Generation HC Member: Leslie Cernik aka Western Rose

“Generation HC,” or the “High Caliber Generation” is what I’ve begun calling young people I’ve come into contact with in the world of shooting sports.  These “kids” are extremely focused, mature, and disciplined – but they have a lot of fun, as well.

The first Gen HC member I reported on was “Allie Cat” Barrett, and you can read that interview here.  Allie is a member of the fast-growing sport of practical pistol shooting (and I hope to talk her into writing a detailed description of her favorite sport for me soon), but we are about to turn 180 degrees and talk with a young woman that is a Project Appleseed rifle instructor – at the ripe old age of 18. 🙂

Leslie Cernik of Idaho, aka Western Rose, is an amazing young woman whose dad taught her to shoot a rifle at an early age, and who actually became a Revolutionary War Veterans Association Instructor and Range Safety Officer at the age of 16.

As Leslie says of her early days, “My Dad started to teach each of us to shoot as soon as we could tell him, from memory, Cooper’s four safety rules.  He started us out with a small .22 pistol.  When we were big enough, Dad would put us behind a Marlin Model 60 .22 rifle with iron sights and the use of a big log as a rest.”

She explains her introduction to the Appleseed organization by saying, “When I was 12 or 13 my Dad asked if I would like to go with him to something called ‘Project Appleseed.’  I had no idea what it was, other than I would be shooting all weekend with my Dad.  That sounded like fun, so off we went.

I learned the Steady Hold Factors of prone, sitting, and standing; I found out the great secret of needing to find your Natural Point Of Aim; I was taught the Six Steps of Firing a Shot; and on top of all that, just when I needed a break, the instructors would tell history.

I have always liked to read, but have never been good at remembering dates, events, names…until that weekend.  I learned SO much [Revolutionary War history] that I wouldn’t have learned any other way.  The instructors were definitely welcoming to me, even though I was, by far, the youngest attendee AND the only girl on the line…not  to mention the only .22 shooter.

At the end of the weekend, I left with a smile, new friends, and the high score of my family (a 198 of 250).  That was my first experience with any kind of organized shooting event and I loved it.”

Leslie said the ratio of men-women-children on an Appleseed line has changed drastically over the years and now entire families are signing up for the events.  And if you are unfamiliar with Project Appleseed, this is an organization that teaches rifle marksmanship and the importance of the American Revolutionary rifleman to the freedoms we enjoy today.  All levels are welcome at these very inexpensive events, from beginner to expert, and those who excel at the course may earn their Rifleman patch.

Leslie is not only an Appleseed instructor, she is also a homeschooling high school senior, as well as a college freshman, a writer, a horsewoman, photographer, blogger, and much more.  Her Appleseed involvement has even moved beyond the shooting line, and into administration of the organization.

I asked Leslie some questions about her shooting and will let her speak for herself:

Q.  What three life lessons have you learned from shooting?

A.  “Shooting has taught me persistence, confidence, and how to relax.  Seriously.  Persistence is on that list because it’s not always easy.  You have to work through the        problems and find a solution.  You can’t give up.  That’s something that easily transfers into everyday life (and school work!).

Confidence is listed because when you go from not doing so well, to achieving a goal, it will boost your confidence to know that you can work through this issue, that persistence will pay off.  Plus, there is nothing like the feeling of confidence when you get down behind a rifle, see a target, and know you can hit it.  You realize you aren’t helpless.

How to relax is another thing that I’ve found particularly helpful.  I used to tense up when I was shooting, so for me, learning to relax in a tense situation is very useful, and not only in shooting.”

Q.  How has shooting played a part in how you relate to your peers?

A.  “Presently, a lot of my peers aren’t super interested in shooting or history.  That has been troubling, but I still definitely enjoy my time with them.  Maybe someday they’ll come along with me to a Project Appleseed event and realize that this is THEIR heritage.  I have found that I definitely don’t ‘fit’ in just one age group.  I thoroughly enjoy learning from those who are older than myself, and then taking what I learn and teaching it to others.”

Q.  What is your favorite firearm?

A.  “My favorite firearm would definitely be a rifle.  I REALLY like the M1 Garand.  That would be my favorite specific rifle, but I do enjoy shooting the M1A, AR, and the .22s, as well.”

Q.  How has your schooling affected your shooting “career,” or vice versa?

A.  “Being homeschooled, I was hardly ever put in a classroom with a bunch of kids my age.  That made me learn to communicate with both adults and kids.  I have found that learning isn’t just in the classroom; it’s all the time.  In shooting, I’m with people who are anywhere from 13 years younger than myself, to 60+ years older.  I have a lot of fun being with folks that are older than myself and learning from them, so it works out well.  Also, it gives me an appreciation for the wisdom of the gray head – ok, you don’t actually have to be going gray to be wise” 🙂

Q.  What is it like to compete (and win) against people older than yourself?

A.  “Competing has always been somewhat hard for me, in that I tense up (good thing I’ve learned to relax!)  Now I enjoy competing with folks of all ages.  I now know that if I lose I’ll be learning more, and I’ll come back to try again and again until I win.  Winning is exhilarating and continues to build my confidence.”

Q.  What would you like to tell new shooters – young people that are just getting interested in shooting?

A.  “I think I would tell new shooters that it is a lifetime of fun.  Shooting is a journey, where people will come alongside you, help you along the way, and before you know it, you’ll be helping others who are newer to shooting than you are.  You will learn more than you can even imagine – and shooting a .22 doesn’t hurt.  Take that first step, come on out, and enjoy it!”

Q.  How do you see yourself involved in shooting 20 years from now?

A.  “In 20 years, I hope that I will still be teaching others how to shoot, and telling others about our mutual heritage.  I also hope that I will have been able to shoot a perfect score on the AQT (Army Qualification Test).  I would like to learn more pistol shooting and maybe shoot in competitions (both rifle and pistol) sometime.”

Of her role as instructor, Leslie said, “Instructing has helped me grow significantly as a person.  The first time I talked in front of a crowd, I was 16 and there were 72 attendees and 6-8 instructors.  I was honestly freaked out about the idea of talking in front of a group.  Talking to a small group of friends was hard enough, but now I was talking to folks that, for the most part, I’ve never met before.

The other instructors, all quite a bit older than myself, really helped me work through being scared and getting up in front of people, despite my fear.  I didn’t have the confidence that I wouldn’t really mess up, but I knew that if I did, the other instructors would pick me up and help me along.

My ‘trail’ hasn’t been the adventure of one person, it’s been the adventure of many.  People from all over this nation have come alongside me, picked me up when I failed, guided me and taught me.  I continue to be taught by them, and many more have become my teachers, friends, and family over the last couple of years.  Each has built on the foundation that my family, specifically my father, gave me.  I have become an extension of my teachers, and I only hope that I can teach others as well as they have taught me.”

Leslie says she thoroughly enjoys shooting, but has also come to love instructing; and with a family of instructors to call her own (Mom, Shawn, instructor and administrator; Dad, Larry, Idaho State Coordinator for Appleseed; 16 year-old sister, Heather, instructor and administrator; and 14 year-old brother, Patrick, instructor), this group is sure to continue to instill a love for shooting, and American History, in all they come into contact with.

Check out Leslie’s blog at The Little Adventures of Western Rose.

Click on the Appleseed Texas facebook page or to find the Appleseed facebook page for your area, click here.

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A Girl, A Glock, and the NRA Pistol Quals – Part 2

Well, it didn’t take nearly as long to complete the handgun qualifications through Expert as it did to write about them, so here is the second part of my NRA pistol qualification quest.

In my last post about the quals I was mid-way through the Marksman 1st Class level, which I completed.  Marksman 1st Class requires two-hand shooting, both strong side and weak side.  This means that you hold the gun with both hands in a normal grip for the strong side shooting, then switch your grip so that the weak hand pulls the trigger during the next set.  It takes a minute to figure out this grip using your weak hand, sort of like trying to cross your arms in the opposite direction than you are used to.

I was shooting at an AP-1 target, so had to shoot from 30 feet, and as with all the prior levels, it required ten qualifying targets.  There are two stages to M1stC:  The first stage being five shots in three minutes, strong side; and the second stage being five shots in three minutes, weak side, for a total of ten shots per target.

This is the first level of the qualification that requires a minimum score.  To pass this level you must acquire five targets with a score of 46 or better and five targets with a score of 56 or better.  The targets do not have to be shot in the same session.

The next level is Sharpshooter, which is the same stance and grip as M1stC, but with a faster time limit and higher minimum score.  For this level the shooter must fire five shots in 20 seconds with the strong-hand grip and five shots in 20 seconds with the weak-hand – still a two-hand grip, ten shots per target.

Scoring for Sharpshooter is, again, ten targets total, five with a score of 60 or better and five with a score of 65 or better.  Both stages for a target must be shot in the same session, but the ten targets do not have to be completed on the same day.

Now we get to the Expert level, which is shot one-handed, both strong-side and weak-side.  Once again at 30 feet for the AP-1 target and 15 feet for the AP-2 target, the shooter must fire five shots in three minutes and five shots in ten seconds with the strong hand; and then fire five shots in three minutes and five shots in ten seconds with the weak hand – for a total of 20 shots per target.

The complete Expert course (20 rounds) must be fired twice with a score of 130 or better and three times with a score of 150 or better.

Now we get to the highest prize, the Distinquished Expert level, which will encompass everything we have done in all previous levels, and which must be witnessed by a current NRA member, instructor, or coach, and for which paperwork must be submitted to the NRA in order to receive acknowledgement in the NRA magazine.

This level should be completed by hanging three targets at eye level, about an inch apart, and they are shot from the same distances as the previous levels.  There are four stages to this level and each of the four stages must be shot during the same session, but the qualifying targets need not be shot on the same day.

In Stage 1, the shooter will fire five rounds, strong side, with two hands in ten seconds.  Stage 2 is the same, except that the rounds are fired with one hand only, the strong hand.  Stage 3 requires five rounds fired with two hands, weak side, in 10 seconds.  For Stage 4, the shooter must place five rounds in the targets in 10 seconds, with the weak hand only.

Scoring for this level requires the shooter to acquire three targets with a minimum score of 145 or better, and three targets with a score of 170 or better.

So, all that to say that I have one more level to complete, Distinguished Expert; and it’s a level I hope to master within the next month.

Wish me luck ~ and happy shooting!

A Girl, a Glock, and the NRA Pistol Quals – Part 1

NRA Women's Pistol Patch

After months of shooting at random targets, I decided to try to become certified in something – not certifiable, mind you, but certified.  My search for a way to begin climbing the ladder of credibility led me to the NRA Pistol Qualifications, which I figured was a good place to start.

The first two levels in the qualifications only require that you shoot at a nine-inch paper plate, or nine-inch target, but I went ahead and purchased the NRA AP-1 targets, because I would need them for future levels.  The AP-1 is a fairly large target, so if you use it, as opposed to the AP-2, which is smaller, you move out to 30 feet after the first two levels.  The end result is the same, but I chose to go with the AP-1 so that I could say I shot the targets at 30 feet – it just sounds more impressive :0)

So on a very hot and steamy day, just before the sun began to set, I packed up my Glock and my gear and headed to the range.  Fortunately, my son, Dylan, came along to be my ammo boy.  He kept my magazines loaded so I could get as far as possible before losing too much daylight.

The first level that must be mastered on this journey is Pro-Marksman, where you are required to shoot five rounds at a paper plate (or a target nine inches in diameter) while sitting with arms braced, and get all of the shots within one-half inch of the outside rim – and then do that ten times.  The distance for this step is 15 feet, and if using a nine-inch target, is pretty easy to master.  Shots are made two-handed, with the “strong hand,” or dominant hand, pulling the trigger.

It can be a bit frustrating to shoot ten targets in a row and only put five shots on each target. Normally, I would shoot until I shot the center out and then cover it with a sticker target and shoot some more – I mean, why waste a perfectly good target, right?

So the next level is Marksman. This step requires ten shots in each paper plate (or nine-inch target), all of which must be within one-and-a-half inches of the outside rim.  This time, the shooter is standing, using two hands, strong-side.  This is, again, not too difficult if you have been target shooting for a while, as it is still shot at 15 feet.  You also need a qualifying ten targets to pass this level.

I conquered that level and was ready to move on, but was beginning to lose daylight, was extremely hot and sweaty, my glasses were fogging up, and I was running out of ammo.  Ugh!  I pressed onward to Marksman First Class, though, and was able to complete three qualifying targets before having to leave.  At least I knew I could do it, and that I would be able to complete that level the next time I was at the range.

Marksman First Class is the first time that AP-1 users must move back to 30 feet.  It also gets more difficult in that the shooter must shoot two-handed, but fire five shots with the strong hand and five shots with the weak hand.  Now, this was more difficult for me than it probably should have been.  I had actually been practicing one-handed shooting in anticipation of these quals, but I had not realized that you do not shoot one-handed, but rather with two hands, strong side, then weak side.  It is very different holding the gun with both hands, but having them overlap in a reverse grip, and then transitioning back and forth between targets.

I learned the hard way that I should spend more time making sure my grip was correct before firing.  I didn’t realize that my strong-side thumb was not tucked carefully away and the slide drew blood on the first shot.  I learned you must always be mindful of where your digits are, because losing that thumb would make shooting all the more difficult.  So I got my little thumb tucked safely out of slide range and completed my three M1stC targets for the day.

I have to say that moving through the first few levels was a definite confidence builder, and I can now order my patch, certificates, and rockers (patches that go under the pistol patch that show the highest level one has achieved) for those levels.  After completing Marksman First Class (seven more targets to go), I will move on to Sharpshooter, Expert, and Distinguished Expert, which I really believe I can accomplish with enough time and ammo – time and ammo being the keys :0)  I’ll keep you updated on the journey!

For more information on the NRA Pistol Qualifications, click here.

And if you have completed any or all of the levels, let us know how you did and what you thought about it.