A Brief History of Montana Outdoors

The first issue of Montana Outdoors, published in November 1970, featured a photo of a grizzly bear feeding on an elk carcass. There was nothing poetic about the image, just the hard facts of biology, life, and death. Such a straightforward approach was the hallmark of the magazine’s first editor. Bill Schneider grew up in South Dakota, where he’d received bachelor’s degrees in wildlife biology and journalism. After graduating from South Dakota State University, Schneider went to work in Glacier National Park, where he’d spent four previous summers working on the trail crew. On the way home he swung through Helena looking for a job right when the Montana Department of Fish and Game (as the agency was known then) was looking for an editor. He was 21 years old.

Old coversThe early issues of Montana Outdoors were as feisty as the young editor himself, a marathon runner of boundless energy who left the publication in 1978 to work on the director’s special staff and study the feasibility of starting a youth conservation magazine. Two years later, he left the department and co-founded Falcon Publishing, where he worked as publisher for 20 twenty years. In addition to publishing books, he launched a oungconservation magazine, originally called Falcon Magazine and later changed to WOW (Wild Outdoor World). In 2000, Falcon became an imprint of Globe-Pequot Press.

In those early days of Montana Outdoors, the magazine took a strong editorial stance in favor of issues such as wilderness preservation and against strip mining, water pollution, stream channelization, and suburban development. “Through material published in this magazine,” wrote Schneider in an early issue, “we hope to further fulfill our obligation…to fight for the wise use of Montana’s abundant natural resources.”

Though Montana Outdoors was born in 1970, its origins actually stretch back more than 50 years. The magazine’s grandfather was called Montana Wild Life, which was published for six years beginning in 1928. At the time, conservationists within and outside of state agencies in Montana and elsewhere were pushing to provide citizens with hard data about fish and wildlife populations and behavior that had been gathered by a new generation of fish and wildlife biologists. Montana’s quarterly magazine was “published to disseminate authoritative information regarding activities of the department,” as noted in the first issue. “Its purpose is to present the facts, secure in the knowledge that authentic statistics have an educational value appreciated by men who love the out-of-doors.”

Montana Wild Life ceased publication in 1933, due to budget cuts. The department had no magazine until 1951, when it started a quarterly publication called Sporting Montana, which changed its name the following year to Montana Wildlife and continued until 1970.

Meanwhile, beginning in 1966, the Montana Department of Fish and Game had begun issuing a monthly newsletter called Montana Outdoors, which then became the magazine by the same name in late 1970.

Replacing Schneider in 1978 was a lanky, well-read outdoorsman named Dave Books. Born in Wisconsin and previously editor of Western Wildland, a journal published by the Montana Forest and Conservation Experiment Station in Missoula, Books had earned degrees in forestry and ecology from the University of Minnesota (B.S.) and Yale University (M.S.)

A classic outdoors magazine editor, Books was both highly knowledgeable of his subject matter and an ardent hunter and angler who, in particular, held pointing dogs in high regard. Under Books, reflecting changes with the department itself, Montana Outdoors modified its tone, becoming quieter and less incendiary. Where Schneider promoted conservation by appealing to standards of right and wrong, Books believed in showing readers—through beautiful photographs and top-notch essays—what was at stake and would be lost by the commercial and industrial forces altering Montana’s streams, rivers, forests, and uplands.

Books’s first editorial, which he wrote on the upcoming upland bird season, set the magazine’s tone for the next 24 years: “As the new editor of Montana Outdoors, I suppose I might have used this space to discuss weightier matters than grouse and grouse hunting. Threats to wildlife habitat continue to accelerate, and no doubt they will occupy a good deal of my editorial attention as time goes on. But this is September, and if I seem preoccupied with frosty mornings, autumn colors, bird dogs, and the smell of Hoppe’s No. 9, bear with me a little longer. Grouse fever strikes but once a year.”

Readers did “bear with” Books a lot longer. Over the next two decades, Montana Outdoors became one of the most highly respected state conservation magazine in the country, and comments such as this one from an admiring reader in Washington State became commonplace: “How refreshing to see real ingenuity and imagination at work at a professional level. Well done, and thank you!”

When Books retired in late 2001, longtime readers wondered whether the magazine would retain the strong conservation ethic it had promoted since 1970. They were not to be disappointed. The new editor, Tom Dickson, arrived in Helena after spending 14 years as a communications manager for the Minnesota Department of National Resources, co-writing Fishing for Buffalo, and authoring dozens of articles in publications ranging from National Wildlife to Midwest Art. An experienced magazine writer, Dickson set out to promote conservation in a slightly different, more journalistic manner, while still advocating for the stewardship of Montana's fish, wildlife and parks.

The approach has paid off. Since 2003, Montana Outdoors has become one of the nation’s most honored state conservation magazines, garnering four first place magazine awards from the Association of Conservation Information, along with a dozen additional ACI awards for article writing and design. Meanwhile, subscriber numbers have increased 35 percent, as more and more readers turn to Montana Outdoors as their most trusted source for comprehensive information on the state's fish, wildlife, and park management and activities.

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