DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — As a child, Tucker Sears grew up in Graham, Texas, with his three older brothers learning how to shoot BB guns and eventually moving up to .22-caliber rifles.
This love of guns led to plenty of hunting trips with his brothers and grandfather, but when Sears was 12 his oldest brother, Terrence, enlisted into the Air Force after graduating from high school.
Fast forward 10 years and Sears is graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy and earning his commission as a second lieutenant. However, Sears didn't let his skills with firearms rust while at the Academy.
"I was really fortunate and they had a range out there and I was able to be a range safety officer," Sears said.
In his junior and senior years, Sears frequently shot at the range with his own firearms including a Smith & Wesson M&P 9, a Sig Sauer P938 and an AR-15.
While Sears was attending the Academy, his brother, now Staff Sgt. Terrence Sears, earned a spot on the Air Force National Pistol Team, and in three years, he became the NCO in charge of the team.
In March 2015, 2nd Lt. Sears was given his chance to make the team when he was invited to the team camp. The camp serves as a recruitment tool for potential shooters to showcase their skill set and see if they have what it takes to make the team. Much like his older brother, Sears's knowledge and ability to handle and shoot pistols earned him a much coveted spot on the team.
"A lot of it is your dedication to the team and to the sport," Sears said. "We are limited in numbers, but for the most part if you show decent aptitude with shooting, the team will keep working with you and help you out in any way they can until you improve."
Since members of the team are stationed across the U.S. and still have their Air Force jobs to perform, practicing and training relies mainly on the shooters. Guns and parts, range fees, and ammunition are paid for out of pocket by the competitors.
"Practice time is essentially all on our own so I try to get to the range for an hour or two after work when I can." Sears said. "The whole sport itself is about consistency so I try to lay out my magazines in the same spot every time, set up my gear the same way and go through the shot plan, even when I'm practicing."
Although the competitors have to eat a majority of the training cost associated with shooting, there are also other forms of training that keeps the shooters a step above the rest.
"Strength training is a big part of training for the competitions," Sears said. "If you're holding a three or four pound pistol straight out one-handed for a day, strength becomes a factor. The slightest bit of movement of your pistol while shooting at a target 50 yards away can send your bullet two to three inches off target."
Since making the team, Sears has competed in two matches; the Annual Interservice Pistol Championships at Fort Benning, Georgia, where they took fifth place out of 13 teams and at the NRA National Outdoor Rifle and Pistol Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, where Sears competed on the Air Force’s Silver Team and took first place in the Sharpshooter Class.
Although Sears found early success in his first two matches, he said just being on the team is enough.
"Before I got on the team I would only get to see my brother maybe once or twice a year," Sears said. "But this past summer I got to spend three weeks with him while we competed. It's one of my favorite parts about being on the team."
Sears said there is no question about who the better shooter is, but the competition is all for the better.
"I would certainly say my brother is better at this than me, for now," Sears said. "We all want to beat each other but at the same time we're going to help each other because of the team aspect of the sport. It's all about the friendly competition that makes us all better."