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Elmer Keith - Sportsman & Writer

Elmer Keith (1899-1984) was one of the grand old men of American sporting gun writing, an Idaho rancher and a long time correspondent of Gun magazine in which he described his many adventures, some with a Westley Richards .476 double rifle which he used on dangerous game in Africa, described in detail in his book Safari (1968). He was also instrumental in developing the first Magnum revolver cartridge.

Elmer Keith was born at the tail-end of the frontier period, on 8 March 1899 in Missouri, and thus was in contact with an earlier generation of frontiersmen and met and spoke to many Civil War veterans and gunfighters in his early years. He learned to shoot a handgun from a former gunfighter turned barber, shooting at the patterns in the linoleum in the back of the barber shop. In 1911 he was badly burned in a fire and nearly lost the use of his left hand, a disability he overcame with courage.

The lion, weighing over 500 pounds, which Mr Keith shot on his 1957 safari

During the 1920s and 1930s, Mr Keith was a rancher and big game guide in Oregon and Idaho. His first published work was in the American Rifleman in 1924, and he had a popular monthly column in Guns and Ammo. In the Second World War, he served as an inspector at the Ogden Arsenal and went full time as a writer in the ’50s. He later worked for The Outdoorsman, the American Rifleman, Western Sportsman, and Guns and Ammo. Mr Keith also wrote ten books, including Sixgun Cartridges and Loads in 1936 and his autobiography, Hell, I was there! (1979).

A letter written by Mr Keith in which he states his preference for the Westley Richards hand detachable lock

In the journal Gun he wrote accounts of his 1957 African safari, later published as Safari (1968). He is shown with a nine feet two inch lion which he shot with his .476 Westley Richards double rifle in those pages, as part of a safari he made under the auspices of White Hunters Ltd, during which he achieved ‘The Big Five’, an elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino. He described his hunt with vivid detail: “the morning of the 13th (my wife always says the 13th is a lucky day), we again ran the lower bait. This was just a month after I had started working for lion. We left the jeep a mile and a half away Galu and our local tracker went with John [Lawrence, his friend and professional hunter companion] and me. I had the .476 loaded with 520 grain soft nose and John had soft nose in his .416 [Rigby]. This time, when we slipped up under our thorn trees, the place was alive with lions. It was still too dark to see the sights on my .476 Westley Richards, but light comes fast there under the equator and every minute it became lighter.” 

Elmer Keith with his Westley Richards .476 and a rhino he shot on his 1957 safari

“I would not have a double rifle made today as quality and workmanship has suffered greatly these past years and price are over 5000 for a new Royal H&H. I prefer the old hand detach lock Westley Richards but they are no longer made. Better to get an earlier made one if possible”

As the tension mounted, he lined up the lion and it looked towards him: “When I saw his big maned head, I knew this was it. I centered my sights just right for his heart and squeezed the trigger. With the crash of the heavy rifle and the big flash of flame in front of the muzzle all pandemonium broke loose.” The lion ran into the bush apparently unscathed, but they tracked it for a short time before they found it dead. The lion was a magnificent specimen and weighed over 500 pounds. “The .520 grain soft nose .476 had torn away the whole top and one side of the heart and lay, perfectly expanded, under the skin on the off side. John said: “Now you can see why I won’t let a client shoot a lion with a small rifle. When I see one of these big boys hit, I like to figure that he’s hit for keeps!”

The Explora Blog is the world’s premier online journal for field sports enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, conservationists and admirers of bespoke gunmaking, fine leather goods and timeless safari clothes. Each month Westley Richards publishes up to 8 blog posts on a range of topics with an avid readership totalling 500,000+ page views per year.

Blog post topics include: Finished custom rifles and bespoke guns leaving the Westley Richards factory; examples of heritage firearms with unique designs and celebrated owners like James Sutherland and Frederick Courtenay Selous; the latest from the company pre-owned guns and rifles collection; interviews with the makers from the gun and leather factory; new season safari wear and country clothing; recent additions to our luxury travel bags and sporting leather goodsrange; time well spent out in the field; latest news in the sporting world; and key international conservation stories.

1 Comments

  • Per Holmseth on May 18, 2024 at 4:06 pm

    One of the many good writers that knew heavy bullets on different levels than many others combined. He would have liked that there is so much better bullets today . And his double rifle use is well known and many fine ones he owned and used very much of .

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