Elmer Keith’s 600-Yard Shot: Tall Tale Or Simply Great Shooting?

Elmer Keith 600 Yard Shot

courtesy sportingclassicsdaily.com/

Elmer Keith was a character, one practically right out of a legend. A barely literate cowboy by many accounts (his editors were said to work miracles) but a shooter of incredible skill, a wildcatter without peer, an expert hunter, and – also by many accounts – an all-around good guy. Granted, mentioning Jack O’Connor around him might have tarnished that image a bit.

Anyhow, one of the many stories surrounding Keith – who, with some assistance, basically invented the magnum revolver cartridge – is a purported shot he made with a .44 Magnum revolver. Keith is said to have shot a mule deer buck from 600 yards away.

The gist of the story was that Keith “walked the shot” onto the buck after someone else had wounded it, according to Craig Boddington in Guns & Ammo, missing with the first shot but landing the second. He fired two more times with one hit and one miss.

Now, people have made long shots with handguns before, but 600 yards? Keith was a fantastic spinner of yarns, to be sure, but he was no fabulist. Could he have done it? You can find a recounting in his own words at Handloads.com.

This has been mused over by a number of people ever since he put it in print. What some surmise is that he landed a shot on a deer from a very long distance away, but it wasn’t 600 yards. Since rangefinders weren’t the most packable items in those days, he estimated the distance. Some believe that it was probably more like 500 yards, if not less.

After all, distances are much harder to estimate on terrain of varying elevation and the area he spent much of his life in (central Idaho, near the Bitterroot range) varies quite a bit.

Now, Keith was known to be an excellent shot with a pistol, including at long ranges. He was known to hit bowling balls at well over 100 yards as well as small game. There’s no doubt a .44 Magnum bullet could travel that distance, of course, and Keith was – at the time – one of the few people who were known for the skill to make a shot anywhere close to that.

But has anything like that been done in recent times?

Actually? Yes.

That’s Jerry Miculek, shooting – and HITTING – a balloon from 1,000 yards with a S&W 929 with only a red dot sight. The 929 is a Performance Center revolver (a Jerry Miculek signature model, no less) on Smith’s N-frame. Keith made his shot with his packin’ gun, a four-inch Model 29.

Just like Elmer Keith, Jerry Miculek is a titan living amongst us mere mortals. Granted, Miculek is shooting on virtually level ground and at a target, rather than a wounded deer that you’re trying to put down instead of leaving it to suffer a miserable death.

So as we can see, the shot is certainly feasible.

What do you think, though? Let us know in the comments.

comments

  1. avatar former water walker says:

    Jerry Miculek has a documented 1000yard shot from a 9mm. So sure I can see 600yards…then again Jerry ain’t human!

    1. avatar Kendahl says:

      There is a YouTube video of Miculek making a 200 yard shot with an S&W Bodyguard 380.

  2. avatar Kroglikepie says:

    Yeah but Jerry isn’t a human… it isn’t fair to compare a person against a machine of that caliber…

    1. avatar JMD1905 says:

      I see what you did there.

  3. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    I’ve had the privilege of examining some of Elmer Keith’s correspondence with lots of other “gun cranks” (as they were known back then) from when he was writing a column for a gun magazine.

    While Elmer might certainly have had a knack for telling cowboy tales here and there, his responses to correspondents on issues of reloading, gun construction, shooting technique, etc were dry, factual, to-to-the-point terse in professional language.

  4. avatar Dave Lewis says:

    Elmer Keith was a bad a$$. If Mr H.G. Wells had been right and we could build a time machine, I’d challenge anybody to stand 600 measured and documented yards away from Elmer and serve as his target. This tired old deputy wouldn’t – my mother didn’t raise a fool.

    1. avatar MyName says:

      I’ll second that. Did he do it? Did he not? I dunno but I would not serve as guinea pig.

    2. avatar RidgeRunner says:

      why would anybody do that whether they believe the story or not. I mean stand and let somebody shoot at them?

  5. avatar Greg says:

    Elmer was a grade A bullshitter. Never liked his writing. Always felt he was overrated.

    Col.Askins was the man. A stone cold killer and a great writer.

    1. avatar tkohl says:

      Askins wrote an article about the shot entitled “Elmer’s Little Mortar”

    2. avatar Big Joe says:

      At least Elmer didn’t shoot un-armed men in cold blood…so there is that.

      1. avatar FedUp says:

        I believe when somebody called him a liar he offered him a $100 bill, and said he could keep it if he’d walk away xxx paces, stand still for 6 shots, and could walk back afterwards.

      2. avatar Greg says:

        That’s a crock, Askins was a lawman and a Soldier. He did his duty so get your facts straight.

        1. avatar Big Joe says:

          Google search him…then…so you can get your facts straight. Plenty of articles on his “killing” tendencies of un-armed men.

        2. avatar Greg says:

          So what he shot a Nazi taking a dump? It was war I have no issue with that. Unless you’ve been in combat you wouldn’t understand the mentality.
          Majority of those stories are hearsay on gun forums.

        3. avatar Big Joe says:

          The nazi was a “good” shoot in my estimation…but he even remarked once that he thought he was a psychopathic killer…I think he was speaking about his time as a border patrol agent.

        4. avatar New Continental Army says:

          Personally I don’t know too much about the man, but, I do know if you’re talking about WW2, that was a *very* different kind of war then the ones were used to fighting now. It truly was a total war with zero sympathy given. There was none of this modern concept of “the enemy isn’t a threat until they raise their weapon” shit. We have the luxury of that in modern wars because they are nowhere near level of intensity WW2 was.

        5. avatar Chris Mallory says:

          So he was a lifelong welfare queen? That is supposed to be something to admire?

        6. avatar LarryinTX says:

          After you understand thousands of airmen flying B-17s to dump bombs over cities in Germany, every day for years, or the firebombing of Tokyo, or, for chrissake, a B-29 dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, THEN discuss with me a soldier firing a gun at a single person at a time. IOW, try to get a clue before engaging your keyboard.

      3. avatar drunkEODguy says:

        Well Chris Mallory it’s better than being some crotchety, griping, nobody on the internet who never stuck his neck out in conflict, but thinks that his trade as an electrician/pipefitter/office drone gives him moral superiority over another man. Hell I’m just an ex-welfare man myself though, so what do I know?

        1. avatar Big Joe says:

          this little “vine” started ’cause somebody was talking trash about Elmer…so of course I had to put my 2 bits in about askins, who many have, including, Ken Howell, I think it was, saw him as a stone cold killer…and not in a good way. Didn’t askins himself mention hunting so much game because he couldn’t hunt men anymore? You need to do a little more research on him and maybe not so much idolizing…how’d that be?

        2. avatar Wood says:

          Lighten up Francis. The internet is *the* place for posting unsubstantiated assertions and baseless accusations.

          (Directed at no one in particular)

  6. avatar New Continental Army says:

    I certainly see it as possible. In the army there were a few times we’d lob 5.56, 7.62, and 9mm at Shit way far outside the effective range just for the hell of it. Also the AT4 trainers we had back then shot 9mm tracer rounds, and those were able to fly out to damn near 1000 yards.

  7. avatar 16V BKA porschespeed says:

    Just imagine if he had one of Karl Lippard’s iron-sight-precision-miracle-1911s!

  8. avatar el Possum Guapo says:

    Elmer Keith and a dream of bear 1979 buy .44 Magnum S&W Model .29 keep to death

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      ^huh?^

    2. avatar Stinkeye says:

      Incomprehensible. Please try again.

  9. avatar RA-15 says:

    Jerry Miculek is truly amazing , regardless what gun he is shooting. I do believe if Elmer Keith said he made the 600 yard shot , he did indeed make said shot. There are shooters & there is Jerry. One of a handful of people able to make amazing shots we mere mortals should be so lucky to have 1/2 his talent.

  10. avatar Alex Waits says:

    It has been verified that it is possible.

    I’m inclined to take a man at his word, because he has an honest and knowledgeable reputation.

    Even if he didn’t, still a good story.

  11. avatar DrewR says:

    Jerry didn’t hit the balloon, he hit the plate about 20 inches low left on the diagonal and spalling popped the balloon. He never claims to have hit the balloon, it was just there to serve as a bullseye.
    It is still an absolutely insane shot and better than many of us could do with a rifle, especially considering he states that he had to hold 80 yards high at that distance.
    I see no reason to doubt the Keith account, it is obviously possible, and considering the number of people who have told me that you can’t hit a man sized target at 100 yards with a handgun I suspect most of the naysayers then and now just plain can’t shoot.

    1. avatar former water walker says:

      Yeah and Jerry is a few months younger than me-64. No peer ever!

      1. avatar DrewR says:

        Yup. Ed McGivern might have given Jerry some trouble at short range, but for all around handgun shooting Jerry seems to be in a league of his own.

    2. avatar Wood says:

      Hell, *I* can hit 16-oz water bottles lined up at 100 yards with a sandbag-rested Sig P210-6. My best group at 25 yards with my handloads from a 1959 Ruger Blackhawk (flattop) is 7/8”, standing up on my hind legs as John Taffin would say.

      What a truly accomplished shooter can do is way beyond what most of us weekend warriors can do. Folks like Elmer lived it, we just play at it.

    3. avatar Andrew Lews says:

      Hey… The sights on my Eibar .38spl are dead on at 100yds. 12in square free hand from the bench all day long.

      It’s kinda funny to watch actually. It’s a beat up rattly old gun that was rode hard and put away wet most of its life but the old girl just loves that Winchester white box.

  12. avatar Sabre22 says:

    For a minute I thought this was about the shot on Stone Sheep in Canada in the 20’s with a 300 magnum I believe. elmer Kieth Competed at Camp Perry in the 1000 yard rifle matches and hunted the rockies most of his life so I believe it was a 600 yard shot. he also killed 5-6 jackrabbits running at about 90 yards with a 44 magnum. He shot a pregnant rabbit and about blew her in half and 5-6 baby rabbits fell out. All these shots are in hell I was there his auto biography. and the Sheep shot is also in his book on big game hunting published in the 40’s.

  13. avatar Kendahl says:

    There is a Full30 video of a guy making a 500 yard shot with a .22 Colt Woodsman pistol. He admits it took him six tries.

    1. avatar Andrew Lews says:

      See now that’s something that I kinda take exception to. IMHO having to walk the round onto the target doesn’t really count as “making” the shot.

      1. avatar LarryinTX says:

        Well, then, maybe you should try a 500 yard shot with a .22 pistol!! I’m thinking, not so easy.

  14. avatar Michael says:

    The deer dropped down dead as soon as it realized who was shooting at him. Accutally, the shot was made by Chuck Norris, he stepped out of his time machine, nailed the critter with a 6.5 Creedmore and jumped back into his time machine, just sayin’. 30

    1. avatar Wood says:

      With the 6.5, Chuck didn’t need a time machine, only his iron will.

  15. avatar William Wessels says:

    I lived in Clarkston Washington and met him shortly after I was discharged in 1970. Might have been a year or two after that. He had a small ranch not too far from there and some of his family lived in the area. I once saw him make an incredible shot on a wounded deer with a 4 inch .357 S&W. Lying on his belly using both hands it took him a minute or two to make the shot. I was amazed and so were 2 or 3 others there at the time. I had a 243 scoped with a 3-9 and would not have attempted the shot. He did it with a 4 inch revolver with iron sights and he was an old man at the time. I took care of him in the hospital for a little bit before he died. He was a little crusty at times, as are many of us as we age.

  16. avatar Daniel Maine says:

    I think Keith made the shot. The fact that he said he had to walk the shot in alone tells me that it was likely he did it.

  17. avatar Marty says:

    I absolutely believe Elmer Keith made that 600 yard shot. Back in the 70’s, I went to a class on officer survival in San Louis Obispo, Kalif. One of the instructors was Massad Ayoob, but after all these years, I can’t remember if he was the shooter or not. But one of the instructors shot a standard Government Model 1911 in 45 acp. He was shooting at metal silhouette targets from 100 to 1000 yards. From 100 to 700 yards, he hit each target with his first shot. At 800 to 1000 yards with his second shot. Granted, he had practiced these shots, but still he did it with a 45 acp. You bet I believe Keith was able to score a hit at 600 yards with his famed 44 mag.

  18. avatar achmed says:

    A little luck combined with a great shooter combined with an animal that was expiring anyway? Sure I could see it .

  19. avatar FedUp says:

    I thought people stopped calling Keith a liar when long range handgun silhouette shooting became popular. Which was what, 40-50 years ago?

  20. avatar Gunr says:

    I was a Jack O’connor fan myself, I remember reading his articles back in the 50’s, in Outdoor Life.

  21. avatar Tim Toroian says:

    WTF. I read what Elmer wrote about the shot. He only tried it because the deer was wounded by another AND he said it took the FULL cylinder to walk the shot in. He also said he was in a secure sitting position against a tree. The shot was paced off when they recovered the deer. I kind of recall actual yardage of something like 606 yards. I read this account when I lived in Cedar Rapids and I left there in ’71. In Guns and Ammo if I recall correctly.

  22. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

    Who cares?!? He invented my two favorite handgun calibers, so I’d give him a pass even if he was full of shit.

  23. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    Elmer made the shot.
    Believe it.

    1. avatar jwtaylor says:

      Absolutely. I’ve read eveything I can find from Keith. I find it difficult to believe that a man who was so professional in his work and writing would have made up this experience, especially when he didn’t need to. He had nothing to prove.

  24. avatar johnny go lightly says:

    Anyone recall Bob Munden ?

  25. avatar TX762 says:

    Clone Jerry and built a stormtrooper army!
    Yes… I think JM has proved 600 yards is completely doable by an individual with higher than average shooting skill.
    If Kieth was such a shooter there is no reason to doubt the story.

  26. avatar SurfGW says:

    I once made an experiment with a friend’s Ruger .357 using a gunners quadrant taped to the barrel shooting at a metal door over 500m away. I braced myself in the bed of the truck and he spotted the impacts. Treating the .357 like a mortar, I got a shot on the door in the first 6 shots. We reversed roles and my friend did the same also hit after 4 or 5 shots.
    Long range pistol shots are definitely possible but you have to aim so high the sights are useless and you have to bracket. Note: a 6’8” x 4’ door is a huge target compared to a deer!

  27. avatar RidgeRunner says:

    All I know is I don’t want to f*&k with the guy in that picture.

  28. avatar Craig in IA says:

    I beleive there was an American Rifleman article 30 years back or so where the author was doing some extreme range shooting with revolvers at the time. Might research that.

  29. avatar Kap says:

    Non Veteran silly asses, blow more smoke than California fires, all have diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain, back in the day being a tadpole, a Seal Armorer shot a .357 1K yards after said tadpole told him about what tadpole didn’t know, we were on the Jarhead sniper course at Camp Pendleton
    said armorer was packing a .357 on his hip when he heard smoking ass blowing smoke, walked out side said watch, he held weapon about 60 degrees and capped off a round at the man target at 1k, looking thru spotting scope saw dust close to target! got yard cleanup rest of day

  30. avatar David says:

    I have no doubt it is true.
    I have known a Man since I was a little Kid. Phenomenal shot. He explained how to shoot to me.
    There is a knowledge to shooting & once learnt, you become a Shootist.
    I often hear that shooting is “A perishable skill” – I call (sort of) BS.
    Once the skill of being a Shootist is acquired. You will always be a Shootist.
    My Friend is still a Phenomenal shot – So am I, once I learnt the Art of Shooting.
    Problem is you can only prove it, by proving it one person at a time. I have told some people and Everyone one of them was sure I was full of shit till I showed them. And of course, then they just thought I was Damn Lucky. But they never doubted I could do it if I said I could.
    Here’s a Yarn for ya, I Killed a Wild Pig (big one) from a hundred yards with a 22MWR. His comment was Bull Shit you cannot kill a Pig with a 22. I said yeah you can. Shot Placement..
    Before we checked the pig I explained Shot placement is everything. Since it was 100yrds away & running farther, I had only one real shot, & I Called the Shot, just like Babe Ruth. Right up the Poop Chute.
    Of Course YouTube has made at least Two Shootists Super Famous. Jerry & Bob. Both are true Shootist.
    Ask Jerry, “how can I shoot like You” He will tell you something Cryptic then something true & (if you hear him) that will be the way you become a Shootist. It’s not hard you just have “to get it”.
    I’m sure there are many Shootists out there.
    So Yeah I have no doubt he did it.

  31. avatar Toni says:

    Personally i have little doubt he did it. I am no shootist and with a rossi 92 in .44 mag I took a kangaroo at 600 on the hop. It was going directly away and was a downhill shot. Yes it is a 20″ rifle as opposed to a 4″ revolver but as I said I ain’t no shootist and I took it with the rifle first shot open sights. I dont get even a hundredth of the practice I would like to be getting.

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