"A good shot must necessarily be a good man since the essence of good marksmanship is self-control and self-control is the essential quality of a good man." – Colonel Jeff Cooper
A faded plywood sign announces the home of the Revolutionary War Veterans Association (RWVA). Just inside the gate a replica of the flag that flew at the Battle of Bunker Hill greets new arrivals. The bright white crescent moon and the word LIBERTY stand boldly out of the blue field.
The RWVA is headquartered at a rifle range in Ramseur, North Carolina. Conspicuously missing on this nicely appointed range is the customary row of shooting benches along the firing line. The RWVA teaches traditional rifle marksmanship. Nobody shoots sitting at a bench.
It’s a modern range laid out for safety and effectiveness across a small valley. You shoot downhill at closer targets. Long range targets are on the hillside that rises on the far side of valley. The facility takes advantage of the full reach of the modern rifle with targets out to 500 yards.
The Revolutionary War Veterans Association teaches American history and rifle marksmanship at what they call “apple seeds” and “boot camps” across the country. They want to revitalize a fast fading tradition of civilian rifle marksmanship while teaching the history and ideals of liberty that underpinned the American Revolution.
In colonial America the organized militia developed out of defensive necessity. It consisted of all able bodied men between 16 and 50. Government involvement was at the local level. Membership was voluntary. Members signed contracts and covenants and elected their leaders.
Militiamen used their own weapons, though powder and shot often came from the “common stock,” and, in a tradition that probably will not catch on in modern U.S. cities, some towns provided arms for those who couldn’t afford their own. Militias trained together to better defend home and family, not to give the guys something to do on weekends.
Colonial New England farmers had no love of war. Neither did they consider professional soldiering a vocation worthy of much respect. The New England colonies were among the first states on earth to recognize the rights of conscientious objectors. But don’t mistake them for pacifists.
For early Americans war as a dangerous, nasty business that had to be done now and again if good men were to survive in an evil world. As such, they approached it with the efficiency and ingenuity they applied to every aspect of their lives, providing unpleasant surprises to many professional warriors who underestimated them.
Redcoat regulars scoffed at the armed bumpkins. They wouldn’t be the last to be unpleasantly surprised by Americans skilled in the use of long arms.
It is on this tradition, with particular emphasis on the first battles of the American Revolutionary War, that the RWVA bases its program.
An intensive week of rifle marksmanship training begins with an hour long tale of Paul Revere’s ride and a discussion of why a knowledge of history is important to the modern rifleman. An instructor is visibly moved telling us about the suffering of a colonist wounded by a ball to the ankle. Enduring pain few of us can imagine, the wounded man undergoes four amputations that proceed up his leg just ahead of the gangrene that finally kills him. He was wounded fighting to keep the Redcoats from destroying his town’s powder and shot.
After our history lesson, we learn that everything runs second to safety. Avoiding bullet wounds is job one. The Shoot Boss runs the range military style on shouted commands to shooters. Instructors observe every move. Muzzles are watched like toddlers on tightropes, never allowed to stray in the wrong direction. Between courses of fire rifles are untouchable, magazines out, actions open, safeties on, yellow plastic chamber flags fly.
Our daily instruction includes regular review of the details of the events of April 18 and 19, 1775, range safety, firing positions, the mathematics of sight adjustment, range estimation, ballistics, and the six steps for firing an accurate rifle shot.
The British captured Paul Revere near Lexington. When they questioned him, he scared the life out of them telling them the truth. The militia were gathering by the thousands he said and would soon be kicking some Redcoat butt. A volley fired by a group of militiamen emptying their muskets before entering the local tavern put Revere’s captors in such a panic they let him go. (but stole his horse)
Step one: Sight Alignment, front and rear sight centered and leveled.
On the Lexington Green Captain Parker’s band of 70 militiamen faced five times as many Redcoats spreading left and right of them in easy musket range. When the British commander ordered the militia to disburse, they didn’t object. Captain Parker was ordering them off the green when a shot rang out. Nobody knows who fired it. The ragged Redcoat volley that followed downed almost 25% of Parker’s militia, most as they fled.
Step two: Sight Picture, front sight on your target.
The Shoot Boss is nicknamed Junior Bird Man. He’s an airline pilot in real life with an easy smile and a great love of history and marksmanship. He openly admires the discipline, study and perseverance of an expert rifleman. Everyone wants to be like this guy. All the instructors are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and friendly. Many offer tidbits of colonial and military history during the day.
Step three: Respiratory Pause, inhale… exhale… pause with lungs empty for your shot.
The rifle sling attaches with a loop above the bicep of the non-trigger arm. The sling wraps around the forearm and the fore end of the rifle rests on the palm of that hand. Firm tension on the sling steadies the rifle. The hand grips the rifle loosely if at all. The trigger hand raises the rifle to level the sights with the shooter’s eye and holds the stock firmly against the shoulder.
Step four: Focus the eye on the front sight, focus the mind on holding the sight on the target.
A minute of angle is the rifleman’s unit of accuracy. It is one sixtieth of a degree. At 100 yards one minute of angle defines the diameter of a circle one inch in diameter. At 200 yards 2 inches. At 1000 yards 10 inches. Five shots are grouped in a one inch circle at 25 yards. How big would that group be at 150 yards? An RWVA trained riflemen can tell you in a heartbeat that those 5 shots will be inside a 6 inch circle.
Step five: Trigger squeeze. Smoothly, with the center of the first section of the index finger, steadily until it breaks.
A score of 210 on the Army Qualifying Target sequence is required for an “expert” rating. It is the goal of the RWVA course to have all students shoot at that level. It requires discipline, patience and practice. Many students will qualify at a three day “apple seed.” Almost all in a week long boot camp.
Step Six: Follow through, hold the trigger back, eyes open, call the shot, ease off the trigger till it resets.
The colonial militia didn’t march off to war in a fury of cheering crowds. New Englanders were not a martial people. No one wanted to shoot first. The British at the time weren’t the “enemy,” they were the “authorities.” They were the BATF, FBI or 82nd Airborne of their day, a scary, powerful organization, that you oppose at your peril.
Years afterward a veteran was asked why he went to war that day. He acknowledged that he never drank taxed tea, never saw a tax stamp, never heard of John Locke, or any of the great philosophers of liberty. He said this: “We always had governed ourselves and we always meant to.”
There was no doubt in colonial times that those who meant to govern themselves had to know what their rights were and how to defend them. The Revolutionary War Veterans Association is keeping that knowledge alive today.