Tinker sergeant a top marksman

  • Published
  • By Howdy Stout
  • Tinker Public Affairs
"Your heart's pumping and you're breathing hard, but you've got to calm down and aim your shots," explains Mike Henderson. "Techniques vary, but it all comes down to three things: concentration, keeping your sight picture clear and trigger squeeze."

It's not combat that the staff sergeant is talking about. It's competition. And it's tough. "It's very, very competitive," he says. "There are some good shooters out there." And he should know. He's one of them.

A combat arms instructor with the 72nd Security Forces Squadron, Henderson is the top competitive military police shooter in the country, winning the National Rifle Association's National Police Shooting Championship in the military category two years running. Not bad, considering this is only his second year of competing.

"I never thought I'd be doing it," he says.

Although he grew up watching his father, an Iowa State Trooper and state firearms instructor, compete at police shooting matches around the country, as a military policeman Henderson had no similar venue until the NRA opened the police shooting matches to include military police in 2006.

"When they came out with that, my dad said, 'I'll support you because it's expensive to do,'" Henderson said.

His father supplied the ammunition and even loaned him a pistol to get started. "He's never seen it back," he says. "One of the guns I learned to shoot on is one I use for the competition."

Featuring competitors from around the country, the matches pit some of the best marksmen up against one another. Matches are divided according to category and types of shooting include firing at various distances, hitting multiple targets or moving around obstacles, all under a time constraint. Various weapons are used, from revolvers to semi-automatic handguns to shotguns. Some combine all three.

"Five shots in five seconds at four targets, you've got to be on your toes," Henderson says. "It's very tough. You have to know how your gun shoots, too."

Shooters are also classified based on past performance and shooting scores, thereby pitting shooters of equal skill against one another. Out of a potential score of 1,500 in some matches, the difference between winning and losing is measured in just a few points.

"The guy that wins it usually shoots in the 1,490s," he says. "It's so tight. You miss a round or you can't clear a malfunction, you've got a lot of problems."

But the benefits of competitive shooting aren't just in winning, but in learning. Being exposed to law enforcement officials from around the country gives Henderson exposure to different combat arms techniques used by various state and federal agencies.

"You learn something every time you go," he says. "You learn better ways to do this."

There is also a spirit of camaraderie, even among competitors. And for Henderson, it means spending time with his father as well.

"We both enjoy it and it gets us together," he says.

Although he favors shooting the semi-automatic pistols, he excels at revolver shooting. Henderson even managed to outscore his father in one category.

"And it's very rare to do that with him," he said. "But I think that meant more to him than him shooting good."

As the first military participant to shoot in all the various match categories, Henderson said he especially enjoys the Tactical Police Competition that combines shooting with running and clearing an obstacle course all while using three different types of weapons.

"I get to dive in the dirt and get aggressive," he says. "If you don't come home tired from one of those matches, you're not trying hard enough. But it's all fun."

It's also expensive. Ammunition alone for a shooting competition can run upwards of $600. That doesn't include practice ammunition before competitions or the price of the weapons themselves. Customized pistols, often taking months to build, can easily cost $2,000 to $3,000 or more.

"It's almost like an investment," he says.

Henderson says he doesn't practice as much as he should, but has improved his score 150 points over last year's results. He was the overall military winner at the 2009 national competition in September. He also won the Oklahoma State Championship in August in the military category.

"I've had some good matches and some bad matches," he says.

Barring any calls to duty, Henderson says he'll continue competing and -- hopefully -- winning.

"If I'm here, I'll do as many as I can," he says. "It's definitely worth the time and sweat out there."