Appleseed Project teaches marksmanship and history, hopes to improve the country

The Appleseed Project educates the public on the tradition of marksmanship and holds annual shooting events across the country. At a recent event in Buckingham County, Va., participants take aim.
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 23, 2010

BUCKINGHAM COUNTY, VA. -- He emerges from the woods, a vision in wool. His walking stick leads and his black boots follow. Underneath a tricorn hat, his white hair flows into a powder bag and rests on the shoulders of his frock coat. His waistcoat is navy, his britches yellow, his nose Roman, his bearing presidential. From their sagging camp chairs next to scuffed coolers -- somewhere off Route 610, down a dirt road that coils into the sticks, past the sign that reads "END STATE MAINTENANCE" -- his constituents watch him approach. Here, on a hot stretch of acreage converted into a 500-yard firing range, the father of our country meets his flock.

A hawk tilts on a thermal overhead. The people drink grape juice and eat granola bars as George Washington orates. He recalls mustering a militia for the struggle against England. A disarmed people is a helpless people, he says. He extols the vast natural resources of the American land, the courage of its citizens and the liberties for which his countrymen started fighting at Lexington and Concord 235 years ago.

"If you cannot make from all this a great and happy and prosperous nation," Washington intones, sweeping his arm past the trees, the grass, the sky and the shooting targets staple-gunned to plywood, "you only have yourselves to blame."

* * *

Sometimes it's useful to forget about polls, rallies and cable news and just drive -- past the Beltway, past the suburbs, the exurbs, the rururbs, until traffic evaporates, until that nag on the GPS goes quiet. Drive until you idle onto a private shooting range in the dead center of Virginia, in a nest of back roads lined with historical markers for things that are no longer there. Drive and listen. Listen for what's at stake, for why people think the republic has gone astray, for how daylong stretches of shooting guns are a step on the path to national redemption.

It's 10 a.m. Saturday. The people are here, on their bellies on the ground, and the shell casings are flying. Bullets snip through plywood and disappear into a loamy berm. A breeze carries the stink of scorched lead and copper toward a fluttering clothesline of colorful revolutionary flags.

The youngest shooters are 10-year-old twins with shaggy black hair and the oldest is a 71-year-old with a gold earring. There are two doctors, retirees with bad backs and teenagers with acne, lone wolves in denim and wives in mom jeans, three friendly guys from the Virginia Citizen Militia, active and former military men, lifelong shooters and recent converts, all white and conservative but diverse in skill and class. They have given up their weekend to become better shots and, therefore, they think, better Americans.

This is the Appleseed Project, an educational program started in 2006 by a man named Fred Dailey, who runs a military surplus store in Ramseur, N.C., and is treasurer of the Revolutionary War Veterans Association, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the tradition of marksmanship via the country's origin story. Appleseed is "a solution for the American crisis," "a plan to save America." Its Web site is introspective, worried, resolute:

What kind of people were we, on April 19th, 1775? What kind of people are we, today? Do we still care about that first day? . . . Most Americans don't, and that may be why this country, without its anchor to the founders, has lost its way, and is now adrift, in danger of grounding against the rocks. . . . And who's gonna stop the drift?

The answer, apparently, is the several dozen folks in this field, plus the hundreds at the 99 other Appleseed shoots held across the country last weekend. There were 17 shoots in 2006, 48 in 2007, 150 in 2008 and 450 last year, according to organizers. More than 50 shoots are planned for next month, from Racine, Wis., to Fresno, Calif., to Biloxi, Miss., to Proctor, Vt. The goal is to grow until the whole country a) remembers where it came from, and b) is qualified to safely handle a rifle and shoot a human-head-sized target at 500 yards.

A freckled tower of a man named Eddie Wood asks everyone to circle up as the sun burns away the morning cloud cover.

"We'll learn how to shoot, we'll learn some history and we'll all go home uninjured," says Wood, a career firefighter and the state representative for Appleseed. In his big, soft Virginian voice, he reviews safety rules, says he expects to have a bunch of shooters attain a rifleman's score on an Army qualifying test tomorrow, and he hints at a special guest who will arrive at 2 p.m.

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