Harold's Hickory 'Hog Champion
Two-Time Winner of the East Coast's Biggest Varmint Competition
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Every year in April, hundreds of the nation's best shooters get together in the North Carolina countryside for the Hickory Ground Hog and Egg Shoot. The competitors aren't there just for bragging rights--winners carry home thousands of dollars worth of prizes. And one man, Harold Seagroves, has bested all comers in two out of the last four years, piloting his Clay Spencer-built 6mm BR to victory. With his Hall-actioned hammer, Harold has also shot the best-ever target in the history of the competition. This week Harold reports on what it takes to dominate one of America's most popular shooting matches.

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Accuracy Defined--One of the Winningest Varmint Guns in the World
Harold tells us: "I built the rifle for long-range varmint hunting and the Hickory Groundhog Shoot. The rifle shoots in the 0.2s at 100 yards, even with the long VLD bullets. And I've logged many groups well under one inch at 500 yards. The secret is that the rifle is very consistent. It doesn't generate those strange flyers you often see with VLD bullets. I also credit much of the gun's accuracy to the 32x Leupold Mark IV scope (boosted from the original 16x by Premier Reticles). You may notice the tape around the elevation turret. It has marks that correspond to my 100, 300, and 500-yard zeros. The elevation has not changed at those yardages in five shooting seasons including a trip out west for a prarie dog hunt. Now that's consistency! For the Hickory Shoot you not only have to shoot small groups but they must group exactly where you are aiming because it is basically bulls-eye competition with no sighters.

Harold's Three-Time Champion Rifle
With my red Hall 6BR, I won the Hickory Shoot in 2004 and 2001, and I placed second in 2003. And I'm not the only one who has shot the red Hall successfully. (More than one person can shoot the same rifle at the Hickory Shoot.) Brian Moore took a Second Place with the red Hall. David McLaurin won the 2005 Hickory Shoot and, in prior years, David has finished fourth and broken the egg at 500 yards three times with this rifle.

The gun has racked up numerous top 10 finishes, collecting nearly $3000 worth of prizes over the years. Larry Willis and the other Hickory Shoot contributors give away some very valuable prizes, let me tell you. With the red Hall, I've won a Nightforce NSX scope, a Remington 700 rifle, over $1000 in cash and some other great stuff. The value of all that loot probably comes close to the cost of the rifle, so I'm fortunate enough to have a top-rank competition gun that paid for itself!

The rifle features a Hall “B” action holding a 1.250"-diameter straight-contour, fluted Spencer barrel finished at 27", with a big honkin' brake. The chamber's a standard 6mm BR Norma with a .262" neck. I turn my case-necks to about .261" and use a .257 neck bushing for lots of tension. The action is pillar-bedded in a McMillan benchrest stock. Clay Spencer did all the smithing including the stock work. Built as a dedicated "Egg Shoot" gun, the rifle weighs 27 pounds, very heavy for a 6BR. But my philosophy is if the rules don't limit your weight, build the gun heavy for stability. With a muzzle brake the recoil is mild to say the least. After you break the shot, the gun simply slides back an inch or so, with zero hop or roll. That makes the gun an absolute delight to shoot. I've been asked about the oversized diameter muzzle brake. It's not there for barrel tuning although Clay and I have speculated that it might be doing some good in that regard. No, the large diameter makes the brake more effective at recoil reduction and reducing muzzle turbulence.



The Magic of Clay Spencer's Recoil Balancing
Granted the rifle is heavy but I believe it shoots so well because of the "controlled" recoil. When Clay built the rifle he took great pains to balance the rifle properly through bedding, component selection, and weight distribution. Clay calls this "recoil balancing" and it requires the use of two scales and some pretty sophisticated engineering. One of the "secret components" on my rifle is a very heavy half-inch thick stainless butt-plate. This balances the front and rear of the rifle. As a result, this gun is exceptionally stable on the bags and the motion during recoil is completely linear--it comes straight back, no rock 'n roll. I never need to adjust the rifle after pushing it back into battery! When you pull the trigger the rifle just goes poof that’s it! It still recoils about an inch but there's no lateral or vertical motion. I'm not sure how to explain it, but almost all other rifles I've shot seem to erupt and jump when you shoot them. Not this gun.


Break-in and Load Development
I broke in the rifle using Shooters Choice and the one shot clean, two shots clean, three shots etc. ritual until I didn't see any copper fouling. I went with Varget because it is a pretty clean powder that is insensitive to ambient temperature changes. My match load is 32 grains of Varget, Federal match primers, with 105gr Bergers seated hard in the lands. The bullets are coated with Danzac, which I think doesn't build-up the way moly does. This 32gr Varget load, which runs about 2950 fps from my 27" barrel, was easy to work out. The gun shot so well with that load I really didn't need to experiment very much.





The Grand-Daddy of Ground Hog Matches
The Hickory Shoot is a nine-shot match, shot in three relays. In past years targets were set at 100, 300 and 500 yards. For 2005 targets will be placed at three unknown distances between 50 and 500 yards. The target is a black and white cardboard ground hog silhouette with two scoring rings, one in the head and one in the body. Most shooters target the head at 100 yards for a possible 45 points. (You better get 45 or you are playing catch up the rest of the match). Then they'll shoot the hog's body ring at 300 yards and 500 yards--for a maximum of 30 points in each of the remaining two relays. But you Benchrest guys better watch out! We use "worst edge" scoring. That means if you cut a ring you drop points. To get full value your shot must be completely inside a ring. In past years you got one fouler shot at a black box, but in 2005 there are no foulers. In each relay, you get two minutes to shoot three rounds. This year, neither wind flags or spotters are allowed.

It goes without saying, the Hickory is a very difficult match, patterned after actual ground hog hunting. You need a very accurate rifle and very good shooting skills. Above is my 2004 match-winning target. The top cluster was shot at 100 yards. The 300-yard 3-shot group in the central bulls-eye (all in the white dot) measures .878". That's the kind of accuracy it takes to win. Not only must you shoot very small groups but your shots must impact exactly where you aim them. Those who have shot the Hickory in past years should note that some of the rules for this year's shoot have changed. The most important change is that no mechanical rests are allowed--so bring your bipod or Uncle Bud's sandbags. Also, first-time Hickory shooters are not eligible for the Grand Prize. The 2005 Rules are printed below and you can also get more info from Larry Willis of Bulls Eye Sporting Goods.

Final Thoughts--Looking Forward to a Great Match this April
I've been very fortunate to beat some great shooters in 2004 and 2001 and I have been bested by some great shooters in other years. What's the key to doing well at the Hickory Shoot? Practice helps, perfect loads are important, and you need a gun in which you have complete confidence. When you can trust your gun totally, as I do my Hall, everything is so much easier. The Hickory is well-run and a lot of fun. The folks from Bulls Eye Sporting Goods go out of their way to host a great match. There are great prizes--this year's Grand Prize is a $5000.00 custom rifle smithed by Clay Spencer. I doubt if you can find a more valuable first prize in any precision shooting match in the country. Some years there are over 300 shooters from all over the country, and I expect a very high turn-out this year. I would highly recommend this match to any one. There are no restrictions on caliber, and prizes are awarded by class. There is even a factory rifle class, so really anybody can enter and have fun. I do expect the Grand Prize will be taken by a full custom however--and I hope that custom will be my red Hall."

-- Harold Seagroves --

25th Annual N.C. Ground Hog & Egg Shoot

Where: Vale, North Carolina
When: April 2, 2005, 8:00 AM
Contact: Larry Willis, Bulls Eye Sporting Goods, Vale, NC, (704) 462-1948




25TH Annual HICKORY SHOOT RULES


Any caliber gun or any scope will be allowed

Three (3) shots each at three different unknown distances from 50 to 500 yards. No fouling shots will be allowed. No spotters/assistants for shooters. No outside communication allowed.

No mechanical front rests will be allowed. No front or rear rests may be connected.

Examples of front and rear rests that will be allowed: Sandbag (front and rear); Sandbag rear and Harris bipod front (or other brands similar to Harris bipod); One-piece fully-supported sandbag (like Uncle Bud's or similar bags); Cross-stick front and rear sandbag.

Only shooters will be allowed on Firing Line--no one else! (Young Shooters may be assisted).

You may have no more than three rounds of ammunition per relay on the Firing Line.

You must be able to carry your equipment all at one time to the Firing Line. (Young shooters may be assisted).

Bolts must be removed from guns until positioned on the Firing Line.

SPECIAL GRAND PRIZE
Custom Spencer-built rifle, with Farley action and rings, Terry Leonard Stock, Spencer 6PPC barrel, Jewell Trigger, Leupold 35X Competition Scope, plus Fowler Bullets, and cleaning supplies. This package, valued at $5000, will be the Grand First Prize for highest score.



IMPORTANT--To be eligible to win the Grand Prize Spencer-built custom, you must have competed in the Ground Hog and Egg Shoot Match between 1980 and 2004.

OTHER PRIZES
Second through Tenth place contestants will receive other valuable prizes and gifts totaling over $4000 in value, including $300 cash for top score in Factory Rifle class.



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