“Most hunts are over in a hurry. It is difficult to tell whether or not non-hunters understand that. In this world of marvelous photography and television camera tricks that stretch time and dovetail objects and circumstances that never come close together in reality, the near-explosive end of most hunting experiences, dealing with real animals and birds in real situations, must be hard for non-hunters to comprehend. …
That may be the problem of the hunting people in this day and this time. There is no way to communicate to a non-hunter the enormous importance of hunting. There is no way to tell the casual inquirer that hunters perhaps hunt because they are trying to find out if that person at the climax is the real person they are. It seems a shame we haven't another language, one that works by plugging into those ancient nerve ends directly, activating one of, certainly, the two or three best feelings there are. Television and the movie cameras at best deal only with the second-best.
A writer, if he's good, can get much closer to the inside. This magazine is going to provide you with good writers.” —Ken Warner, Editor, 1973-78
These words ring as true today as they did at the time of their original publication in the inaugural issue of American Huntermagazine in October 1973. Written by the publication’s first editor, Ken Warner, this “From Behind the Desk” letter to readers promised the same then as we do now: to deliver to you something television and film simply cannot; the realities of field and firearms, vividly painted in the written voice of some of the world’s most knowledgeable—and entertaining—hunters, shooters and outdoorsmen. A publication for hunters, by hunters. That was, and still remains, our promise.
While the October 1973 issue was the first time this magazine was published in its entirety, NRA members got their first glimpse of American Hunter inside the July issue of American Rifleman that same year, a 16-page preview of what was to come. Complete with feature stories on Western mule deer, high-rising pheasants and “Old-Fashioned Hunting,” this sampling ran alongside a prepaid mailer offering the new monthly magazine to interested members as an addition to their delivery of American Rifleman, for the small subscription fee of $5 per year, 42 cents per issue.
It was assuredly a gamble. At a time when American Rifleman was reaching more than 1 million households across the country as a member benefit, catering to a wide range of gun owners including marksmen, military, collectors, hunters and competitors, the notion of creating a new magazine with a sole focus on hunting, fieldcraft and hunting firearms stirred concerns amongst the NRA upper ranks regarding both cost and benefit. Would Second Amendment supporters, with such a broad scope of interests, take to such a niche magazine? Needing 50,000 subscribers to the new publication to make it economically feasible, the NRA put together a team of editors, writers, graphic designers and photographers, and set to the task of creating the preview and subsequent early issues.
The feedback was more than we could have hoped for. More than 100,000 NRA members subscribed that first year, signaling in a substantial way that we had filled a void left by the available magazines at the time. In American Hunter, the NRA created the world’s first pure-hunting magazine.
Within a few years, it was obvious that the gamble had paid off. In 1978, as membership continued to swell, the NRA cemented American Hunter magazine as an NRA Official Journal, allowing members the choice of receiving American Rifleman or American Hunter every month as part of their Association benefits. By 1982, NRA was delivering more than 1 million monthly copies of American Hunter to members. And the proof-of-concept remains undeniable today; next to time at the range, hunting is the primary way gun-owning Americans use their firearms.
As we celebrate 150 years of this great Association and 48 years of American Hunter magazine, it’s imperative to remember where we’ve come from in order to plan for what’s ahead. In 1982, the peak of hunting participation in the U.S., it is reported 17 million hunters took to the field. Now, almost 50 years later, hunter participation numbers are estimated at a comparatively dismal 11 million men and women. Those numbers are beyond troubling. That’s why we here at AH, along with the millions of hunters across the country, know how important it is to continue efforts to re-grow our ranks. It’s why we put so much focus on the next generation of hunters; why we constantly try, through our “Join the Hunt” and the industry-wide R3 (Recruit, Retain, Reactivate) initiative, to encourage you, the dedicated and knowledgeable, to instill this passion in those around you, and to seek out those for whom the blessings of the hunt may be beyond easy reach.
It is thanks to the 5 million members of the NRA that this magazine remains strong. As an Official Journal, it is often touted as one of the most appreciated and important benefits of NRA membership. We remain as dedicated today to your NRA magazine as we were 48 years ago. We will continue to strive to provide you, the American hunter so devoted to your pursuits, with valuable instruction, intelligent insight, gripping storytelling and an overwhelming sense of pride in the ancient tribe of which we are all members—the tribe of hunters.