It's early on a Saturday morning in the farmland of southeast Missouri. Beyond the tall grass that borders the two-lane country roads, two dozen women huddle around an instructor who's splayed on the ground, clutching a pink .22-caliber rifle and demonstrating a proper shooting position.
The women who are gathered here look more like weekend Wal-Mart shoppers than aspiring markswomen. There are grandmas and grade-school girls, housewives and dental hygienists. One is pregnant; another is lugging around an infant. Some drove 15 minutes to get here, while others came from as far as St. Louis.
Several of the women came from Kansas City, which is two hours away. They left at dawn to make the 8:30 a.m. shoot, driving through puffs of mist that hung low over hillsides glowing electric-green in the early morning sunlight. Once they arrived, they unfolded camping chairs and coolers, staking claims on patches of grass a safe distance from the firing line. A passing driver might mistake the scene for a well-armed tailgate party.
They are here — on an old goat farm in Humansville, Missouri, on Labor Day weekend — to learn how to squeeze off a kill shot from 500 yards.
The event is one of 1,000 being put on this year by the Appleseed Project, which has taught 20,000 people to shoot since 2005. Run by a nonprofit called the Revolutionary War Veterans Association (RWVA), the program promises to teach attendees the six steps to firing a shot and to "reaffirm your heritage" with stories from the Revolutionary War. The Appleseed events usually cost $50 a day, but women, children and U.S. soldiers shoot for free. This event is the organization's fourth all-women's shoot, or "Lady Seed." It was promoted on gun-enthusiast websites, on bulletin boards in rural Missouri gun shops, in local newspapers and on local radio.
The instructor, known as the "shoot boss," goes by the name Dinky Dao. She has a linebacker's build and curly, brown hair tucked into a red RWVA cap. Her nickname comes from a phrase that U.S. Marines heard shouted at them by Vietnamese villagers during the Vietnam War. "It means beaucoup number one crazy," she says.
To demonstrate the "prone" shooting position, Dinky has borrowed a teenage girl's unloaded, Barbie-pink .22. She lies flat like a toy soldier, bending one knee and keeping the other straight. She presses the butt of the gun to her cheek, noting how her bent leg lifts her diaphragm off the ground, keeping the rifle steady through every breath. "Ladies, we got a lot going on right here, so it's kind of like lying on a waterbed," she says, indicating her chest. "We can't help moving around."
The women listen quietly, making mental notes for when it's their turn on the firing line. The woman with the baby pulls a camping chair closer to the circle, places the baby on her lap, and begins breast-feeding.
The Appleseed Project is the brainchild of a gun outfitter in Ramseur, North Carolina. "Fred," of Fred's Military M14 Rifle Stocks, is actually named Jack Dailey.
Along with hawking gun accessories and teaching people to shoot, Dailey pens political missives for his website. The columns reveal his suspicion that the government wants to encroach on gun rights, and his distaste for "big government" sounds like the stuff of Tea Party rallies. But Dailey goes further, encouraging people to form "teams" of fellow gun owners with proper training. The object: To "multiply your effectiveness and decrease your risks, if the stuff should ever hit the fan.
"The founders placed the burden of defending liberty on YOUR shoulders, and put the Second Amendment in just to prove it," Dailey writes. "You want to be ready if — when — the time comes."