Perfect shooting propels Hendricks from fifth to first at National Championship
Port Clinton, Ohio - Joe Hendricks greeted the dawn of NRA's 2014 High Power Rifle Championship sitting in fifth place. But by sundown, the Team Remington shooter was the national champion. What happened in between is a shining example of consistency and perseverance.
Four points behind the leader, Hendricks was tied for third with a low x-count that placed him at the end of the 1189 shooters' list. Four points down doesn't put the title out of reach, but making up those points in one afternoon is no cakewalk. After all, everyone has been zeroed in for days by this point. For a chance, you have to shoot a perfect score and hope everyone else falters. In this case, with Hendricks and his four primary rivals, that is exactly what played out.
"I assumed everybody would go clean so I needed to go clean to maintain my spot," Hendricks said.
Clean he went. All 60 of Joe's shots landed right between the 10-ring. In fact, he hit nothing but 10s for the final 100 shots of the 180-shot championship.
"Like I said, I was just trying to maintain," he chuckled.
As one of the best match rifle shooters in the United States, it's a little easier for Joe Hendricks to maintain than most. However, it's still a challenge to keep shooting perfectly throughout the marathon that is the national championship.
Tuesday's matches followed an unusual break. Severe winds on Monday caused a complete cancellation of the day's matches. Without anything to do, the hundreds of shooters found themselves look for ways to occupy their time. Ever the competitor, Hendricks knew exactly what to do with the extra time.
"I went back and cleaned my long range gun," he said with a laugh. "I just relaxed."
When everyone returned to the firing line Tuesday morning, the wind was down but far from gone. Sitting on the shore of Lake Erie, wind is always blowing through Camp Perry ... one of the traits that makes it such a notorious place to shoot.
"The winds weren't too tricky. I shot two nice groups at 300. Not the x-count I wanted, but I got all the points," Hendricks explained. "When I got back to 600 I just tried to do the same thing. The wind dropped off enough a couple times that if I shot I'd lose points, so I waited until it came back."
On a normal last day for High Power, competitors shoot matches at 200, 300, and 600 yards. This year's shortened championships required a small scheduled adjustment that had shooters firing a second 600-yard match instead of the one at 200.
And because scores are taken by hand and sent to the statistics office for compiling, competitors rarely know how they shot against each other unless they compare totals.
"I wasn't aware of my position throughout the matches, but I was pretty sure I hadn't slipped a spot because I had cleaned my shots," Hendricks said. "I heard people congratulating another competitor who I'd been tied with for points and I asked about his score. When he told me he'd dropped points I realized I might have won."
Hendricks finished with a 1789-56x. Two points ahead of Second Place's Norman Houle, the three-time champion who sat third at the day's start, and three points ahead of Staff Sgt. Brandon Keith Green, last year's High Power Rifle champion who began the day in second.
How did his teammates at Remington, the title sponsor of this year's matches, take it when they found out?
"They were real happy for me. A couple of them even said it made their week," Hendricks chuckled. "We all root for each other on Remington. I'd be very happy for any of them if they'd won instead."
Two team members had extra reason to be proud. Hendricks has the unique privilege to shoot with his father, Gary Hendricks, and his son, Joe Hendricks, Jr. The rest of his family, not on Team Remington (yet), was there to cheer him on too. Winning it all is special, but it is even better when you can share it with so many great people.