Shooting Elmer Keith’s Carry Pistol at James D Julia

Elmer Keith should need no introduction here, as one of the fathers of the .44 Magnum, as well as the .357 Magnum and .41 Magnum. Well, his gun collection being sold at the James D. Julia auction house next month, and I had the opportunity to not just look at the guns but actually shoot his carry revolver (thanks to the generous permission of the Keith family). It’s a 4″ S&W pre-Model 29, and it’s a magnificent shooting iron…

Now, I saved the brass from this shooting, and I’m getting each piece laser-engraved with Keith’s signature. Want to have one of them? Reply here with the Julia lot number of one of Keith’s safari rifles (the catalog is here). I’ll pick 6 winners at random on the day of the auction (March 15th) to each get a piece of the brass for free.



  1. Thanks for the video. His book “Six guns by Keith” is a classic, a little rambling at times, but a great work.

    He was a cowboy and hunting guide in Montana and was there early enough to know some of the old west gun fighters. He started tinkering with guns early on, black powder percussion revolvers then black powder single actions. He was there as the modern revolver and revolver cartridges came about.

    He experimented with the 38/44 which indirectly led to the 357. He then experimented with the 44 Special and repeatedly urged S&W to bring out a 44 Magnum. He later urged the 41 Magnum as being the ideal police gun.

    He also designed bullets, the most famous bring the Keith semi-wad cutter, a proper one having sharp edges and more mass in the nose compared to more recent incarnations. He did some trick shooting and I believe he was an arsenal inspector during WWII.

    As a hunting guide he helped develop the 338-06, and he had a famous feud with Jack O’Conner, who favored the higher velocity, flat-shooting, 270. They both wrote columns for gun/outdoor magazines.

    He claimed to have shot some animals at extreme ranges with revolvers (several hundred yards). I’m not sure about those claims, but he did shoot at just about everything he saw, so it is plausible some of those bullets hit. More recently some of those exploits have been replicated (e.g., Brian Pierce in Handloading magazine.)

    Regarding the gun Ian shot, one day Elmer forgot it in a gas station restroom, and the person who found it returned it to him–different times.

    • PS. The lot number is 1061. See:
      PROVENANCE: The Elmer Keith Estate Collection. This was Elmer Keith’s plains game rifle used on his first African safari. With it he took 30 head of big game on that trip, including his leopard, part of the African Big Five, pictured on p. 110 in the book “Safari”, and also mentioned and pictured in numerous articles written by Elmer Keith.
      Many of the guns from his collection were not used on any of his many Safaris.

    • Ian, at the first of your video you mentioned this revolver (Keith carry 44) has the nicest action I’ve ever felt. I happen to know the reason for that. That pistol was tuned by Fred Sadowski of 300 gunsmith Service in Denver Colorado. Sadowski did many of Keiths Smith & Wesson guns as well as Ross Seyfrieds Smith & Wesson guns.
      Fred Sadowski was a close personal friend of mine and was a very fine pistolsmith.

      • He was skilled at point shooting, he replicated many of Ed McGivern’s feats. Two guns firing simultaneously from the hip (he had a Berns-Martin rig for that), aerial shooting, he shot so much that he could do well with point shooting. For longer range he used sights and liked sights made by the King Gunsight company.

      • Hello ThieL ! I have seen the classic black and white photo of Elmer Keith shooting both his 44’s double action with pipe in mouth ! But does anyone know any factial groups he pulled off and at what distance while shooting two Revolvers from the hip as in photo ?

    • I may not have completely memorized my copy of Sixguns when I was a kid but I re-read it enough to come close. The first thing that popped into my head watching the video was that Keith would have scowled with disapproval at Ian’s use of a two-hand grip – he was adamant that they were called handgun instead of handsguns because they were meant to be fired one-handed. (Having a left arm afflicted by childhood polio may have colored his thinking.) But the main thing I got from Keith was the long-range potential for handguns against targets on snow, sand or water. (Keith once shot an elk (on snow) with a .44 at over 600 yards, walking the splash of the bullets onto the target.) When I was 12 or so my dad bought a 6″ K-22 and when I did chores around the farm I plinked a lot at gongs I had set up on the banks of the ponds. After I got old enough to drive (back in a time and place where a teenager with a pistol in his car was considered normal) I found an iron-frame-with-wood-planks country bridge on a gravel road. It was a half-mile or so to the next bend in the river, which was lined with enough brush to catch any ricochets and after a lot of practice I got to where I could hit 18 x 24″ stumps sticking out of the water at well over 100 yards five shots out of six. (With a Weaver stance, though, I wasn’t a Keith purist.) One shot, watch the splash, adjust aim (a foot up and two feet over or some such) and thunk… thunk… thunk. Amazed the hell out of whoever happened to be riding around with me.

      • I learned how to shoot handguns back in the 60’s ! My Dad purchased my first pistol a 9 mm Stare Model for me ( STRAW PURCHASE ) these days ! Is there a Statute of limitations for such a HANOUS crime ? Why maybe I should turn myself in ? To this day I can not fathom anyone being able to hit the proverbial BROAD SIDE OF A BARN with double action at 100 yards let alone spell it ! Have you or anybody you know ever seen recorded groups of Elmer Keith’s double action one hand shooting and at what measured distance ?

    • Yes! It is an essential skill for very close range combat shooting!
      Bill Jordan, a Texas Ranger and U. S. Boarder Patrolman used to give demos where he would draw and shoot a ping-pong ball from the hip in under 1 second at a range of 15′ with his Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum!!!
      About Ed McGivern, a famous trick shooter and Lawman from Wiki;
      Quote” Ed McGivern is renowned as one of the best handgunners that ever lived. His Guinness world record for “The greatest rapid-fire feat” (set on August 20, 1932 at the Lead Clube Range, South Dakota) still stands. He emptied two revolvers in less than 2 seconds. He set another record on September 13, 1932, shooting five rounds from a double action revolver at 15 feet in 2/5 of a second, and covering the group with his hand.[2] His accomplishments include “firing two times from 15 feet five shots which could be covered by a silver half-dollar piece in 45/100 of a second”. His shooting was so rapid, timing machines would malfunction in attempting to record his shooting speed.[3]

      Mr. McGivern was capable of many amazing shooting feats, most of them well documented in his book.[2] To name just a few:

      He could break six simultaneously hand thrown clay pigeons (standard trap targets) in the air before they hit the ground.[4]
      He could hit a tin can hand thrown 20 ft. in the air five times before it hit the ground.[5]
      He could drive a tack or nail into wood by shooting it.[4]
      He could shoot the spots out of playing cards at 18 feet, or even split a playing card edge on.[6][4]
      He could shoot a dime on the fly.[4]

      All of these executed with either hand using a factory Smith & Wesson Model 10 double action revolver (purportedly his favorite handgun).[3]

      Competition shooter Jerry Miculek has attempted, and broken, some of McGivern’s long standing records, such as the record for 60 shots fired from 10 revolvers. Although Miculek holds a number of records, his attempt to beat McGivern’s 5 shot record resulted in a time of .57 seconds.[7] A testament to McGivern’s ability was the fact that the 5 shot record was set in 1932, when McGivern was 57 years of age. Soon after that point, arthritis ended McGivern’s competitive shooting career.[2]”

      • And all these documented incredible shots were done wirh double action ? And what caliber with what powder load and what grain bullet ? This certainly would prove the practicality for close range combat shooting against Man or animal ! But double action at 100 ! 200 ! even 300 yards ? I just can not comprehend acurate bullet placement with double action at these stated ranges ? Single action OK ! If double action was so great for long range shooting ? Would you own a double action only revolver rifle if it existed ? Which of course it does not ! I have seen double action only revolvers ! ( DUM AND DUMMER ) But hay ! If you were RON GOLDMAN being attacked by OJ SIMPSON ? For Gods sake ! Go for the double action !

  2. Are you shooting from the edge of their parking lot? That’s a change from Rock Island. Looking forward to seeing what you review from James Julia. They have an engraved .22 with a gold squirrel on it, that certainly caught my eye.

  3. The Man-Eating Tiger rifle is Lot #1038

    looks like Keith’s book, “Hell, I Was There” sells used for $65 to almost $300:

    This has made me give some thought to how more powerful cartridges could be handled in a handgun.
    I wonder if with modern manufacturing some kinds of more advanced energy absorbing systems can be built, perhaps using micro hydraulics, or non-newtonian fluids to convert recoil energy into other forms?

    • “I wonder if with modern manufacturing some kinds of more advanced energy absorbing systems can be built, perhaps using micro hydraulics, or non-newtonian fluids to convert recoil energy into other forms?”
      The most obvious solution for this problem is for me usage of muzzle brake. Do you have any number data for efficiency of different muzzle brakes?
      The other question is what you will do with converted kinetic (recoil) energy?

      • P.S. Now I noticed that the muzzle brakes of some types (shapes) might be unwieldy for handgun usage (drawing pistol from holster), especially that of bigger diameter (so-called German-type, see 10.5cm le.F.H.18/40 for example) but there are muzzle brakes better suited (smaller in diameter) for handgun usage (see 152mm ML-20 brake for example)

      • If the recoil energy is converted by, for example, causing a state change in a non-newtonian fluid then the shooter won’t feel that energy at all. Other possibilities include converting into heat, as in the hydra-pneumatic system used in “real guns” i.e. artillery. The recoil energy is partly converted to heat (comprising air makes it warmer) and partly redirected in a different direction.

        i’m no expert so I’m sure there are many possibilities I’m not aware of. My central point is that modern manufacturing, materials, etc. might make it possible to handle much more powerful cartridges in a handgun today, with lower recoil, than was true 100 years ago.

        One example of the kinds of improvement that is provenly possible is the improved AR-style action developed by Jim Sullivan that allows stable one hand firing on full automatic. You have to see it to believe, luckily Ian and Karl demonstrate in this video:

        So I think a lot could be done with handguns. Firearm technology moves about as quick as roofing tech in some ways: like cold tar.

        • “Firearm technology moves about as quick as roofing tech in some ways: like cold tar.”
          The development of fire-arm technology consists of two elements: revolution and evolution (it also true for some other technology sector). Naturally there is revolution, evolution, another revolution, evolution, another revolution etc, etc.
          Just define revolution (in context of warfare technology) as a “invention or discovery after which all older patterns of weapons become obsolete” for example when the metallic cartridge the percussion fire-arms become obsolete, the most clear example of revolution in warfare technology is probably the invention of steam turbine, when older warships powered by piston-steam-engine become obsolete. So now fire-arm development speed is like cold tar, but when there will be next revolution the speed will be tremendous.

  4. 1061 – Lots of great memories of reading Keith articles about this rifle/cartridge. You’ll can see this rifle in a lot of the photos of Keith out on safari. .333 OKH – Charles O’Neil, Elmer Keith, and Don Hopkins. .30-06 case necked up to accept .333 Jeffery projectiles … and it comes with some ammo! ^__^

  5. I was a teenager reading Guns and Ammo right at the tail end of Mr. Keith’s run. I remember visiting family in Pennsylvania: my uncle had just gotten his copy of “Hell, I Was There” and let me stay up late reading it.

    Since then, I’ve managed to get my own copy (and copies of “Gun Notes” volumes 1 and 2, and “Sixguns”, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting).

    I also had the chance to visit the Keith Museum inside the Cabela’s in Boise a couple of years ago, and got to shake hands with and briefly talk to Mr. Keith’s son.

    I think I’m going to have to be content with all of that, however.

  6. Jim Corbett’s double rifle!!! Lot #1038

    If only I had the conkers. The good lady at home says I can’t sell the house, “I must think of the children”.
    Any chance you might be putting it in front of the camera Ian?

    Who’s Jim Corbett?

    Jim Corbett wrote several books about his fascinating adventures hunting man-eating tigers and panthers in India, where he was born and lived most of his life.

    Recomended read: The Jim Corbett Omnibus, published by the Oxford University Press India. You can buy it from Amazon UK & USA.

  7. It has to be Lot # 1038 Jim Corbett’s “Kitty Killer.” One of my favorite books as a boy (Killer Cats of Kumaon). I grew up reading Elmer Keith’s work as well. As a matter of fact, I was sorting through my 50 year collection of Gun Digests this weekend (1964-2014) and read a couple of his pieces, as well as seeing some of the very same firearms at auction in those old pages. I would like to bid on something from this auction, but the stuff I really want could endanger my marriage. Anybody know the going price for a functioning kidney? 🙂

  8. Bill Jordan, Charles Askins, Elmer Keith and Ed McGivern were friends and all four were men you never wanted to get into a “serious social situation” with no matter how good you were with a gun. I have seen Bill Jordan draw and hit a target at 25 feet in less than half a second. He was born and raised in a small town just east of here and was the hunting partner of a close friend. His favorite trick shot was to place a silver dollar on the back of his hand and draw his S&W Model 19 .357 mag. quick enough to “slap” it with his pistol barrel and then shoot it out of the air and re-holster in less than a second. Charles Atkins, a giant of a man and ex-Marine, often said that during his “busiest time” in the Border Patrol averaged at least one gunfight every week. I have an autographed copy of his book “The Art of Handgun Shooting” from long ago. Ed McGivern was probably quicker than either of them. He carried two S&W revolvers in shoulder holsters and wore glasses and a suit. It was reported that while he was working as a telegrapher for the railroad he was sent to get a man who had robbed a train. He had done this several times before this and usually had to kill his adversary. Ashen this one heard that McGivern had been sent after him he turned himself in at the nearest railroad station to the station master there. Elmer Keith and McGivern were very close friends and worked together on the .357 and .44 Magnum. Both were very dedicated to using pistols for long-range shooting for law enforcement. McGivern developed a set of sights he regularly made 600 yard shots on man-sized targets. He taught both State and Local law enforcement shooting classes as well as FBI agents. He and Keith both worked on this and Elmer became good enough to confidently take 300-500 yard shots on deer-sized game. And yes, Askins and McGivern often used two pistols at once and both set records for speed and accuracy with them. And no, “hip-shooting” was not any impediment to this.McGivern has emptied both in less than a secon and into a group you could cover with the palm of one hand.

  9. Lot #1000. I agree with those suggesting his memior. He was an interesting rascal, I’d bet. I’d be willing to buy the beer just to sit and listen to him hold court once.

  10. I’ve a picture of him with two of those I think in my 1998 G&A magazine which survived as a lone example, kicks a bit… Crikey, don’t fancy firing two “do really, he he!” semi wadcutters says that in the article alluded to above.

    • Had a cowboy shirt/necktie thing on, made me think of the General on the movie Mars Attacks, and Bugs bunny, because of the Elmer fellow probably.

  11. Lot #1000….my brother, before he left for Vietnam in 1966, gave me an orange crate full of old gun mags from 1950-1960. They included Gun Digests that has articles by Keith and Askins, along with the other greats, real men the world may not again see the like. Those rags were a big part of my formative years. My Catholic High School library in New Jersey, back then, had a copy of Sixguns, and I think I was the only one ever to have taken it out – multiple times – and read it cover to cover.

    My brother made it through Vietnam (though Agent Orange exposure took him years later). I joined the Air Force like him, and again like him and St. Elmer, became a confirmed Westerner (still Catholic ;). My favorite sixgun – one of several treasured pieces – is a 1956, 6.5″ 4-screw pre-29 .44 Magnum. My boys appreciate the legend of St. Elmer….and their heritage.

    A case from that sixgun would be an eternal family heirloom….

  12. Elmer’s Safari Rifle #1061.
    Elmer had to have been the inspiration for Yosemite Sam.
    The man truly knew his guns & cartridges.
    I lust for the Ithaca Mag 10 even though my rotator cuff told me to sell my last 10 ga. 15 years ago.

    Off the grid since 1983

  13. Lot #1000. I can’t believe you got to handle (and shoot!) part of this collection. Wish I had a mattress full of money in the spare bedroom!

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