As a kid of 6 with a Daisy BB rifle in his hands, John Bev Spickard could plink a bullfrog in the head from 30 feet with ease.
Nowadays he takes aim with an AR-15 .233 caliber rifle. The target is no longer a bullfrog but a bull's eye that may be as far as 600 yards distant.
"I'm like an animal out there. I'm not there to play. I'm there to win," says Spickard, 74, a top marksman, who will compete July 9-25 at the NRA National High Power Rifle Championships at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and the Civilian Marksmanship Program at Camp Berry, Ohio.
The 2015 NRA National High Power Service Rifle Championship grand senior also has four Presidential 100 buckles (he wears one on his belt). He won those in 1990, 1996, 2001 and 2016 in open competition as he placed in the top 100 of an event in which competitors take a total of 30 shots at three distances.
Standing, they have 10 minutes to shoot at a target 200 yards away. Going to prone from standing, they have 70 seconds to shoot at a target 300 yards away, and from a prone position they have 10 minutes to shoot at a target 600 yards away. Talk about pressure.
Last year, using an AR-15 against a field of 1,139 competitors, Spickard placed 84th.
The Wilson County Register of Deeds practices on his personal firing range. He hones in on a paper target 200 yards away with an inner circle, the 10-ring, which is 6.5 inches in diameter. Inside of it is the X-ring, the extreme bull's eye, a mere 3 inches in diameter.
Earlier this morning, Spickard has taken care of the prep work in his man cave, a Quonset-styled structure insulated with spray foam and decorated with camouflage netting. On a wall are framed displays of medals the deadeye won for his shooting prowess.
Beside his truck that bears a license plate reading TN ARMS, waits Homie, 12, his purebred American bulldog that somebody dropped off by the side of the road years ago.
"He's a groundhog getter," said Spickard of his pet, "and gun shy."
The shooter shows off the equipment that it takes to engage in this sport. The checklist includes a scorebook, shooting pants, a mat, shooting jacket, ear muffs, sweatband, boonie cap, knobloch glasses, a wind chart, a left-hand shooting glove, a spotting scope and a scope stand. And, of course, the rifle.
The sportsman weighs 164 pounds, but once he gets on his gear and cradles a rifle in his arms if he were to step on the scales, the dial would read more than 200 pounds.
Before he gets ready to shoot, he removes the contact lens from his right eye and puts on his knobloch glasses. He explains what comes next.
"I get in position. I take a good deep breath. That throws oxygen in your eyes. Now I'm target lining my front sight up with the rear sight. Then trigger control comes in. Boom! Boom! [He imitates the sound of the shells firing.] Take the magazine out and put a magazine of eight in and repeat.
"The secret of shooting is focus on the front sight and trigger control. Trigger control -- you want it smooth as silk. A lot of people will put a nickel on the end of the barrel and squeeze the trigger and the nickel drops. When you get real good, you can put a dime up there without it dropping."
Spickard has been shooting competitively for over 30 years. He breathes it, eats it, drinks it and dreams it. Among his proudest achievements as a marksman, he lists, in order, winning the Distinguished Rifleman Badge, earning the President's 100 tab, capturing the 2015 NRA National High Power Service Rifle Championship grand senior and making the Interservice Top 10.
He will stop practicing about 10 days before the upcoming national events, noting, "I walk around and take shots in my mind, think positive."
During the NRA High Power Rifle National Championship, he will shoot at targets 200, 300 and 600 yards distances from standing, sitting and prone positions. Depending upon which contest it is, he will have from 60 seconds to 22 minutes to fire his shots.
Across the 16 days of shooting at dual events, he will compete 13 days and use a variety of rifles including an AR-6, an M1 an M1A and a replica of a 1903 A-4.
Spickard has been competing at the national contest since 1986. Before the gunsmoke clears at this year's matches, he will have fired off 724 rounds.
"We get out there at daybreak. You stay all day long. You score, pull targets, stay on the ready line and then shoot. During the event we'll be at the range from 8 to 4. I eat beanie-weenies and a small can of peaches and drink a lot of water and little Gatorade and maybe a candy bar. I eat the same thing ever day all the time. No breakfast."
He takes every step very deliberately, almost robotically. During a practice round he talks himself through the paces.
"Ready to shoot. Get your left foot toward to target. You want to get a good piece of real estate, flat, and have your legs the same width as your shoulder width. Natural point of aim. Butt to same spot on shoulder every time. The front sight at the 6 o'clock hole. I shut my eyes, breathe deep, get perfect sight alignment.
"Stay in your bubble. Never get too tired. Never get too hungry. Never get too lonely. Never get too hot. Never get too cold. Stay in your bubble, think positive, think 10-ring," he says of his game plan.
Born John Beverly Spickard in Lebanon, he grew up two miles east of Gladeville. He goes by three names.
"Half my family calls me Bev. Half my family calls me Beverly. All the shooting people and military people call me Tennessee.
"My ancestors -- 200 years right here. The Spickards got here in 1792. I got a graveyard, five generations on one side, six generations on the other" said the son of Johnnie and Thelma Murphy Spickard and brother to Bud.
His dad farmed the land until 1940 when he was elected register of deeds, the office he filled until 1970. Bev followed in his daddy's shoes and has held the position 19 years.
"Two things I wanted to do. I was gonna be a soldier. I wanted to be register of deeds. When I was a boy that was my White House," he said, referring to the old courthouse that stood on the southwest side of the Lebanon square. "I kept the books on the shelves, swept the floor and picked up the mail and took the mail."
The ex-soldier holds court in his office on the east side of the courthouse, a place that holds clues to history before Wilson County was born.
"We got deeds back to 1799. We record deeds, plats, restrictions on subdivisions, mortgages, state, federal and personal liens on property, military discharges, mineral and timber rights, anything pertaining to property," he said of the tasks his office performs.
The register of deeds is no lone ranger. He gets able assistance from a staff that includes Beth Howard, Mitzi Thomas, Jackie Murphy, Leanne Atwood, Jill Wrather and Jill Coffman.
Getting back to how he became a gunner, Spickard declared that his sharpshooting career commenced at age 6 when Santa Claus left him a Daisy BB rifle beneath the Christmas tree.
"I got where I could strike matches with it. I'd go behind the barn and shoot bullfrogs in the head. It would daze 'em, wouldn't kill 'em, and they'd slip back into the water. Then I started shooting an air rifle. Po-chew! Pochew!," he said making the sound effects of the gunfire. "I'd skin 'em, and Mama would fry the back and legs and we'd eat 'em."
From shooting matchsticks and frogs, he went to shooting walnuts out of trees, then hickory nuts and then the hickory stems. After that he aimed at the chain links on the dinner bell.
"I started shooting links on the chain of the dinner bell, and finally nobody could reach it, and Mama whipped me," he recollected
As a Mt. Juliet High School student, he set down his rifle long enough to put on boxing gloves and became a Golden Glove champion in the Southern 109-pound novice and 112-pound classes.
Joining the Army in 1963 as a 19-year-old volunteer, he hewed out a 27-year career in the military, five of those years spent in active duty and 20 years with Tennessee Army National Guard as a platoon sergeant with the air cavalry.
He and his wife, Vanessa, have been married 19 years and have a daughter, Britney Wilkerson, and two grandkids, Briley and Weston.
In 1995, Spickard began giving shooting lessons so that folks could get their handgun permits. He offers an eight-hour group class about once a month. Among his pupils have been local country music singers Charlie Daniels, Gretchen Wilson and Darryl Worley. The teacher wears a hunting jacket that carries the autographs of the three on the back.
As a contract soldier with the Department of Defense, Spickard made two tours of Southeast Asia.
"I was way up north with the 101st Airborne in 1969. My job was keep medivac and gunships up -- period," he said of his time in Vietnam, where he performed maintenance and repair on helicopters. "Contract was up the first time and went home. Went back a second time in 1970 and served with 1st aircav in Cambodia."
He tells a tale on himself about his early days in the Army and has the scorecard to back it up. It is dated March 26, 1963. While firing from a foxhole at targets ranging from 50 to 300 yards, he scored seven out of eight bull's eyes, followed by eight out of eight, eight out of eight and six out of 8.
"I was fixing to break the Fort Leonard Wood record when they called in the brass, and I looked back and got nervous," he said, about spying the top officers who wanted to see if he could do it.
"Then I got 4/8, 3/8, 3/8," he confessed. "The monkey was on my back. The monkey turned into a gorilla. But I did get expert."
Spickard did not begin competitive shooting until he turned 40 years old. He tried out for and made the Tennessee National Guard Marksmanship team in 1983.
"In 1988, I was hot," he said.
How hot was he?
Well, on March 26, 1988, while shooting at a 200-yard target at standing position, he put all 20 shots inside the 10-ring. From Oak Ridge, he went to Little Rock, Ark., for the Winston Wilson Rifle-Handgun Shooting Championship and placed first.
That same year, he was invited by the all-Guard team to try out for their team at the Arizona Black Canyon Shooting Range and again made that team.
He shares another tale going back to the 1989 Annual Interservice Rifle Championship Match that took place in Quantico Va., where he was competing in the Interservice 200-yard rapid-fire event. After the target went down, he saw his scores.
"My first, I had all clean in the 10-ring, three Xs. My next standing I had all clean in the 10-ring with five Xs. I had a 200 score with 8Xs. I thought, 'Surely this old boy from Gladeville gonna win.'
"And I came in tenth," he laughed. "I love marksmanship. That's my hobby. I've had the best instructors in the U.S., and I want to pass it on."
Love it he does, even giving up his smoking habit back in 1985 after instructors told him his score would improve by eight points if he quit.
Spickard was forced to drop out of military completion in 1992 after going through two knee replacement operations. He immediately enlisted with the Tennessee Shooting Sports Association and joined the Oak Ridge Shooting Team.
In the near future, he plans to concentrate in the 600- and 1,000-yard events.
Meanwhile, he shares a tip: To take the glare off of the front sight, just like Sgt. Alvin York and Davy Crockett did in the old movies, he spits on some carbide and blacks the front sight with a carbide flame.
"You gotta have a edge," said the rifleman, with a grin on his face and a deadeye gleam that would blind a bullfrog.
For details about firearms lessons from John Bev Spickard, a certified handgun and tactical instructor, go online to tennesseearmsllc.com or call (615) 330-7725.