HGR 082 - Guns of the Gunwriters

Hello and welcome to Handgun Radio! I’m your host Ryan Michad from the wilds of Central Maine, and this is your home for all the news, information and discussion in the handgunning world. This week, I’m joined by Matt to discuss a little bit of history and the guns that were favored by a few of the earliest & most famous gunwriters!

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Week in Review:

-Got to spend some time with Ian from Forgotten Weapons and InRange TV while he was up here doing some work at the James D. Julia Auction House this past week. He was doing videos on the upcoming auction featuring a lot of cool guns as well as some of the guns from the Elmer Keith collection. I even got to hold a Colt SAA cylinder that Keith blew up back in the 1920’s! That was so cool! Thanks to Ian for meeting up with me and be sure to keep an eye out over at the Forgotten Weapons and InRange TV pages for some great videos coming up!

  • If you haven’t heard, I am guest hosting Gun Guy Radio for the next few months and the first one posted this past Sunday! I interviewed Karl from InRange TV about the WWII Weapons of the Eastern Front. I think it came out really great and I look forward to more! Be sure to check it out!!!
  • Matt will you be at NRA Show?

Matt: I will, should be saturday and sunday. Going to spend some time at Dillon booth among others. I need a new or spare progressive press. My powder drop tube broke and have been waiting for 6 weeks for new one from rcbs.

Main Topic: Guns of the Gunwriters

This topic came to mind when I was visiting Ian from Forgotten Weapons. After seeing the cylinder that Elmer Keith blew up, I mentioned it to some gun guys I know and they weren’t terribly familiar with Elmer Keith. I think to know where your hobby/profession is going, you definitely need to know where you’ve been, so I decided to do a topic discussing three of the most well-known gunwriters that influenced the industry early on. First, I’d like to give credit to Sheriff Jim Wilson for an article he penned “Guns of the Three Amigos”, as much of the information we will discuss I learned from that article. We will talk about Elmer Keith, Bill Jordan, and Skeeter Skelton. They each played a significant role in shaping the industry as well as gunwriting as we know it today.

Elmer Keith

Born March 8th, 1899, Elmer Keith was really one of the first “gunwriters”. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Elmer was a ranch hand and big game hunting guide, while simultaneously experimenting with handguns and starting to write about them. His first work appeared in American Rifleman in 1924. He served as a small arms inspector at a Utah arsenal and then in the 1950’s he began to devote his full attention to writing. His trademark hat and cigar were never far away.

Elmer had a large hand in the development of the.44 Magnum, which was released  commercially in 1956. Keith had earlier determined that the thinner chamber walls of the .45 Colt would not comfortably withstand the pressures generated by his own heavy loads. He therefore started experimenting with the .44 Special revolver, and used the same formula of pushing heavy bullets at high velocities that he had used for the .357 Magnum. The resulting ".44 Special Magnum" was a formidable cartridge for handgun hunting, firing a 250 grain bullet at 1,200 ft/s (370 m/s).

Keith encouraged Smith & Wesson and Remington to produce a commercial version of this new high pressure loading, and revolvers chambered for it. While S&W produced the first prototype revolver chambered in .44 Magnum, the famous Model 29, Sturm, Ruger actually beat S&W to market by several months in 1956 with a .44 Magnum version of the single action Blackhawk revolver. In fact Remington delivered a more powerful cartridge than Keith asked for, firing a 240 grain bullet at 1,500 ft/s (460 m/s), and it remained the most powerful production handgun cartridge until the commercial introduction of the .454 Casull (based on the .45 Colt). The .44 Magnum is still far more popular, as the recoil of .454 Casull rounds is considered excessive by most shooters, and revolvers in .454 Casull were rare and expensive until the introduction of .454 Casull models by Sturm, Ruger and Taurus in the late 1990s.

Keith was also responsible for a number of bullet designs still popular today, and collectively called "Keith style" bullets. These bullets were based on the semiwadcutter design, but using a wider than normal front surface, and convex sides. These changes increased the volume of the bullet outside the case, thus allowing more room inside the case, needed for large loads of slower burning powders (see internal ballistics). These bullets remain popular for both target shooting and hunting. When shooting paper targets, they cut a relatively clean hole in the target, yet provide more case volume and a better ballistic coefficient than a flat front wadcutter. When used for hunting, the heavy bullets provide excellent penetration; they are often used on dangerous game, for which more reliable penetration than is possible with expanding hollow point or soft point bullets is required.

Originally Keith specified a meplat that was 65% of the bullet caliber, but later increased it to a 70% meplat. The other distinguishing characteristics of a "Keith-style" SWC are a double radius ogive, beveled crimp groove, three equal width driving bands, wide square bottomed grease groove, and a plain base with sharp corners. The wide forward driving band helps keep the bullet aligned as it jumps across the cylinder gap. Because of the three wide equal width driving bands, the total bearing surface is half the length of the bullet. The relatively large bearing surface helps the Keith-style SWC to be an inherently accurate bullet, and minimizes leading from gas blow-by. The wide square bottom grease groove holds ample lubricant.

Bill Jordan

Born in Louisiana in 1911, Bill Jordan began his career as a U.S. Border Patrol agent in West Texas. Bill became quite proficient with fast draw and the need for fast, accurate shooting in law enforcement situations. Jordan got a combat commission in the Marine Corps and served in the South Pacific in WWII, clearing out enemy pillboxes and caves. This gave Jordan even more experience and cemented the importance of being able to shoot fast and accurately. After Korea, he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps as a Colonel.

Returning to his Border Patrol duties, Jordan began doing a shooting exhibition on the side that he took around the United States. He helped train law enforcement officers, and gained a great deal of knowledge on the subject. In 1954, the President of Smith & Wesson approached Jordan and asked for his thoughts on what the perfect revolver for a law enforcement officer might be. Jordan opined that the revolver should be a medium sized frame, as the larger N frame revolvers could be a bit heavy for all day carry. He also said it should be chambered for the .357 Magnum cartridge and should have adjustable sights so it could be zeroed for whatever load the officer decided to carry. This advice led to the production of the Smith and Wesson Model 19 revolver, probably one of the most popular law enforcement revolvers of the second half of the 20th century.

Jordan is credited with developing the 'Jordan' or 'Border Patrol' style of holster. The Jordan rig is rigid and unmoving, always holding the gunbutt in precisely the same relationship to the gun hand. The revolver’s trigger guard is completely exposed, and the gun is held away from the back portion of the holster by a plug of leather, allowing the trigger finger to enter the guard as the draw is commenced. He also collaborated with Walter Roper in the design of wooden grips intended for heavy-calibre double action revolvers, which are now made by Herrett's Stocks as the "Jordan Trooper".

In the 1960’s, Jordan retired from the Border Patrol and began writing for the gun magazines, becoming the editor of Shooting Times in 1982. He passed away in 1997.

Skeeter Skelton

Skeeter Skelton was born in Texas on May 1st, 1928. Skeeter wore many hats during his long career, including law enforcement in Amarillo, Texas, the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs Agent and a Texas Sheriff as well as serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. His writing career started in September 1959, and he retired from the D.E.A. in 1974 and began to focus full time on his writing.

Skelton is known for his love of the .44 Special cartridge and is often credited with its resurgence in the handgunning marketplace. Skeeter liked the .44 Magnum cartridge for certain applications such as hunting, but felt it was too much for law enforcement or self defense. As Sheriff Jim Wilson notes, Skelton felt that the .44 Special was as close as it came to a good all-around self defense cartridge, and encouraged people to stick with middle-of-the-road loads for the .44 Special, leaving the more powerful stuff for the .44 Magnum. Wilson also notes that a popular handload is the “Skeeter Skelton Load” of 7.5 grains of Unique under a 250-grain Semi-Wadcutter in .44 Special.

Skelton also had a hand in helping Ruger redesign their Security-Six revolver to make it more appealing to law enforcement, suggesting a slight change in grip shape and a heavier barrel. Wilson also notes that Skelton had a specific design for grips for the revolver. He preferred grips to be very thin so he could get a hard grip on the gun for double-action firing. Skelton joined forces with Bear Hug Grips and the grips were marketed as the “Skeeter Skelton Grips”.

Skelton wrote for many gun magazines, but the longest association was with Shooting Times, for whom he started writing in 1966. Skelton passed away in January of 1988.

Check out darkcanyon.net. A page started by a sass shooter dedicated to these guys and others. You can read many of their articles there. Great reading

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Until next week, have fun and SAFE SHOOTING!!!!