Harvey’s Record-Setting 600yd 6BR
Sacramento Smith Sets Two NBRSA 600-yard Records
Gunsmith Stu Harvey of Sacramento demonstrated that age is no barrier to success in the shooting game. In February 2006, at the age of 75, Stu posted two new NBRSA 600-yard Light Gun records, shooting a standard 6BR. He built the BAT-actioned gun himself and even made his own 95gr boattail bullets. Stu nailed a 1.153″ five-shot small group, and set a new three-group, 15-shot Aggregate record of 1.925″. (Earlier in April 2005, Stu also set the NBRSA 6-group, 30-shot Agg record of 2.7525″). We congratulate Stu on his records. He proved that age is no handicap, and that wisdom and experience, combined with a superbly accurate rifle, comprise a winning combination.
STU HARVEY–Gunsmith, Grandfather, and Record-Breaker
We had the good fortune to spend a day in Visalia, CA with Stu Harvey as he was tuning up for a short-range benchrest match. Stu is one of the “Jedi Masters” of the California shooting circuit. He has competed in benchrest for four decades, and has been building rifles since 1972. He is a very competitive soul by nature–before getting involved in Benchrest he was a successful road racer, campaigning his own cars at first, and then driving for a team: “In my 20s, in Texas, I raced MGs and Porsches. I actually knew Carroll Shelby quite well.”
We asked Stu if there was one guiding principle behind his success in both auto racing and competitive shooting. Stu revealed: “I like to be in control of everything possible. That’s why I do my own gunsmithing and make my own bullets. That’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve been bench-rest shooting competitively for 44 years. I’m 75 years old. My first registered match was in 1962. I’ve always been a competitive person, and wanted to be in control of everything I could.” Stu’s approach obviously works. In setting two new records in one day he demonstrated that by controlling all elements of the accuracy equation–from barrel chambering to bullet-making–one can achieve remarkable results.
Setting the Record
Stu told us that the conditions were near perfect when he set the 5-shot group record. He drew the first relay and it was almost dead calm. “When I saw the flags hanging straight down, I said to myself ‘I hope we can start pretty soon because I’m going to rock and roll’.” As he usually does with his 17-lb 6BR, Stu gripped the gun during the record string. Stu has tried free recoil, but gripping, with slight cheek and shoulder contact, seems to work better with this rig. Stu pretty much held dead center for the record, and, as you can see, all five shots caught the ten ring. He did hold off a little for the second and third groups, but Stu’s first group was the best, so you could say the 1.153″ record group was set in zero-wind conditions. We’ve measured Stu’s group. Total vertical was about 0.91″, and the lower four shots have just a half-inch of vertical. CLICK HERE to download a 14-meg video in which Stu describes his record-setting effort.
Stu was modest about his achievement, noting he “was very fortunate to draw the first relay when the flags weren’t stirring at all.” He had confidence in his load, 32.1gr Varget, which had shown very good results in testing. Stu explained “I don’t have to hammer the bolt but I’d say this is a ‘practical maximum’ load.” He was using bare 95gr boattail bullets he crafted himself with Bill Niemi dies. During the course of the shoot, Stu fired at a moderate pace. He was not machine-gunning. He shot at a rate that let him hold the gun exactly the same every time and get a very precise aim on the target. When conditions are less favorable, Stu says he’ll sacrifice some aiming precision to keep up with the conditions. But in this case, he could optimize his aim for every shot. This being his first target on a freshly-cleaned barrel, Stu had just 5-10 sighter rounds through the barrel when he shot the 1.153″ record group.
|Premium Components Assembled with Precision
Stu’s record-setting rifle features a BAT ‘MB’ 8.5″ action in a special “long-range” Leonard stock custom-built to Stu’s specifications from redwood and carbon fiber. The stock was a prototype of sorts, one of Terry Leonard’s first designs for the 600-yard game. Terry made the stock bigger and beefier than his “point-blank” BR stocks. The fore-end is quite a bit longer, the grip area is more substantial (to allow a four-finger grip), and there is much less drop in the toe of the stock. With this geometry, the stock would not be legal for short-range benchrest. This editor has shot Stu’s gun with match loads and I can affirm the gun is rock-solid on the bags and it recoils straight back with no bouncing or torque motion. It does snap back surprisingly quickly considering the 17-lb weight. I attribute this to the extremely low friction of the forearm which has clearcoat over carbon fiber. I agree with Stu that the gun is easier to control if you grip it a bit.
Mated to the BAT action is a 30″ Krieger, 1:8.5″ twist, 4-groove barrel, HV taper. The trigger is a Jewell set at two ounces. For optics, Stu employs a NightForce 8-32×56 NXS with a NP 2DD reticle. When he shot the record Aggregate, Stu had the big NXS set on full 32-power.
Reloading and Tech Tips from Stu
Stu’s record-setting match load is a pretty stiff charge of 32.1gr Varget, with CCI BR2 Primers. Stu warns that this charge is “practical maximum” and that with a different lot of Varget, the charge may be too hot for other guns. Proceed with caution! Stu set the February 600-yard records with his own Harvey 95gr boattails, seated about .015″ into the lands. (Stu has also designed a similar 95gr boattail using a longer J4 Jacket that he may use in the upcoming NBRSA 600-yard Nationals. The new bullet is basically the same, just a bit longer for better BC). A loaded round measures about .2674″ (with turned neck) for a very tight fit in a .268″ chamber cut with a Henriksen reamer. He doesn’t coat his bullets or use any neck lube inside the neck when seating bullets. The case is a standard 6mm BR Norma, totally stock except for a a bit of neck-turning. He reloads with a Harrell’s full-length sizing die and both Wilson and Carstensen micrometer inline seating dies.
Currently Stu is testing Vihtavuori N540, and he may switch to that for the NBRSA 600-yard Nationals, to be held April 21-23 in Sacramento, CA. He says the N540 is delivering a little more velocity with the same pressure. So far, it appears to be very promising. He tested the N540 load recently and four of five shots went into 0.75″ at 600 yards. It’s hard to imagine, but Stu thinks his new recipe may be even more accurate than his record-setting load–plus the new, longer 95s may perform better in the wind.
|Stu does uniform his primer pockets and he uses a tool to ream the flash-holes to .062″. Stu had a number of interesting reloading tools to show us, some of which he designed and fabricated himself. He makes a compact hand-held case trimmer, with carbide cutter, that indexes off a 6PPC shoulder. Small, simple and fast, it’s similar to the Possum Hollow tool, but because it is precision-machined and uses a carbide cutter, it works MUCH better. For decapping cases, Stu uses a special hinged Neil Jones Tool that aligns the decapping pin precisely in the center of the case so the flash-hole is not distorted in the process of punching out the primer (PHOTO here.)
One of Stu’s great gizmos is an adjustment accessory from Hood that fits Hood’s portable benchrest press. This uses a clamp with a lever arm to move the sizing die up and down. Again it is simple, positive and fast. This way the amount of case sizing and shoulder bump can be easily modulated by just sliding the lever arm from one position to another. He also showed us some upgrades to the Bruno Powder measure which make it operate more smoothly and more precisely.
|Stu Speaks about Precision Gunsmithing and Shooting|
We covered a wide range of topics with Stu, ranging from racing Porsches in the Texas desert to speculation about the next generation of “ultimate” bullets. We began by asking Stu to reveal his most important secrets–techniques that have produced the biggest improvements in his match results.
PART ONE — X-FACTORS, Secrets of Success
Q: If you were to identify two or three things that have been most important to your success in the shooting game, what would they be? We’re looking for factors that produced immediate and dramatic gains in performance.
First and foremost, doing my own work is my Secret of Success. When I started doing all my own work–gunsmithing and bullet-making–that took me to a new accuracy level. I’ve been bench-resting since 1962, but I’ve been doing the gunsmithing (for myself and others) since about 1972, so that really helped me. Again, it’s a method of controlling my own destiny.
Second, I’ve really learned in the last few years how important rifle balance is, and that’s helped my shooting. This applies to both short range and long range.
Most neophyte shooters don’t even think about balance much–it’s the last thing they think about. They get a rifle, hang a big barrel on it and say “to heck with it.” But a rifle needs to be balanced, particularly if you want to shoot free recoil. If your rifle is not balanced properly, you’re basically forced to grip the rifle to overcome the poor balance. As a rule of thumb, and it’s difficult to achieve with longer barrels, I like to have the balance point right in front of the action on a typical BAT or Panda action. In actual fact, most of my long-range guns are weighted to balance about an inch in front of the action. About an inch in front of the action is the best compromise I can come up with the long barrels.
Most recently, using a Farley rest has been a break-through of sorts. In combination with that, I’m learning to shoot faster when conditions allow. Many of the best Benchrest shooters, like Wayne Campbell and Tony Boyer, are using the Farley-type rest. With the Farley I keep my hand on the joystick all the time–that allows you to quickly steer it back to point of aim. When it comes to aiming, however, I’ve learned that it’s not always best to try to get a “perfect” point of aim. This is true both in short-range and long-range BR. You don’t try to get the point of aim down to the Nth degree, but shoot faster to keep in a condition. The wind can push your bullet 3/4″ at 200 very easily so it is better to be 1/8″ off on the aim (or even more) and make all your shots in the same condition.
PART TWO — Gunsmithing
Q: You have a reputation as being one of California’s best gunsmiths. What are the hallmarks of a Stu Harvey job? In other words, what things are particularly important when you build a rifle?
Chambering is very important of course, and I have my own method of chambering. I only use a finish reamer and I actually bore most of the chamber so I’m only doing about 20% of the chamber with the finish reamer. I set the barrel up and indicate it roughly with a pin in an adjustable chuck. Then I bore a hole and go in with a long-range indicator so I can actually put the indicator point where your bullet seats and reach the barrel at that point. I bore the hole so that the reamer goes in straight because it hits a concentric hole in the back and a target in the front with a pilot bushing.
I’m very particular about my crowns and I’m very particular about my threading. When it comes to crowns, I’m very careful and I’ve always believed that a straight crown–flat across 90 degrees–is the best way to crown a muzzle. I’m not a great believer in the relieved crowns or 11-degree crowns. Some people think that may help you protect your muzzle, but if you’re going to run it into something, you’ll probably hurt it anyway.
For best accuracy, cut it straight across–I think this is as good a way or better than anything else. But I enhance this by doing it the way the old-time gunsmiths like Harry Pope did–by using a small brass ball with lapping compound. I’ll cut straight across, and use a brass ball on a little handle with 400 lapping compound and I’ll lap it when it’s running slowly in the lathe.
Unlike a lot of gunsmiths who have a client who says “I’ve got a Panda and I want a barrel–can you fit it?”, I don’t like to fit barrels without the action. Maybe you can do that but you’re taking a chance. I’m a believer in fitting the barrel threads to an action that I’ve got in my shop to measure.
Q: Do you have any strong preferences as to actions?
I’m going to put it this way–there are a lot of good actions out there, and in no particular order, let’s just say I feel very comfortable with Farley, BAT, and Panda (Kelbly) actions. All of them are quality manufactured and you can build great rifles on all of them. But in no particular order–I actually own and shoot them all.
Q: Does the intended purpose of the gun–short-range BR vs. long-range–affect your choice in actions? Are some actions better suited for long, heavy barrels?
That’s a very good question, particularly when it comes to the Heavy Rifle class. In that case many people use a very heavy barrel, so you need a very rigid action, more rigid than some of the short-range ones like a Panda. And some of the bigger BATs are better for heavy long-range guns because they have more bedding surface and more support for the bedding and the barrel. But as far as short-range, I think those three, Farley, BAT and Panda are excellent, but when you get into long-range I think it’s better to have a more substantial, heavier, longer action for more support.
Q: What about the use of barrel blocks? That seems to be a popular way to handle the long barrels in the Heavy Guns.
I feel kind of strongly that I really don’t like barrel blocks for long-range rifles. I think that you’re better off using a bedded action, i.e. a glued or pillar-bedded action, instead of barrel block designs like most of the ones I’ve seen. I’ve seen too many block examples that are not well-made and not well-bedded into the stock and give trouble.
After hearing I don’t like most barrel block set-ups, you might ask why then do I own a rail gun since it’s sort of the same design. But I’ve seen rail guns that are currently being produced by guys like Young (I own a Young rail gun) that are designed well with the proper fitting and the proper block arrangement. The key is having the right design and fitting.
Q: What’s the problem with some barrel block guns–are the blocks not aligned right or do they not match the barrel contour?
They don’t match the barrel contour. The barrel is not well-fitted to the block and isn’t designed right. The design of a Young rail gun with the block with the V and some others seems to work real well but most of the blocks I’ve seen for long-range BR shooting are not near as secure as that. They’re not as stable as I think they should be in holding the barrel and holding the block itself into the stock. You’ve got different pieces and you have to look how it’s held into the stock and how the barrel is held into it. In short, what I’m saying is that I think it’s better to use a real action that’s bedded or glued.
Q: How do you feel about using a custom action vs. a trued Remington action?
I had a client just last week who wanted a long-range rifle and he wanted it on a Remington action. Well I told him, Remington 700s are notoriously out of square, and the 40x action, while it has a solid bottom, can be just as bad. I told the client that these things can be corrected but you’re throwing a lot of money at it. If you want to do it RIGHT, get a Panda, get a BAT.
Q: Many of our readers want to move up from a factory Savage, Ruger, or Remington, but the cost of a full custom rig is prohibitive. What’s your advice for someone on a tight budget who wants a truly accurate rifle?
I would say, if you want a really accurate rifle, you should look for a quality used rifle or find the money to start with a good custom action and go with that from the start. First of all, from an economic standpoint, if you work with a cheaper action like a Remington or Savage, you’re going to spend money on it. But, later on when you want to upgrade, you’re not going to get much for that factory action on resale. I try to encourage people to get something that they’ll be happy with and pony up the money for a Panda or other custom, rather than throwing money into gussying up a 700.
Likewise, there are guys who will spend $1400 on a premium Nightforce scope, then try to cut corners with an inexpensive barrel. I recommend you get the best barrel you can. There are several good barrels out there. Shilen, Lilja, PacNor, and my favorite, Krieger. Spend the money on quality. Don’t go to Shaw or Wilson or some maker of hunting rifle barrels.
PART THREE — Barrels
Q: What types of barrels do you prefer and why?
I’ve long been a fan of cut-rifled barrels. I started shooting Atkinson barrels years ago. I kind of followed Ferris Pindell, because I shot with Ferris when he was in this part of the world. Ferris always felt that cut-rifled barrels were better because button-rifled barrels often have twist deviations. In fact I built a machine years ago to check for twist variations in barrels, and you don’t need to do that with cut-rifled barrels. That said, I did set one world record, in 1976, with a Hart buttoned barrel. (It was a .109″ 5-shot group shot with a 6×47 AI based on the .222 Rem Magnum–not to be confused with the 6×47 Swiss Match or the new Lapua 6.5×47.)
One thing I like about Krieger barrels is that not only do cut-rifled barrels exhibit long barrel life, but the bore dimensions are very uniform. In my experience, button-rifled barrels, unlike cut-rifled barrels, vary all over the map in bore and groove. When you push a button through there, depending on the qualities of the steel in the particular blank, some come out larger and some smaller.
To illustrate, I’ve had six button-rifled barrels on my bench at the same time, and you couldn’t use the same pilot in any of them. With Kriegers I have two pilots, one a little under .237″ and one a little under .236″. The two of them will work in every Krieger I’ve ever used. That applies to most cut-rifled barrels and particularly Kriegers.
And the thing this leads to is that when I’m shooting in long range or short ranges, the load that shoots in one Krieger barrel shoots in the next one, because they’re identical–the bore and groove is identical within a tenth. I don’t find any difference. I can just jump on the same load and it works. And that’s a really big advantage.
I guess you could say that, today, Kriegers are the only barrels I shoot. I don’t mess around. I just use Kriegers–I’ve never had a bad one. I sell a lot of Kriegers because I believe in them and I buy them for my own guns.
Q: Some guys say they could do better if they could sample a whole bunch of barrels like Tony Boyer does. Is that really a key to success?
You can get by with one or two barrels, if you buy good barrels, and they are chambered properly. I don’t think you have to try 10 barrels to find a good one. Tony tries a lot of barrels, but he sells his used barrels after 600 or 700 rounds. That’s fine. He’s gotten the best 700 rounds out of that barrel.
Q: What about bore size for a 6mm barrel? Many readers have asked “What’s best–a .236 or a .237?”
What can you tell them?
I prefer a .236 bore. I do buy .237s for people that want them. These work well but the guys who prefer .237s are also shooting big, fat bullets–almost .244 with the pressure ring (again we’re talking short-range here). But for long-range, most of your bullets are boattails and they don’t have a pressure ring. So, if someone wants to shoot Berger 105s, Lapua 105s, Sierra 107s, I would strongly recommend the .236 bore.
Q: How about 4-groove vs. 5-groove vs. 6-groove? Does the number of grooves matter?
I don’t care if it’s 4, 5, 6 or 8. Well, actually, I do care to a certain extent. I think you can have any number of lands/grooves, but you DO have to have the barrel fitted particularly well and I like 4-grooves for one reason. All the Kriegers I shoot are 4-grooves. You have to try very hard to get a 6-groove from Krieger these days because most of the barrels in the calibers I shoot come in 4-groove, they don’t come in 6-groove. Also a 4-groove is a little easier for me to gunsmith–to set up with my methods. But I’m not saying that I think a 4-groove is necessarily more accurate. I do think you could make a point that the fewer grooves you have the less surfaces you have to scrape off jacket material causing fouling.
Q: How about barrel length–what’s the best length for a 600-yard comp rifle, chambered in 6BR or something similar?
Well, 25″ is probably too short. All things considered, to be completely practical, I’d probably make all my 17-lb rifle barrels 28″, but I think that’s the shortest I should go. I personally like having a couple more inches to get a little more velocity. It all ads up. So I go with 30″. And I built Ken Schroeder’s rifle with a 30″ barrel and he’s kicked ass with it. We just built him a new gun, and he could have anything he wants, and he asked for 30″.
Then there’s the question of stiffness. The engineers will tell you a 26″ barrel will be stiffer, but I haven’t seen a lot of evidence that the 26″ barrels are shooting smaller groups than 28″ barrels at either 300 or 600. I don’t know anybody who is shooting a 26″ barrel in my neck of the woods. On a clean piece of paper I wouldn’t build one with a 26″ barrel.
On the other hand I’m not saying the optimum for a long-range rifle is 30″, that’s just where I like to start out. With the added length I can always change it (set it back) and gain a lot more barrel life. If it’s a good barrel that’s worth doing.
Q: What about muzzle brakes? Varminters favor them because brakes let you see your hits better.
I have a love-hate relationship with brakes. I’ve put muzzle brakes on for people and I’ve even made my own muzzle brakes. And you’ve got to understand I’m a varmint shooter–I started out as a squirrel shooter. And I’ve tried muzzle brakes and I hate ‘em. Not only do they bother my ears with the noise, but the muzzle blast is very unpleasant. I understand the appeal–I like to see my hits also, but my answer is just to shoot a smaller caliber. My favorite varmint round is the 17 Ackley Hornet. It shoots like an air rifle and I can see my hits–so I don’t need a muzzle brake.
Q: Do muzzle brakes increase accuracy or reduce accuracy?
It depends on who put the brake on and what kind of brake it is. I don’t think they retard accuracy if they are fitted properly, but boy I underline that word “properly.” You got to know how to do it. I’ve put them on for a lot of clients and they’ve all told me the rifle shoots as good as it did without a brake. I don’t think a case can be made that the gun will shoot better with a brake, but it can shoot as well. But brakes are not for me. And that’s why I shoot a 17-lb rifle at 600 yards–so I don’t need a muzzle brake.
PART FOUR–Marksmanship and Gun-Handling
Q: 600-yard Benchrest is relatively new. How much experience do you have in the 600-yard game?
Not very much. We just started shooting this distance recently. Two years, three years max. But I shot long range, 1000 yards, before I did the 600s. I have some experience in F-Class but not very much.
Q: Is 600-yard shooting more like shooting 1000 yards or more like shooting 100/200? Or is it really something completely different?
It’s really its own breed. Some aspects are similar to shooting at 200 yards, but other things are quite different. You’ve got to remember the whole course of fire is completely different because with 600-yard Benchrest you’re shooting blind–your last shot is not a sighter. At least with 200-yard Benchrest your last shot is usually a sighter, and you know how to hold for the next one. At 600 yards you normally can’t see where you bullets are hitting (unless conditions are near perfect and you have a LOT of magnification–but you can’t depend on it.)
Q: What other differences are there in aiming and gun-handling for 600 yards vs 100/200?
I shoot 100/200 employing what people call “free recoil”–just touching the trigger, not holding the rifle. And that works for most good BR rifles at 100/200. It won’t work for a rifle that’s not properly balanced. And that brings up another thing that I feel strongly about–the balance of the rifle. In long-range, 600 or 1000, I tend to always hold the rifle. The reason I do is you can shoot faster if you hold the rifle. It’s a little harder to shoot fast at long range if you don’t hold the rifle. But at short range I tend to shoot free recoil and I can still shoot reasonably fast.
Q: At 600 yards are you clicking and aiming dead center or are you holding off?
I never click. I always hold. Even in a reverse I hold off, unless it’s so much of a reverse that I’m going to end up in the dirt. I always hold–I’ll hold off on the farthest ring if I have to. This applies particularly to 1000-yard shooting. I mean I’ve had to hold on the edge of the paper at 1000.
By holding off, you can shoot faster than if you’re messing with your scope after each shot. If you start clicking you’ll need a very good memory or be very lucky to get back to where you were (or where you think you were.) Now there are some very good Palma shooters, like Jerry Tierney, that can shoot that way. More power to them. But I personally can’t shoot that way. I haven’t trained myself to do that. If they can do it, that’s fine. But I’m used to holding off. I want to leave my sights alone as much as possible, once I get zeroed in.
But, you need to remember, in long-range shooting, after one relay there’s a sighting-in period for the next relay. During that time, yes, I’ll move my sights to get re-zeroed. Because as time passes the temps warm up, your shots tend to climb or start sliding over to one side. So, I’ll always re-zero during the warm-up and sighting-in stage (six or three minutes, depending on the program). But once I start record fire, whether five shots or ten shots, I’ll hold every time. I wouldn’t dare click. That’s just my style.
Q: How about aiming technique–do you aim more precisely the farther out you get?
It’s the same as short range. I try to shoot as fast as the conditions will allow. If the conditions are running well, I’ll give up a little bit of aiming precision to shoot faster. But the other thing I’ll look at is, if the conditions are really super, like when I shot the record group and the flags were hanging down, I’ll slow down the tempo. When the conditions are THAT good, and they’re holding, I don’t tend to shoot fast. That might seem contradictory, but it’s really not. When the conditions are really, really good, and I think the conditions are going to hold for five shots, then I’ll try to shoot a little slower, watch my bag control, my gun handling, and try to get a very fine point of aim.
The converse of that is when the conditions are really nasty–switching, flags are picking up and letting off–then I don’t try for a perfect hold on the aiming point and I tend to shoot faster and get a little sloppy with the gun handling and shoot through the conditions.
Q: How do you deal with mirage?
When the mirage is bad and you can’t find a perfect point of aim, you just have to try for the best average hold you can make on the point of aim. When mirage is accompanied by erratic conditions, I think you need to run as fast as you can in a favored condition before a big change happens. You can spend a lot of time and let off bad shots if you don’t speed right along. When it’s switchy but you have the condition you want, you need to shoot fast: “if the cases aren’t flyin’, you’re dyin”. So, you need to learn to shoot fast. However, and this is just as important, you need to learn to stop fast because there are times, particularly in short range, when all of a sudden the flag goes the other way and you better not be shooting so fast you let one fly in the wrong condition. So, you need to be able to shoot fast, but also stop fast.
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Topics: NBRSA, IBS, Record, 600 yards, 600yd, 600-yard, BAT Machine, Terry Leonard, Leonard, Redwood, Carbon Fiber, Graphite, Niemi, Krieger, 6BR, 6mmBR, 6mm BR Norma, 6mm Benchrest, Nightforce, NXS, Jewell Trigger, Farley MFG., Farley rest, Joystick, Joy-stick, 4 groove, Niemi Dies, 95-grain, 95gr, Varget, Vihtavuori, N540, N133, Federal, primer, Lapua Brass, Benchrest, Sacramento, Sloughhouse, Nationals, Jerry Tierney.