RURAL MARSHALL - Eight people from aged 10 to their 50s gathered at the Redwood River Sportsman's Club outside Marshall this weekend for the Appleseed Rifle Clinic sponsored by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association.
"People tell me, 'You don't look that old,' said Kevin Kotlarz, an IT specialist at St. Mary's University in Winona and the shoot boss at the clinic.
The Appleseed Project is the heritage and rifle marksmanship program founded by the RWVA in 2005, now active in all 50 states. The project holds hundreds of clinics each year, 19 in Minnesota last year alone, and claims to have a perfect safety record.
"Jack Dailey, the father of Appleseed said, 'Heritage is history you care about,'" Kotlarz said. "Marksmanship is the hook. Ultimately the goal is to get people off the couch and get involved in their country. We do that by telling them the story of the sacrifice of 1775."
The clinics alternate shooting lessons modeled after the standard U.S. Army course with history lessons centered around the events of April 19, 1775, when the actual shooting war broke out between the American colonists and British redcoats at Lexington and Concord.
Kotlarz calls the choice of the name "Revolutionary War Veterans Association" an example of wry humor. And there's more than a bit of that on display. A bumper sticker offered for sale reads, "If you can read this without a silly English accent, thank a veteran."
The goal of the marksmanship instruction is to teach firearms safety and achieve a score the army requires for the "Expert" qualification.
Deb Henrion was attending her fourth clinic.
"I like that I'm improving each time," Henrion said. "It works if you keep practicing."
Shawn Zollner, 14, is part of a family of hunters and shooter, and was at the clinic with his brother Jared, 12.
"I'm trying to get my rifleman's patch," Zollner said. "You have to score so high on your AQT (Army Qualification Test.)
According to Kotlarz, any youth participant is eligible for a Luther Blanchard patch, named for the youngest of the 150 American casualties on that April morning in 1775. Blanchard was a 13-year-old unarmed fife player. The oldest American to die that day was in his 80s.
Appleseed participants are well aware that people who talk patriotism and practice shooting come under a lot of suspicion these days.
"We have no politics," Kotlarz insisted. "The only politicians we talk about have been dead for 200 years, that is the rule of the Appleseed Project. We do not tell people how to vote, we tell them to vote. The Southern Poverty Law Center examined us and said we are not a militia. The only militia we talk about is the Revolutionary War."