Eighth Annual ELMER KEITH Memorial Shoot
Toughing it out for seven years had convinced the weather gods we weren’t about relenting. We enjoyed a gorgeous summer-like weekend, May 16-18, 2008.
Forty-one shooters, a record number, arrived to practice their skills on the familiar array of steel targets set out at about 140 yards from the firing line. Target sizes ranged from an 18” x 24” rectangular plate down to a 3” circular plate with roughly proportionate scores assigned to each.
Elmer Keith wrote frequently and extensively about long range shooting of handguns in the hundreds of magazine articles he authored during the first half of the twentieth century for GUNS & AMMO and AMERICAN RIFLEMAN as well as numerous other magazines in addition to his ten books. He devoted an entire chapter to the subject in SIXGUNS. During his lifetime, Mr. Keith generated considerable controversy among those who likely never sighted handgun sights on a target much beyond 25 yards.
My own skepticism was satiated by busting a rock lying in the field beyond my back yard after reading SIXGUNS. Setting up a steel target and sharing it with a few like minded friends is the short history of this event. This year two new dimensions, one of precision, one of distance; were added making it the most interesting to date.
240 and 627 yard targets from firing line
The difficulty of hitting targets at a distance with an iron sighted handgun is the primary purpose for making the “match” more for fun and fund raising than for recruiting for a handgun sniper academy. However, nearly everyone comes away from the experience with newfound respect for the capabilities of “short guns.”
Regardless, a thousand points are awarded for hits on the hillside in the vicinity of the target so no-one goes home skunked. Ten thousand points are awarded for hits on the largest rectangular target. Increasing values are assigned as targets get smaller. The smallest, a three inch plate gets 100,000 points. All scores double if the shooter calls the shot; except, of course, calls for a miss.
Each shooter is allowed ten minutes to fire twelve shots for score beginning at 1:00 PM, following a morning of sighting-in, practice and a tummy-filling lunch. A squad of spotters using high powered optics assists shooters and score keepers by calling each shot while attentive range officers keeps everyone safe.
Championship certificates are awarded in each category and class. There are always categories and classes equal to the number of shooters in each of the years this event has been held. Recipients are encouraged to frame and display their certificates in politically incorrect locations. Boeing Company cubicles, adjacent to liberal daughter’s wedding photos and next to wife’s (husband’s) favorite photo of Obama have been suggested as ideal.
In any event, our “match” was notable by the degree of precision that was demonstrated by a number of shooters on the 140 yard target. Fifteen year old Steven Sainsbury scored 120,000 points with 4 hits with his S&W 617. Ryan Harris connected seven times with his S&W 41 for 210,000 points.
Richard McClure took a seat in the comfortable new Elmer Keith Shooting Recliner, built for the occasion by Zack Faller and Ward Olsen, with his S&W 1950 .44 Special that Elmer certainly would have approved of and methodically serenaded the gallery with seven “clanks” for a total of 140,000 points. An offer of $200 for the gun drew only an appreciative grin from Rich.
Rich McClure aims while Gene Clow keeps score. Ray Gunn & Ryan Harris Spot
A very similar performance was turned in by Mike Thyng with his Colt Anaconda, scoring 125,000 points with six hits. Donny Shride, however, proved the quality of Rainier Bullets by aiming for the smaller targets, scored 240,000 points with his Ruger Blackhawk with two hits.
Perhaps the most impressive performance of the day was that of Dan Davis. Formerly a law enforcement officer, currently a bail bondsman, Dan participated in a shotgun event earlier in the day, arriving at our event in a cloud of dust with his stock Ruger Fiftieth Anniversary Blackhawk. Never having seen the target array before, someone suggested he aim for the little ones. He hit them four times, earning 435,000 points. Somewhere it was heard among the gallery, “don’t ever jump bail on that guy.”
Long Range Target
In addition to the new dimension of precision seen at this year’s Elmer Keith Memorial Shoot was a 30” X 30” (that’s THIRTY inches by THIRTY inches) steel target brought along by Al Fernandez. He set it out on the far side of the field along a summer road that crosses the field that had recently been carefully cultivated and planted with mustard seed. Because the crop was just emerging from the soil, traffic across it, including by foot, was restricted. Bullets, however, were easy to spot.
A power pole was about 20 yards immediately behind the target. Several laser range finder readings established the distance from the firing line to the target at 627 yards. Yes, the power pole took a couple of hits, so if we use that target again, we’ll offset it a bit.
At first those willing to expend ammunition on such far away places were raising puffs of dust over several acres, then only a couple. Interestingly, a great number of shots were not raising dust at all, yet the target remained unblemished. Sitting next to Paul Bodeau shooting his S&W 629 Classic with Rainier Ballistic loads we knew to be highly accurate. But seeing no dust anywhere we were perplexed.
He handed the gun to me. I asked about his sight picture. He described one indexed on the power pole. I tried it and achieved the same result, no dust. I reloaded. Recalling Elmer Keith’s simple instruction in Chapter IV of SIXGUNS, “…you simply perch your target on the center of your front sight. Holding up as much of the front sight as is necessary to lob your slug to the long range target.” Using his technique, I raised dust short of the target. Succeeding shots got closer. I hit it on the ninth and tenth shots and immediately quit shooting, giving the gun back to Paul. We’d been shooting over the target all along.
A couple more hits were made on Friday evening by the early arrivals and several more during practice on Saturday morning. Although the hit percentage remained in the single digits, the dust balls were certainly closing in on the target.
About that time folks began asking if a value might be assigned to the long range target when shooting for score. I admitted I hadn’t given it any thought, so asked for a consensus. Immediately someone suggested a million points. Someone else suggested a half million. I thought that since we give a thousand points for missing the whole shebang and a hundred grand for hitting a three incher at 140 yards and doubling that if someone calls it what could possibly be wrong with giving someone a million points for a lucky hit on a 30X30” target at 600+ yards; after all, what are the odds?
Adding insult to injury, I agreed to double the score for hits on the far target for calling it, essentially making it a TWO MILLION POINT TARGET! In retrospect that made no sense at all, but again, what were the odds?
It didn’t take long to begin wishing I’d given that decision more thought. When Dan Davis turned in his outstanding performance on the near targets, it caused the competitive types among us, which turned out to be nearly all of us, to go-for-broke on the far target. One of the first to show the way was Jim McIntosh, who stood up, faced the target and walked his bullets up the field, finally hitting it on his last shot with his Ruger Super Redhawk. George Smith repeated the feat with his S&W 629 as did Mike Goldbach with his.
Paul Bodeau used his Hamilton Bowen slicked up Ruger Super Blackhawk to nail the distant steel with enough ammunition remaining to put a couple clanks on the near targets for the high score of the day. Who said those who voted for Ronald Reagan twice can’t shoot with iron sights?
One small problem remained. When “cease fire” had been called and the range crew went to retrieve the target, one more bullet marked the target than had been recorded on the score sheet. Immediately, several searched the depths of their hearts and found with certainty it was theirs. Unfortunately for them, the decision of the scorers had been final for some time and fortunately for everyone nothing but pride and bragging rights was at stake.
Regardless of the scoring snafus, we gained valuable information from the weekend of shooting:
Funds for The NRA Foundation
Our fund-raising efforts were rewarded with unprecedented success this year resulting in a total of $6,401.00 being contributed. This was largely because a number of people contributed generously to our cause, including:
The highlight of our fund raising effort was the card raffle of an engraved Smith & Wesson Model 29 Classic 44 Magnum Revolver similar to the one inspired by Elmer Keith in the early 1950’s, Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” character made them suddenly famous, hard to get and expensive twenty years later.
Each person arriving at our “shoot” was given an opportunity to purchase a playing card, which was cut in half; one part retained by the player, the other placed in a bowl. When all cards were sold, Dave Coffman with the able assistance of Mackenzie and Morgan DeRuyter held interim drawings throughout the afternoon and evening. There were four consolation prizes of increasing value, but they finally found the winning card was held by Trish Shride.
Will DeRuyter, Trish Shride, Donny Shride
The success of our fund raising effort was determined ultimately by the large number who stayed until after daylight expired to bid on auction items and participate enthusiastically in the raffle.
Jack Erskin, observed once during a rock chuck hunting safari in southern Idaho in the mid-1970’s that “ya cain’t hit ‘em if you cain’t see ‘em’, an’ ya cain’t see ‘im’ on an empty belly.” Since then I’ve run across a couple of articles providing a medical basis for Jack’s hypothesis. I believe I’ve experienced the phenomenon myself, especially when staring through high powered optics for hours and not seeing anything.
Regardless, making sure folks are nourished well enough to see their sights is one of the objectives of each Elmer Keith Memorial Shoot. The highlight is the Soon-to-be-Famous-Bar-B-Q Country Style Pork Rib dinner. These were initially prepared in Dutch ovens, simply because it was the most delectable recipe I knew. As the crowd grew, I enlisted help of other black pot enthusiasts and most recently from our resident Smith & Wesson Bar-B-Q Smoker/Firearms dealer Terry Rogers of All American Arms to help with the fare.
Putting on an event like this is more than one guy can handle. This was obvious to several who offered their time, talents and tools to make the job easier. Steven Sainsbury arrived with his lawn care equipment to mow and trim. Zack Faller and Ward Olsen came to repair shooting seats, build new ones and mark the firing line. Mike Thyng and George Smith arrived with paint and used it to repaint the targets. Gene Clow came to organize the range officers for another completely safe event. Ron Behrens brought his new photographic equipment to record snapshots and Ed Parry surveyed for a spot to take portraits for the Championship Certificates. Ron also brought the coffee pot. Alan Olsen brought his new motion picture camera so we’ll have some animated evidence henceforth. Ace Fernandez supervised.
Yes, of course, a committee comprised of the volunteers was chosen to test the targets and the consistency of the dust clouds generated by various projectiles. This also served to condition the neighborhood to the next day’s activities.
Larry McMillian, the master merchandiser, set up the auction items, items for sale, prizes and raffle items for people to peruse, ponder or purchase as they pleased in his favorite venue, my Tin Tent.
Robyn Meenach took delivery of a sufficient quantity of the Piedmontese Beef to prepare the her award winning Walla Walla Sloppy Joe Recipe we enjoyed for our lunch on Saturday. Whoever made extraordinary scores might give Robyn some credit. Larry Kjack brought a half dozen loafs of Val’s Already Famous Home-Made Carmel Rolls for us to enjoy with our coffee on Saturday morning.
If a MVP (Most Valuable Person) award were to be given, however, it would have to be given to master planner, shopper, organizer, meal preparer, dish washer, teenager entertainer, energizer lady Dawn Malone. She made shopping at Fred Meyer last year,
something I detest, bearable.
This year, I renewed my membership at Costco after a seven year hiatus, based on her promise to get me out of there quickly; which was my main reason for cutting them off. The other reason was they gave a lot of money to someone running for president I didn’t like. I still don’t as a matter of fact. Regardless, Dawn had me out of the place so fast with nearly a truckload of stuff I nearly got whiplash.
That was Friday morning. The remainder of the weekend ran equally smoothly, thanks to Dawn’s help as well as the help of numerous others, some of whom I’ve named, many I know I’ve missed. Thanks to all.
In any event, no growling tummies were heard around the range from Friday evening, when a spaghetti dinner was served to the early arrivers until the last culinary over-
achiever attempted to teach his stomach who was boss at the rib platter Saturday night. In between those moments, Val’s rolls greeted folks in the morning and Robyn’s Sloppy Joes satisfied palates in the afternoon so the sharpest of eyes could focus on iron sights the way Elmer Keith used to do.
I’m considering changing the date for our event for the following reasons:
Meet our new web master, Al Fernandez, (not to be confused with his dad, Ace Fernandez) who has volunteered to set up a website at www.ElmerKeithShoot.Org to facilitate communications to and among those interested in our efforts. Bookmark it, register and check in occasionally for recent postings.
June 15, 2008
Photo credits: Ron Behrens & Ed Parry