New Book: Letters From Elmer Keith


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John Ross
April 15, 2008, 05:20 AM
Tim Mullin has compiled a bunch of letters Elmer Keith wrote to various people from across the country. It makes for interesting reading, as these missives were sent without benefit of a magazine editor toning them down for general public consumption.

Especially eye-opening are his comments on Jack O'Connor, who he often refers to with derision as ".270", for O'Connor's slavish devotion to that cartridge, and the resultant loss of game Keith witnessed while guiding clients on elk hunts.

(As someone who has shot over 20 head of thin-skinned game with an Improved .375, and never had an animal go over 10 feet before dying, I concur completely with Keith's recommended minimum of .33 caliber and 250 grains bullet weight dictum for game animals.)

In the photo section at the end there's a pic of Elmer with me in 1978. Elmer is admiring the second .50 BMG rifle I built. I look pleased with myself. And yes, at age 21 I look a lot younger than I do now...

Paladin Press has it. It's a worthwile addition to your gun library.

JR, the 500 Specialist

www.john-ross.net

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Catherine
April 15, 2008, 10:02 AM
Thanks for the information. It sounds like a good book.

I have two of his books - "H--l, I Was There!" and "Sixguns".

Sincerely,

Catherine

Essex County
April 15, 2008, 02:00 PM
A lot of Elmer's wrightings were dated and obsolete, Plus highly opinionated. Examples of his arrogance abound. One that sticks in my mind is his referal to the 7mm Remington Magnum as " A good pest rifle". The only thing bigger than his hat was his ego. Feel free to flame away....Essex

Cosmoline
April 15, 2008, 02:26 PM
If you want to regurgitate the same old myths about EK feel free. For those of us who've actually read Gun Notes and his other writings the myths don't have much traction. I've found his advice to be both sound and practical. Many pages of his notes are bookmarked and frequently referenced, from what iron sights to use to load combinations.

John Ross
April 16, 2008, 04:16 PM
"A lot of Elmer's wrightings [sic] were dated and obsolete, Plus highly opinionated. Examples of his arrogance abound. One that sticks in my mind is his referal [sic] to the 7mm Remington Magnum as " A good pest rifle". The only thing bigger than his hat was his ego."

Elmer shot more game animals, or watched other people shoot them, than any man I have ever known. His writings came from personal experience, and lots of it, not theory. It is impossible not to be opinionated about the facts of personal experience. I don't think much of what Elmer wrote is obsolete. Nothing comes to mind. I never felt he was arrogant in any way, and I watched him do many of the things he wrote about. He was the real deal.

An amusing story:

I was sitting next to Elmer at dinner one night at an awards ceremony when I was 17 years old. We'd been discussing terminal ballistics. He seemed favorably impressed with my use of slaughterhouse steers to test bullet performance.

Unnoticed by me, a guy at our table had been trying to follow our conversation, hoping to join in. He may have been drinking.

Elmer started telling me about game he had recently taken, an elk, I think, using his .375 firing a Nosler Partition bullet.

"Which one?" I asked. (Nosler made both 270 and 300 grain versions.)

"A 270."

"I think the .270 is a fine rifle!" the unknown guy announced loudly. I burst out laughing, and Elmer, who had started to look annoyed, began to chuckle, something I had never seen him do up until then.

"It's good for some things," he said, and let it go at that.

I don't know if the guy ever realized what had just happened...

JR

Liberty1776
April 16, 2008, 04:21 PM
One of my most treasured posessions is a letter I got from Elmer, back in the early 80's, typed with his own hand and unblemished by any corrections, punctuations or censorship... :D it is wonderful. and he also included an invite to go out to his part of Idaho and hunt Mule deer, which I was always to stupid to follow up on... :banghead: but more than anything, he was entertaining and genuine. No hidden agendas there...

BigG
April 16, 2008, 04:35 PM
Elmer was the real deal, Essex, despite your ill considered opinion. He experimented with everything he wrote before he wrote it. His one credo was "Try it. Make sure it's true, THEN write about it."

His disdain for Jack O'Connor was quite well founded as Jack was caught by authorities shooting tied game in Mexico and also shot many of his trophy sheep over the sights of his Olympia typewriter, according to Elmer and Charles Askins, Jr., who shared the disdain for O'C as I recall.

catfish101
April 16, 2008, 06:28 PM
EK wrote allot of things and did alot interesting of things. He was responsible for several things we have today in the knife and gun world. I know a guy the knew him personally and he said he felt he had "littleman" complex. He wasn't knocking him nor am I. He was friends with him.

Cosmoline
April 16, 2008, 06:53 PM
I don't think the conflicts involving EK had much to do with physical stature. He was from a radically different background than JO and a lot of other elite gun writers. IIRC he wrote with some disdain for their ability to go all over the world hunting on family money. He was not wealthy, and his experiences were those of a man on a tight budget.

Also, he didn't have anywhere near the level of formal education that JO had. He was a natural writer, but relied on his editors to correct errors. That no doubt opened him up to some scorn from the better educated gun writers.

From his writing it strikes me Elmer liked things to die when he shot them. That was the object of the exercise. He was extremely practical, and almost always rejected style in favor of substance. So using a more precise firearm of smaller caliber and less force to hit just the right spot for the poetical hunting experience was NOT high on his list.

As to who was the better writier, O'Connor wins no question. But I can't imagine fingering through one of his books on the work table to find a particularly poetic description of a sheep getting shot.

Old Fuff
April 16, 2008, 08:01 PM
Many years ago I had the pleasure of knowing and doing a bit of work for a very prominent editor of several well known gun magazines. We both knew Elmer, and on this day we were discussing his work. Concerning our subject he said…

“I work with all kinds of writers. Some are very good at writing, but don’t seem to know a whole lot about the subject.” Others he remarked “know just about everything there is to know, but it’s obvious that they were never English majors at some fancy college.” Elmer, he continued, “was one of the latter, but I could always get his manuscripts straightened out by a re-write man who’s specialty was grammar rather then guns. But on the other hand a well written article wasn’t worth zip if it didn’t say anything.” He had absolutely no qualms about Keith’s qualifications, and he personally knew all of the gun writers of that day who had any reputation or standing.

I’ve always wondered where I fit into his observations… :scrutiny:

Catherine
April 16, 2008, 10:59 PM
Quote by me in a above post:

Thanks for the information. It sounds like a good book.

I have two of his books - "H--l, I Was There!" and "Sixguns".

Sincerely,

Catherine

~~~~~

I think that he was the Real Deal at any age.

I like his writing and I appreciate his contribution to the shooting sports.

I can think of 2 men that I have known via boards, email, snail mail and telephone since I first started to get into buying my own firearms, more into self defense, etc. that fit what I consider the Real Deal. One is Lee J. and one is Terry M. They tell it like it is and tend to be blunt as I am. They are very smart in gun issues and it is not all "book smart" either. Hands on experience! Just because someone is highly opinionated and/or blunt does not make them whatever... fill in the blanks.

I think that Mr. Keith had common sense, brains, talent and tons more. I never met the man but I have read where other people knew him.

So there you go!

Respectfully yours,

Catherine

ProficientRifleman
April 17, 2008, 12:27 AM
Thanks for the Heads-up, John. I'll be sure to get my copy ordered ASAP!

All the best!

John Ross
April 17, 2008, 08:20 AM
"From his writing it strikes me Elmer liked things to die when he shot them. That was the object of the exercise. He was extremely practical, and almost always rejected style in favor of substance. So using a more precise firearm of smaller caliber and less force to hit just the right spot for the poetical hunting experience was NOT high on his list."

I agree, with one caveat: Elmer liked style when it did not come at the expense of substance. Witness all the fine wood and engraving on many of his guns.

Who among us doesn't like the best tool for the job to be beautiful as well?

mec
April 30, 2008, 03:33 PM
pretty much the best of both worlds I suspect

AndyC
April 30, 2008, 03:46 PM
Nobody is ever always right, but Elmer was more right than anyone else I can remember reading, IMO.

.38 Special
April 30, 2008, 03:47 PM
A lot of Elmer's wrightings were dated and obsolete, Plus highly opinionated. Examples of his arrogance abound. One that sticks in my mind is his referal to the 7mm Remington Magnum as " A good pest rifle". The only thing bigger than his hat was his ego. Feel free to flame away....Essex

I dunno, mate. A lot of his writing are dated and obsolete, but that's going to happen to pretty much anything written about guns. I wouldn't agree that his stuff was dated at the time he wrote it.

I do agree that he came across as pretty arrogant in many of his writings. Never met him so can't comment as to how he actually was in person, but I think anyone who has read Keith extensively is kidding himself if he argues that the man didn't seem pretty arrogant in his writing.

I've also heard that he had a foul mouth, was a racist, and smelled. This may or may not be true, and it wouldn't surprise me if it was. None if it is especially important to me, though. What matters is that he had more practical gun knowledge than anyone of his time, and he shared it with us. When I read Sixguns I'm not looking for moral guidance; I want the facts about revolvers -- and Keith, like no one else of his time, delivers.

.38 Special
April 30, 2008, 03:49 PM
FWIW, I can pretty much guarantee I wouldn't have gotten along with Jeff Cooper. That sure doesn't mean that Cooper wasn't a giant among gunnies, though, and Art of the Rifle is my bible regardless of my personal thoughts about the man.

mec
April 30, 2008, 05:23 PM
Never met him so can't comment as to how he actually was in person...

I've read him firsthand in his old Gun Notes column and the binding is shot on my autographed copy of Sixguns. The things his writiings inspired me to try for myself have worked out very much like he said so, I consider him very credible.

If I had met him in person, and thought that he was an arrogant blowhard, I would have stopped reading him and dismissed pretty much everthing he said. That's one of my personal failings that seems to be widely shared. A lot of people just dont like sonofabitches. This is evident on these internet boards where it is possible to interact with the grey imminences of gundom some of whom will climb up on a high pedastal and spatter you in the face with cyber urine.
They manage to chill a lot of people's enthusiasm for "The Culture."

Best bet is to refrain from running around the block to meet a gun guru or a gun writer -particularly if it's one whose work you admire from a distance.

.38 Special
April 30, 2008, 08:56 PM
Best bet is to refrain from running around the block to meet a gun guru or a gun writer -particularly if it's one whose work you admire from a distance.
Probably a sound piece of advice. If one looks hard enough one can almost invariably find something negative about just about anyone. So I really try to just read for the information presented, without worrying too much about the man behind the pen -- at least when I'm reading for technical information.

IOW, old Elmer could have been a Satan worshiper in drag for all I care. I just want to know what he knew about heavy revolvers.

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