Interview – John Holliger –

It is reasonable to say that at any given Highpower match in the country, if you surveyed the Service Rifle shooters as they came off the line as to what kind of upper they were using – at least half of them would say just two simple words: “White Oak“. A vast amount of records have been broken using White Oak Armament products. Even more impressive is how accessible their products are to the new shooter, both cost wise AND in their simplicity and precision. From Carlock, Illinois, John Holliger is the man behind White Oak Armament. Beyond his skills and gifts to our community as one of the main influencer’s and innovators of the equipment we use – John is also a renowned shooter as well. Below is just a sample of some of his accomplishments while shooting a Service Rifle, followed by his interview.

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National Civilian Service Rifle Champion: 2002

Pershing Trophy, Highest Scoring Competitor, Civilian or Military,
Nation Trophy Rifle Team Match: 2000

Pietroforte Trophy, Civilian Aggregate,
National Trophy Team Match & National Trophy Individual Match: 2001

President’s Hundred: too many to count…

Elihu Root Medal, Top 6 scoring civilians, National Trophy 6-man Team Match:
1994, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014
& 2012 as coach of the winning team.

Soldier of Marathon Trophy, Civilian National Trophy Team Match:
1994, 1998, 2000, 2011, 2012 (Illinois State Gold)

Leatherneck Trophy, Civilian National Infantry Trophy Team Match: 1997

Coast Artillery Trophy, 300-yard Rapid Fire, National Matches: 2002

Crescent Cup, 200-yard Standing, National Matches: 2005

Illinois Trophy, High Civilian Service Rifle Aggregate in the 600-yard Matches: 2009, 2011, 2013.

George Bjornstad Trophy, Illinois State Highpower Open Champion: 1996, 2001, 2007.

Sherwood “Woody” Could Trophy, Illinois State Service Rifle Champion:
1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008

Illinois State Short Course Champion:
1995, 1996, 2002 (setting national 300 yard 80 RC record), 2003, 2006, 2008

Arneson Trophy (aggregate of the three Illinois State Championships):
2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008

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1: What was your experience like when starting out in highpower?

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I started in HP in my early 20’s. I had shot some smallbore previously so I knew about positions, sight alignment, and trigger control, but I did not know the Highpower game. I was shooting smallbore with Gary and Grant Singley, so they invited me to a HP match at a local club. As I recall it was a quite windy day and my offhand was awful.

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2: Who were your mentors? What do you remember most from these experiences and what still rings true?

As mentioned earlier, when I started shooting HP – I shot with Gary and Grant Singley. Grant was only 14 years old or so at the time, but had been shooting a long time and had a very solid grasp of the fundamentals and I think this was a great help to me. I was able to usually beat him at that time, but that did not last long. Central Illinois is a bit of a highpower wasteland, so I did not really have anyone close by to work with. Much of my practice was done in the house dry firing. I was lucky enough to have a copy of the NRA Highpower Match Rifle Shooting books. This is a 3-volume set that is a transcript of HP clinics that the NRA put on at Camp Perry back in the early 80’s. There are articles by Mid Tompkins, Allan Ewing, D.I. Boyd, Gary Anderson, Kenneth Erdman, Carl Bernoski, and many other top shooters of the time. I studied these books and tried to copy what was in them. With not much more than these books and a lot of dry firing I was able to shoot good solid master scores my first year of shooting the Service Rifle.

If I had to list one mentor however, it would probably have to be my dad. Although not a competitive shooter, he taught me a love of guns and shooting at a very young age. Each time I would leave to go to a match he would remind me to “hold’em and squeeze’em“.

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3: Can you describe some of your most memorable milestones or breakthroughs? Both starting out… and along the journey to competing nationally.

I am not sure you could call it a milestone, or breakthrough, but probably the most memorable period of time in my HP career was the 8-years I spent coaching the Illinois Junior HP team. I believe coaching them, and reminding them continuously of the fundamentals cannot help but to reinforce those fundamentals into your own shooting. We had some really good shooting kids and were fortunate to be High Junior Team in the National Trophy Team Match 6-times through that period. I learned so much about shooting, coaching, and what makes a good team shooter during that time. I have no doubt that this experience helped me greatly in following years.

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4: Describe your routine to help you stay on top of your best game? Off-Season, Mid-Season and ramping up to bigger matches?

Well, I do not think I have been on the top of my game for many years, so I’ll answer this as I would have at the time I was working to improve my shooting and climb my way up. Starting in the off season I would usually shoot a smallbore league indoors at a local club. This helps improve the positions and keep the communication flowing between the trigger finger and brain. Then in the early spring I would start doing some dry-firing at home to get back the feel of the service rifle and get the positions back. Once the shooting season started we were generally shooting about every weekend so there really was not much training during the week. As Camp Perry nears, I like to get a day or two at the range to work on any problem areas and shoot some blind exercises to refine zero’s and evaluate where I am at. The job I had at the time allowed for a lot of time just standing around while the machine was running. I tried to use this time to do some mental training. Thinking about shooting a good shot, what a good shot looks like, how it feels when it breaks. A good routine or program is the one that fits a shooters schedule and lifestyle. The best plan in the world is of no use if it does not fit into your life. A lesser plan that is followed diligently will benefit the shooter much more.

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5: How important is technique, mental program, and equipment in influencing your performance? What is their proportional influence?

I think they are all equally important, they each just require a different level of attention at different stages of a shooters career. If you do not have a rifle, then obviously equipment is pretty important to you. It is also the easiest item to address, and requires the least amount of time throughout your career to keep on top of. Once you have good equipment, you need the technique or physical ability to shoot good shots. This is a little harder, and requires more attention throughout your career. As the physical ability improves, the need for a mental program increases to help you compete at the maximum that your physical training will allow. This last part is the hardest part, and what separates the truly great shooters. It is also what I think David Tubb did better than anyone.

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6: What was the toughest match you’ve ever competed in where you held it together? What was that like?

I have been thinking about this question probably the most over the last week. Rather than any one particular match, I am going to answer it a little different and say that the match where I try the hardest, and get the most enjoyment out of shooting a good score, is the National Trophy Team Match. I have been fortunate to shoot with some terrific shooters on some great teams in this match. We put a ton of pressure on ourselves in this match, and to walk up to the line and have 5 other shooters believing in me has always been a great feeling which I think helps bolster my confidence in my ability to perform well. I have been lucky enough to make the Elihu Root something like 11 times over the years and win the Pershing Trophy as the High Individual Competitor in this match in 2000.

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7: If you had to choose only ONE answer, what has helped you improve the most towards your goals in highpower?

Shooting with other good shooters. I started shooting HP in 1986, and from almost the first year I have been involved with our state team in one way or another. Either as a shooter, or coach of our JR team. In IL we are lucky to have a very good HP program, and some great service rifle shooters. Having other good shooters to push you, and bounce ideas off of will help your shooting immensely. I have no doubt that had that not been the case, I would not have achieved what little I did.

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8: Why do you continue to stay involved with highpower?

I just love shooting. As mentioned before, my father instilled in me a deep appreciation of firearms and marksmanship at a very young age. If I were not involved in highpower shooting I would likely be doing some other form of competitive shooting. I have been involved in shooting or working on guns since I was knee high. I have shot competitive pistol, smallbore, silhouette, and highpower. I think it is the simplicity of service rifle shooting that I like. It is just you, a rifle, and a target. If you execute the fundamentals correctly, you will have a good score. Of course HP also has the best people involved in it and I enjoy the friendships that have grown out of the sport.

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9: How important is balance in your life? Not just as it pertains to highpower, but life in general.

Wow, there have been volumes written on how to find balance and peace in your life. When I was young, this was easy, work all week, shoot all weekend. As we get older and our lives get busy with family, careers, and the day to day things that demand our time, it gets much more difficult. I am fortunate to have a job that I love, so I do tend to probably work more hours than I should. I have a very understanding wife and a wonderful son who both spend time in the shop with me and help keep me grounded. Over the last several years shooting has taken a back seat to other responsibilities, but I still shoot a good match every now and again, and I find myself enjoying my time at the range more than ever.

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10: What would you like to talk about that wasn’t covered in the previous questions?

I’d just like to give a big Thank You. As the founder and owner of White Oak Armament and White Oak Precision I have been so blessed to spend the last 15 years making a living doing what I love. I spend each day working on guns, test firing guns, talking to shooters about guns and shooting. Basically just being immersed in it. The nuts and bolts of running a business sometimes make me lose sight of just how fortunate I have been. But then an email or note from a new shooter who just shot a personal best or got his first leg points with our equipment brings me back to reality.

I always strive to give the HP shooter the best product and value that I possibly can and I feel like a little bit of me goes out with every item we ship. In return the HP community has supported me in a way that I would have never imagined when I began this 25-years ago. As much as I enjoy shooting a good score, I get just as much satisfaction out of seeing others shoot well and achieve their goals with our products. It is a thrill to see our products win at the highest levels of HP shooting. I hope to be able to continue serving the shooting community for a long time to come.

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