of how to employ a battle rifle using orthodox shooting positions and a sling to get hits on 4 MOA targets. Some subjects have to be oversimplified or glossed over due to the fact that the course is highly condensed. Example: the only prone taught is "Olympic Prone", which works for some, but may not fit everybody.
There is also no reference to how to employ the rifle. All you get is marksmanship, so don't go there expecting any insights on field usage. You'll learn to sling up, but there won't likely be any mention of the viability of the shooting sling as a field technique.
I think that the primary weakness of Appleseed, from a purely shooting-centric perspective, is that there's nothing beyond the 210 score qualification level of "Rifleman". You get there and you're as good as you need to be. Not in my opinion. It's a good start; like a black belt in martial arts. Now you have some basics down well enough to begin a serious inquiry of the thing. Instead of encouraging you to further your skill development, you get the impression that you're "done" and they recruit you to instruct.
Overall I would recommend Appleseed. Even an experienced shooter is likely to come away with something. I would highly recommend it if you're rusty or unfamiliar with using a sling or the concept of natural point of aim. The only person I wouldn't recommend it to is someone who has mastered position shooting with a sling, doesn't like American heritage, or meeting really cool people. The history presentations are also very inspiring.
I don't know if they're "Saving a Country", but they're doing good stuff.