The Last Dance

The 20th Elmer Keith Memorial Handgun Shoot Was The Finale
; .

It was the ‘last dance’ for the annual invitational Elmer Keith Memorial
long-range handgun shoot, held in a wheat field south of Spokane.
The event’s 20-year run came to an end in an unseasonably chilly rain.

Twenty years; a long time by anyone’s standards and a good run for what began as a gathering of friends to raise money for a good cause.

The smoke has cleared, the roar of gunfire has faded away, and for those who turned out for what looks like the final “Elmer Keith Memorial Handgun Shoot,” it provided an opportunity for them all to declare, “Hell, I Was There!”

It rained. Maybe the shooting gods were shedding tears at the notion that the big wheat field near Valleyford, Wash., south of Spokane, will no longer hear the annual blast of big bore (and some smaller bore) handguns as this gathering of gunnies tried their luck at targets positioned sometimes out to 600 yards. That’s the estimated range of a still-debated revolver shot the late Mr. Keith made on a wounded mule deer buck many decades ago, using a Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum with a 6.5-inch barrel.


Dave used a Model 57 S&W in .41 Magnum, standing in the rain with a two-hand hold for extra points…

I actually hit that target once some years ago, but I had to walk my shots out to it, and it was during a warm-up that didn’t count for score. As always at this event, I was using my S&W Model 57 in .41 Magnum with handloads. Out of a 6-inch barrel, that 210-grain Nosler JHP ahead of 20 grains of H-110 can rocket, but at 600 yards, the trajectory begins to rainbow


...And then one while shooting at the wolf target, for even more points.

Others have hit the 600-yard target as well, though I can’t remember whom. Over the years, the lineup of shooters attending this strictly invitational event varied, but even with different faces, one always knew he or she was among friends. What they all had in common was a devotion to long-range handgunning, for which Elmer Keith, that little cowboy from Montana and Idaho with the big hat, big cigar and big muzzle sixgun was a pioneer and became famous.

His autobiography, titled “Hell, I Was There!” (a rewrite and expansion of an original volume titled, simply, “Keith,”) is the adventure of one colorful lifetime; the kind of stuff from which legends are made. And Keith was a legend in his own lifetime, an author and authority on handgunning, big game hunting and handloading. He said some controversial things, perhaps even at times politically incorrect in today’s jumbled world, but you can bet he meant every word.

The last winner of this final event was Seattle’s Al Fernandez, shooting a Ruger flattop Blackhawk in .44 Magnum. Placing first in Ladies’ centerfire was past winner Jeanette Maakad of Custer, Wash., using an engraved Smith & Wesson Model 29 in .44 Magnum. There was a rimfire division as well, with Bob and Julie Parry of Spokane walking away with the honors in both men’s and women’s divisions.


This intrepid bunch braved rain, a chilly breeze and the accompanying
mud and wet clothing for the last go-round of the shoot, named in honor
of the late Elmer Keith, who probably would have enjoyed being there.

Successful Fund Raiser

The Elmer Keith Memorial Shoot began as an idea with a humble gent named Will DeRuyter. His concept was simple, as he reminded me at the end of this final gathering.

“I figured I could either send $300 or $400 to the National Rifle Association,” he explained, “or I could spend that money to put on an event and raise a few thousand dollars.”

The math worked out. Using blind auctions and other fundraising ideas, DeRuyter invited people he knew would attend. Over the course of two decades, the shoot raised somewhere north of $100,000, and over the past few years, shooters had the opportunity to make their donations either to NRA or to the Second Amendment Foundation and, this year, the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

There would be a potluck (this year, veteran shooter Ed DiTunno smoked a beef brisket that was superb), prizes for the winners, no small amount of good-natured heckling, lots of story telling and some honest-to-all-the-gods incredible handgun marksmanship. In the years I was fortunate enough to attend, shooters would swap tales of hunting, reloading, wild experiences on the job (there were occasionally a few retired lawmen in the bunch), and nobody ever uttered a cross word between one another, at least not within my earshot. This is the kind of thing that brings together friends, or cultivates new friendships.

But time is the enemy of all things. Twenty years is a long run, and DeRuyter confessed to me he just couldn’t do it anymore. It takes a lot of work to put something together, even as modest as a Saturday handgun shoot. Prizes must be sought, people must be invited, entry fees accounted for, equipment (tents, awnings, porta potty, etc.) must be rented; a lot of stuff must be accomplished.


Match founder Will DeRuyter is getting used to playing grandpa, but Dave
suspects he will find time to still bust a cap now and then. His concept of a
fundraising shooting event hit the right nerve with a lot of Elmer Keith fans over the years.

Besides, he has a new grandson (the kid captured every heart at the event) and his plans include a move from Washington down to southern Idaho sometime in the next couple of years, to be near this little guy and his family.

The Legacy

The best I ever did at the Keith event was a second-place finish, and considering the competition, it was plain dumb luck. Someone might be a winner one year, and 12 months later, might be unable to hit anything.

All targets were steel, and they were challenging. Steel plates measuring upwards from 3 and 4 inches to 8 inches, a big teardrop-shaped plate, a round pipe hanging from a crossbar, square targets that might be 12 inches wide but appear rather small at 150 yards; and the wolf. Over the past few years, the wolf became popular, as shooters could delight at being able to shoot a lobo target.

Each year, the target distances varied. This year, the farthest was at just a hair over 250 yards due to the health growth of the crops in this farm field.

Elmer Keith’s most endearing legacy may be the .44 Magnum cartridge and all the handguns for which it is chambered, but for those who grew up reading his writings, and his autobiography, his memory has kept alive the notion that long-range shooting with sidearms isn’t just a myth.

His memory has spawned at least one Facebook group, Friends Who Like Elmer Keith, and I’m a member. Perhaps someone in that group can pick up the ball and run with it. Should that occur, the location may change, but it is certain the camaraderie, tradition and plain fun would remain.


We Got Mail

Insider Online seemed to score with readers back on June 3 when the headline “Biden Ballistics 101” had some fun with the president’s declaration that a 9mm bullet could blow the lung out of a human body. And we got this note from longtime pal Barbara Skinner:

“Hey Dave, You nailed it! Great feature! Everyday I read and enjoy your perspectives. We are living in a stressed out world. Remember when life was better a decade or two ago?
“Stay safe, stay healthy and keep on writing.”

Dave replies: I’ll do the best I can with what I’ve got. Thanks for your kind remarks.

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