Gary Olen, who founded The Sportsman's Guide in his basement in 1970, sent out the first Sportsman's Guide catalog at the beginning of the 1977 hunting season. The catalog featured the company's first product, a trophy jacket patch customized with the hunter's success the previous season, which became a popular item. The company sent the 52-page catalog out to 347,000 potential customers.
The catalogs led to increased mail-order sales for the company, which went up 44 percent from 1980 to 1984. The Sportsman's Guide sent out 6 million catalogs in 1985 and 9 million of the 88-page catalog in 1986, which coincided with another sales increase. The 1986 catalog also included order incentives and a single-rate shipping fee, causing customers to place larger orders.
In 1987, the company sent out a catalog for the spring and summer seasons in an attempt to generate revenue year-round. However, the attempt was unsuccessful, as the company lost money and had to liquidate its unsold inventory. Business turned around in the early 1990s, and by 1995, The Sportsman's Guide launched 10 specialty catalogs.
In 1997, The Sportsman's Guide sent out over 61 million catalogs. The catalogs also became part of pop culture, as Jay Leno occasionally read segments from them on his late night show. The company reduced its catalog output in 2000 as it transitioned to e-commerce.