Making Smoke, Raising Funds In Memory Of Elmer Keith

By Dave Workman

For the 18th year in a row, a hardy band of handgunning stalwarts recently gathered in the northern Palouse country of far eastern Washington, just southwest from Spokane, for their annual homage to handgun legend Elmer Keith.

It’s the Elmer Keith Memorial Long Range Handgun Match, a purely invitational affair — lots of people have never heard of it — and it has raised somewhere north of $85,000 for the Memorial Fund named in his honor at the NRA Foundation.

Will DeRuyter

The brainchild of Will DeRuyter as a way to raise money for this worthy cause, over the years this gathering has brought together some enthusiastic long-range hand shooters. Some of these people have exhibited remarkable skill, using only iron sights, on targets that in some years have been placed as far out as 600 yards, to allow the truly deranged a chance to see whether they can match the shot Keith made on a mule deer buck over in southeast Idaho using a 6 ½-inch .44 Magnum.

Insider Online has occasionally participated in this match, once placing as high as second. At other times, I’ve begged other participants to swear I was never actually there. This time around, yours truly finished somewhere in the pack; not bad for having slept in the back of my truck, on a mild June 1 overnight with a full moon keeping me awake.

This year, the field included 43 shooters, who engaged in a silent auction for some interesting goodies, and the grand prize was a .44 Magnum Mountain Gun by Ken Kelly of Mag-Na-Port International (for which I donated a handmade holster and six-round cartridge carrier). Among the shooters were veteran handgunners and retired lawmen John Solheim and Bill Burris, late of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

According to DeRuyter, this year’s event raised about $10,000, putting the endowment fund at near the $100,000 mark.

Lots Of Smiths

Keith, who passed away in 1984, was an extraordinary handgun shooter, most often associated with the .44 Magnum, though he was an accomplished big game hunter, cowboy, packer and guide in his younger years.

He was the first recipient of the Outstanding American Handgunner award in 1973, and as his devotees will tell you, his life is the stuff from which legends are made. His writings over the years may not be Pulitzer material, but they’ve offered advice and insight in all things relating to handguns and big game rifles in his era. His books, including Sixguns by Keith, are prized possessions and still relevant today.

John Solheim with his 8 3/8-inch N-frame.

So it is no surprise that a lot of the people who show up for this noise fest come armed with N-frame Smith & Wessons, in .44 Magnum. Yours truly, and a couple of others, are mavericks, choosing the flatter-shooting .41 Magnum, for which Keith was also largely responsible, along with legendary Border Patrolman Bill Jordan.

He rests beside his wife of more than 50 years, Lorraine, in the cemetery at Salmon, Idaho.

How these cartridges were developed is detailed in Keith’s autobiography “Hell, I Was There!” Suffice to say that most of the shooters are hardcore Keith fans.

Jeannette Maakad shots a handsomely-engraved .44 Magnum she scored at a previous Keith match.

And just so people don’t think this is a men-only affair, there were some women present, shooting with (and out-shooting some of) the boys with their own big bore handguns. Jeannette Maakad, who won an engraved .44 Magnum a few years ago, was there, shooting that prize revolver.

It’s About Horsepower

My pet load for this soire´ is 20.0 grains of H110 behind a 210-grain Nosler JHP. I’ve also experienced good results with a Sierra 210-grainer ahead of 19.6 grains of H110, neither of which is the maximum suggested in either bullet company’s loading data.

Author Workman takes aim with his Model 57 in .41 Magnum.

Out of my Model 57 S&W with a 6-inch barrel, the Nosler load launches in the 1,500 fps range, while the Sierra clocks a bit slower down around the 1,200 fps mark. This year, due to rapid early crop growth in the wheat field DeRuyter uses as a range, there was no 600-yard target but there was a 200-yard steel plate, and if anybody thinks that’s an easy shot, guess again.

For perspective, the wolf image in the lower left corner is 100 yards away, and the rack of targets
in the upper right is 150 yards out from the shooting line. And they look that small over iron sights.

Participants show up a day ahead of time to set up targets and practice. There’s also a practice session on the morning of the shoot. Each shooter fires 12 rounds for score, and just so nobody goes home disappointed, points are awarded for hitting the ground.

The winners of this year’s event were (L-R) Guy Maakad (third), Ace Fernandez (first), Bob Toppen (second) and shoot manager Ed Parry.

And, It’s About Camaraderie

These people are in it for a good cause, friendly competition and camaraderie. It’s not unusual for one shooter to coach another. Solheim sat over my left shoulder marking rounds, and your friendly correspondent did that once for former champ Ray Gunn (we finished first and second that year, so I should have kept my mouth shut).

At the end of the day, everybody is satisfied. They’ve made noise, created a lot of gunsmoke, and raised a bunch of money. Good way to spend a Saturday afternoon in early June.

Best part about it is that anybody can duplicate this kind of match. Call it something else, of course, but the money goes to support NRA shooting programs. Check with the NRA Foundation (

Gun Retailers Busy Again In May

The FBI reported that May saw 2,002,992 background checks initiated through the National Instant Check System (NICS).

That’s a raw figure and it doesn’t translate to actual firearm transactions. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the “adjusted” figure that perhaps more closely reflects firearm transactions was 904,834, which was down 8.5 percent from the 988,473 estimated transactions in May 2017. NSSF notes that this number is “not a direct correlation to firearms sales (but) the NSSF-adjusted data provide an additional picture of current market conditions.

Whatever else the data shows, it clearly proves that Americans are still buying firearms, though with a friendly Congress and White House, there’s no longer the urgency felt by shooters in 2008-2016.

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