Celebrating Outdoor Life’s 125th Anniversary

OUTDOOR LIFE turns 125 this year. To celebrate, we’ve put together this ambitious digital edition that combines some of the most iconic stories and images from our archive with modern in-depth reporting and feature stories that look to the future of outdoor sports and conservation in America. 

But on any notable birthday, it’s worth reflecting before looking forward. When J.A. McGuire founded this magazine, in 1898, Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were fighting the Spanish in Cuba. Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii were all still territories. Bicycling was the hot new outdoor trend (as you can see on our original cover). The .30/06 Springfield was yet to be developed, and magazines printed in color wouldn’t become mainstream for a few more decades. 

The inaugural cover of Outdoor Life, published 125 years ago in January 1898.

In other words, times were different. But in his very first editor’s letter, McGuire outlined a mission and attitude that are still the heartbeat of Outdoor Life today: 

“For the publication of what we intend shall be a perfect sportsmen’s magazine in every sense of the term there is surely no apology necessary and if there was we have none to offer, preferring to let the merits of our publication justify its existence.…

“We propose to represent and reflect the interests of every devotee of outdoor life and its attendant sports and recreations as well as of those tradesmen who cater to and supply their demands, not only in our own unequalled local territory, but throughout the length and breadth of the great West.” 

The archival stories we’re republishing in this issue capture McGuire’s sentiments completely. We’ve published several stories by and about Theodore Roosevelt, but the one we chose for this issue is by McGuire himself, written after the two met in 1901. From there we included stories by or about other icons—Buffalo Bill, Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth, and Ernest Hemingway—and ended the collection with one of our own: Jack O’Connor.

Looking forward now, you’ll find that OL is more similar to its past than you might have guessed. We remain unapologetic—perhaps you’ve read stories by our shooting editor (“Two Rifles for the Ages, Chambered in .35 Whelen”)?—and our intention is still to deliver a perfect sportsmen’s magazine, albeit a digital one.

Many of our editors and writers live in the West, just as they did when the publication was originally founded, in Denver. However, we know that most of our readers today live in the East, Midwest, and South

And while the focus of this publication is and always will be hunting and fishing, we’ll continue to include stories about competitive shooting, backpacking, camping, paddling, and conservation on our website and in our digital editions. And of course, you’ll also see our deep dedication to rigorous testing and honest reviews of firearms and outdoor gear on all of our platforms.

If you read the lines from McGuire’s editor’s letter closely, you’ll see that today’s OL is even more in line with his original vision. 

So thank you for reading and subscribing after all these years. We know now, just as we knew then, that the future of this publication belongs to you—our readers and our friends. Here’s the last line of McGuire’s letter: “And now, having stated our aims, ends and ambitions, we place ourselves wholly in the hands of our friends.”

A version of this column originally ran in the 125th Anniversary Issue of Outdoor Life. Read more OL+ stories.

How to Read the 125th Anniversary Issue

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Alex Robinson Avatar

Alex Robinson

Editor-in-Chief

Alex Robinson is Outdoor Life’s editor-in-chief. He oversees an ace team of writers, photographers, and editors who are scattered across the continent and cover everything from backcountry sheep hunting to trail running. He lives in Grant, Minnesota, with his supportive wife, well-mannered duck dog, and feral toddler.

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