Some Milk Jugs, a Shooting Match and a Book – How It All Began 

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always preferred being outside as opposed to in and I’ve always preferred to be working on something than to be sitting still. My favorite memories growing up are with my Uncle Charles. He would take me everywhere with him…fishing, hunting, exploring. We just really had a lot of fun together and he encouraged my love of the outdoors. 

One of our favorite things to do was to collect anything that could hold water, gather up as many rifles as we could and then head to the woods for some shooting contests. I would even go through dumpsters for old milk jugs. They were my favorite thing to bust the water out of from a good distance.

Now I’ve always had a competitive streak in me, but the older I got and the more I shot those “milk jug matches” with Uncle Charles, the more I thought of how I could improve my shooting…AND how I would build a more precise rifle. 

When I was 18 years old, I was reading what is now probably like a “Field and Stream” magazine and I saw an advertisement for a rifle shooting match that was scheduled for the following weekend in Columbia, SC. It was one hundred and fifty miles away and I did not know a single thing about bench rest shooting, but I had all the “want to” in the world. 

Once I got there, I was instantly hooked. The environment…watching everything that was going on around me, listening to the conversations, the smell of the gun powder as I walked closer to the competition tables…everything.

I met two men that day who altered the course of my future as a gunsmith. 

Manny Garcia – He was competing that day and we started talking. An hour had passed and he said “If you go enter right now I’ll let you shoot this extra rifle of mine. And if you win, you can have it.” It was a competition rifle and I had never shot anything like it, but there was no way I was going to pass up the challenge. I didn’t win, but I did come in middle of the pack. Mr. Garcia told me he would sell me the rifle for a really low price, but I didn’t have any money on me. He let me take the rifle anyway and I mailed him a check as soon as I got home. 

Dave Tooley – He was also competitor at that match, but I could tell he was more than that. I introduced myself and to this day, Dave Tooley is MY MENTOR; he is also my friend. He is one of the best shots and one of the best gunsmiths who has ever held either title. Dave told me that afternoon “if you buy yourself a lathe, I’ll teach you how to use it if you come up here.” I bought my first lathe on credit and paid it off chambering barrels which I learned how to do from him. 

After I got my first taste of benchrest shooting, I went to any kind of match I could go to and I watched for the best shooters and gunsmiths at each competition. I asked as many questions as I could. I also came across a book about rifles, “The Accurate Rifle” by Warren Page. It’s outdated at this point, but in its day, it was THE encyclopedia when it came to gunsmithing. I studied every word of it. 

What has sent me from the middle of the pack to the lead dog is that while I stay true to the fundamentals of gunsmithing, I welcome the advancement of technology. I never stop learning, I can never know enough and I’m always improving. For me, it’s finding that perfect combination of old school and new school. And that’s pretty much my entire philosophy when it comes to building an Archer Custom Rifle.

Because every shot counts,

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