When American Survival Guide magazine was resurrected from its ashes four years ago the publishers could have only hoped it would become as popular and widely read as it is today.
One of their objectives was to produce a “new” magazine that feeds the core interests of its readers, whatever the personal goal of survival preparedness. However, it may be surprising to some that its roots were firmly planted 37 years ago by an eccentric motorsports enthusiast who wore cowboy boots and white suits and kept a pet cougar in his office.
A real live cougar. In his office.
To promote his motorcycle parts supply house, AEE Choppers, Tom McMullen started a magazine for motorcycles in 1969 called Street Chopper, which found a successful niche with enough toehold start a publishing empire with his wife. In 1974 they were divorced, and in the settlement she got the parts company and he got the publishing company.
His business practices are the stuff of legend, like the cougar, and a host of titles poured onto the newsstand in the late 1970s.
One such magazine was Shooter’s Journal in 1978. It was, according to its tagline, “the complete shooter’s publication.” Produced on a shoestring budget by like-minded editors and writers, they filled the pages of Shooter’s Journal with gun reviews, gear guides and advertising. But the market was crowded and they experimented by changing its title.
In January 1985, the tagline “Self-Defense, Self-Reliance, and Freedom” was added under the title American Survival Guide, clearly showing not only the major themes and focus of the magazine, but the patriotic direction as well. This tagline, however, lasted only 10 months, then it was dropped from the cover on the October 1985 issue.
In March 1986, the tagline “The Magazine For Safer Living” was added under the title as a rather vague replacement of the previous patriotic assertions. This lasted for three years until the April 1989 issue, when “The Magazine for Self Reliance” replaced it on the May 1989 cover, somewhat returning it to its former, although more polished and reserved, stance.
In the mid-1980s McMullen’s publishing company was having financial troubles and Vice President Ken Yee stepped up to become a partial owner. New publications came and went, some waxed and waned in popularity, but Survival Guide soldiered on. In 1994, Ken Yee died, followed by Tom McMullen in a plane crash one year later. Exactly, to the day.
That same year, 1995, McMullen-Yee merged with Argus Publishing to become McMullen-Argus. And through the turmoil of the mid-90s, American Survival Guide carried on, informing readers about self-sufficiency and independence.
Publishing giant Primedia purchased McMullen-Argus in 2000 and the last issue of American Survival Guide was published September 2000, replaced by Self Reliance Journal. The American Survival Guide logo would appear in the upper left cover of the new magazine, but it wasn’t enough to bolster confidence in the readers. Sales plummeted. May 2001 was the last issue of Self Reliance Journal and subscribers instead found issues of Backwoods Home Magazine in their mailboxes that June.
Fast-forward 10 years, and during that time the dormant ASG brand name had been collecting dust in the archives of a company what would eventually be named Engaged Enthusiast Media, a subsidiary of Beckett Media.
Fueled by an unstable economy and renewed unrest in the Middle East, polarizing political beliefs in the U.S., and the growing popularity of the zombie fad, a resurgence of self-reliance and personal independence was swelling in the United States again and the publishers felt it was a perfect time to bring back a magazine that brought so much entertainment and education to survivalists, hunters, backwoodsmen and hikers/campers alike.
American Survival Guide, Volume 1, Issue 1 was born.
And that’s the story; well, most of it. In four short years, ASG has gone from a quarterly to six times a year, then nine, then to a monthly publication with specials. This year, 2015, will be the first time in 15 years it will see the newsstand all 12 months.
When you look at the pages before you, don’t think of it as just a new magazine. It survives.
1969 Street Chopper
Tom McMullen started a magazine for motorcycles in 1969 called Street Chopper. It promoted AEE Choppers with features, race results, and a few articles sprinkled in to support the sales of new products. The new magazine found a successful niche with enough toehold to start his publishing empire.
1978 Shooter’s Journal
Gun reviews, gear guides and advertising. It was very popular on the newsstand but was almost in constant flux throughout the next decade, giving the appearance of being unsettled and desperately trying to carve out a position in a well-populated market of gun magazines. Shooter’s Journal played on the interests of gun owners, staunch patriots, rugged outdoorsmen and Second Amendment supporters at a time when the Middle East was rising to prominence and the Cold War was at its chilliest.
1981 Shooter’s Survival Guide
The title was modified to Shooter’s Journal and Survival Guide in 1981 and a slight change of focus concentrated more on survival articles and camping stories and less on guns (though guns played the central theme for all covers at the time and would for the next 10 years). By the summer of that same year the title was yet again changed, this time to Shooter’s Survival Guide.
1982 Survival Guide
In February 1982 “Shooter” was dropped from the title, and it became, simply, Survival Guide. There it stayed for the next three years with Dave Epperson as the editorial director and Bob Clark as assistant editor (there was no official editor until Payton Miller became the executive editor in October 1985).
1985 American Survival Guide
For the first issue of its eighth year in print, January 1985, “American” was added to the title; it had finally settled, and the publishers wouldn’t make any changes to the title for the next 15 years. American Survival Guide was emblazoned at the top of over 180 covers.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2015 print issue of American Survival Guide.