Among shooting devotees, Elmer Keith is widely regarded as the father of big bore handgunning. “Dirty Harry” Callahan had Keith to thank for the now common .44 Magnum cartridge.
Keith’s story can be found in full by linking to Ammo.com’s article, “Elmer Keith: The Forgotten History of the Firearms Author and Father of Big Bore Handgunning.”
I will borrow from this article because it contains much of interest about Keith, a man who lived an amazing life. No stranger to misfortune, Keith was burned badly in a hotel fire in Missoula, Montana, in 1911.
His wounds included his chin actually fusing to his shoulder and his left hand being turned upside down. With no plastic surgeons on the frontier, it fell to Keith’s father to do the surgery. With only 100-proof Old Grandad for anesthesia, Keith’s hand was restored to use after lengthy recovery.
“Restored to use,” is an understatement. Not only did he become a champion pistol shot, but he also became an inventor, the developer of the .357, the .41 and the .44 Magnum rounds.
According to Ammo.com, when Keith got his hands on a .44 Special, the firearms world was about to change forever. He disdained smaller rounds, including the 270 Winchester, championed by a famous contemporary, Jack O’Conner.
Keith spent his career figuring out how to make bigger rounds go faster. He backed it up with performance, such as taking a mule deer at 600 yards – with his .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson Model 29! That’s right – a handgun.
Keith could also be considered the father of the iconic Model 29. Wanting a handgun he could depend on to shoot a .44 Magnum round without blowing up, Keith approached Smith & Wesson.
Remington picked up the role of producing big bore ammunition for the new firearms, and shooters never looked back.
As a result of his endeavors, Keith became one of the most famous gun writers of all time. He personally responded to letter writers, receiving from 300 to 500 every month.
Ammo.com relates: “ . . . His first published work was a humble letter written to American Rifleman in August 1925. His final original manuscript was written in the 1980s.”
Keith also was influential in the development of the “truncated cone” bullet, prized by target shooters for its accuracy and telltale crisp round holes. The truncated cone is simply a bullet with a cone-shaped nose that has been cut off flat.
But it fell to Hollywood to truly bring Keith’s work to world markets. “Dirty Harry” Callahan voiced his description of the “most powerful handgun in the world (it was in 1971) and sales of the S&W Model 29 rocketed.
The handgun was in such demand after the movie’s release, that buyers often paid three times the list price because gun stores couldn’t keep them in stock.
Personally, I’m too big a sissy to enjoy shooting the .44 Magnum or anything larger. The recoil sends the trigger guard solidly against my finger and it is uncomfortable. But if ever a bear gets after me, I’m sure I won’t mind the recoil.
Fred Causley is a former OSU Agriculture Communications employee and a longtime Stillwater resident and NRA member. Send him questions or feedback to email@example.com.