Monday, September 01, 2008

Remembering Elmer Keith

In the late 1960-s and early 1970's, in California's pre-Stalag years, my interest in firearms soared along with both my abilities as a geotechnical technician and my earning ability. Suddenly, I had enough money to indulge in hobbies and intellectual pursuits. I've always been a reader, and gobble up books one after another. I stumbled 'pon Ayn Rand in 1966, and still read Atlas Shrugged about every eighteen months and I read books and articles by Rand's intellectual heirs in between times--along with numerous novels, etc.

Meanwhile, my interest in firearms increased in direct proportion to my ability to buy them. I owned well over two dozen different firearms between 1970 and 1975, including a Springfield 1903-A3 for which I hand carved a sport riflestock with a Buck knife, wood files and sandpaper. I owned three different .44 magnum handguns--one of which was Pasadena's own Automag .44, which I dearly wish I'd hung onto--and a few weapons I still have.

I used to hand load my own cartridges (I still have the gear, but haven't set it up) and I visited the old Silverado Canyon Range at least once a week. Once, I shot side by side with Gunny, the range's master, he with an accurized Colt 1911-A1 .45, and me with a Ruger .44 magnum Super Blackhawk. We shot at two-foot diameter steel plates hanged from chains, at 300 yards. He averaged five hits out of seven, I averaged three for six. It felt good to lose that way, to that great a shooter.

One of the men whom I consider a mentor, even though we've never met, is Mr Elmer Keith. Born in Missouri in 1899, he grew up in Montana, Idaho and eastern Oregon in a time when that area was still part of the Wild West. He became an avid and successful big game hunter, developing numerous new cartridges and bullets for both rifles and handguns, and thus was instrumental in the development of many of the sporting and defense weapons popular today.

Mr Keith was an avid writer, penning books on handgun use and writing a monthly column for Guns & Ammo Magazine from the 1960's into the 1970's. I read his Gun Notes columns regularly for many years, and began to develop my shooting philosophy thereby. Other mentors were Col Jeff Cooper, and Massad Ayoob. Ayoob still writes for a number of periodicals and has several books on handgun self defense. He also conducts handgun training through his Lethal Force Institute.

Keith was the one who started it all. His experiences and opinions on hunting and handgun handling, including his advocacy of handgun hunting, helped my to develop my abilities and some of my choices in weapons purchasing. Even though he passed away twenty-four years ago, I still I still remember, and miss his Gun Notes columns.

Gun control means hitting your target.

Warm regards,

Col. Hogan
Stalag California


MK said...

Sounds like you sure love your guns CH. Hang on to em', them gun grabbers are never too far away. If they're not trying to steal them then they're scheming to.

Lone Chatelaine said...

I like guns too. I'm not especially knowledgeable about them, but I like them, and know how to shoot when necessary. Dad made sure I could at least do that.

Col. Hogan said...


From my cold, dead hands!

Col. Hogan said...

Lovely Chatalaine,

I'm once again finding reason to respect your dad.

Only thing: learning once isn't enough. An annual (or more often) trip to a range to refamiliarize yourself with the handgun you keep in your handbag or under your pillow is a good idea--and a professional handgun defense course is also a good idea.

Not to mention that it's a lot of fun!

steveintx said...

"Gun control means hitting your target."

Only if the target is as large as a barn. The one time I went with you to the SCR with my trusty 9mm I don't remember hitting anything. I do remember gunny and I'm thinkin' he felt like the discs were safe with me shooting.

I've since traded the nine for an Ithaca 12ga. The Mounties got so pissy about carrying a handgun up yonder. They had little PO-like boxes at the border station that you could lock your weapon up in til you came back. Finally they said don't bring 'em back anymore. They were okay with a shotgun though...go figger.

I still have the Ithaca and a .22plinker I'm not bad with. I'm thinking about getting a Glock and a carry permit before we go commie.

Col. Hogan said...


I remember you hit the backstop most of the time.

I have one Glock, and I like it, but it doesn't have a grip safety or a lever safety, so I tend not to keep a round in the chamber. It won't fire unless the trigger is pulled, and is pretty safe, but I keep thinking, what if something catches the trigger?

It's pretty lightweight for carrying though, and otherwise a fine weapon. Just make sure the holster covers the trigger guard fully.

I actually prefer either of my Para-Ordnances over the Glock.

smartass sob said...

I stumbled 'pon Ayn Rand in 1966, and still read Atlas Shrugged about every eighteen months.

Every eighteen months?! And here I thought I was excessive for having read it five times over the years(since '69.) Even those people who like the book usually don't care for Galt's speech, but I've always thought that was one of the best parts. I will admit though that one needs to have a rudimentary grasp of the issues of western philosophy to understand really what the speech was about. Do you like Mark Twain at all?


Aurora said...

We need Elmer Keiths today more than ever. People have lost the ability to reason why freedoms are so important and hence the will to fight for them. What is life without freedom? Self-defense is the basic human right of every individual and it's quickly vanishing in most of the western world.

Col. Hogan said...


The first time I read AS, I didn't rally understand the Galt speech. I read it, but found it tedious. It seemed to stopped the story for a long time. Since then, I gradually began to understand it more and more.

I read a lot of Mark Twain years ago--some of it in the children's prison. It's great stuff, and your having reminded me, I'll have to dig out a few of his books from storage (Once I buy a book, I rarely part with it).

Col. Hogan said...


Elmer Keith was a very uncommon individual. When he was young, his kind were not as rare as they are today, and that's sad.

I liken it to the Aussie character presented by Paul Hogan in the first Crocodile Dundee flick--and to a somewhat lesser extent in the others. One might disagree with aspects of Dundee, but it can't be denied that he's an individual, and he'll be who he is irrespective of the approval of others. And of certain characters portrayed by the likes of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Tom Selleck.

People like them represent the freedom we all crave, and we must not forget.

smartass sob said...

(Once I buy a book, I rarely part with it).

Same here; I still have nearly every book I've ever read, and some I haven't got around to reading yet. I even have Tarzan paperbacks I bought in '62.


Col. Hogan said...


Back then, I kept looking at those Burroughs paperbacks on the racks. I still don't understand why I never bought any.

I have a hardcover of the one and only Novel written by Henry Hazlitt, "Time Will Run Back" I bought in 1967. Good story. They used cigarettes for money.

Oswald Bastable said...

Elmer was RIGHT!

If it don't start with a '4' don't bring it to a gunfight!

Col. Hogan said...


Yep, he sure was. That photo on the top o' the page is me (a few years ago) in a classic Elmer Keith shooting position.

Anonymous said...

I did meet Elmer Keith and actually was babysat by his wife. I spent many hours in his house growing up as he was a good friend of my dad, Russ Hyde. He mentioned my dad several times in Gun Notes and articles written throughout his life. Elmer was quite the character!!! His house was remarkable and the one thing I really liked was his elephant foot footstool, really cool! He had one room dedicated to just guns, I had only been in there a couple times but I remember it well.