When I think back on the history of Field & Stream, there are a few images—images that I’ve concocted, to be clear—that make me smile: Of a symphony of typewriters clicking throughout the cigarette-smoke-filled offices on Madison Avenue in New York City. Of the editors’ gobsmacked reactions when they first read Bob Brister’s masterpiece, “Elephants of Chirisa.” Of readers’ reactions when they first saw this cover arrive in their mailbox. And of an angler’s trusty fishing hat adorned with various F&S honor badges.

A Brief History of F&S Honor Badges

A vintage advertisement for a Field & Stream badge of honor
The F&S Badge of Honor program was first announced in the December 1937 issue. Field & Stream Archives

Readers of F&S who picked up the December 1937 copy would’ve noticed a unique advertisement inside that issued a compelling offer: “Win a Field & Stream Angler’s Badge of Honor.” However, if they kept reading, they would’ve soon realized that that “offer” was actually more of a challenge. Because to be awarded a Badge of Honor, you first had to catch a really big fish. 

The ad copy went on to say: To every sportsman who lands a fish as large or larger than those listed on the right will be presented a Field & Stream Badge of Honor, emblematic of this unusual achievement. It will be a splendid memento of a notable feat.… Go to it, fishermen. Whether or not your weakness is for trout, tarpon, bass, or any of the others, all you have to do is catch ’em big enough!

The note about those “listed on the right” referred to a list of 20 different species of gamefish—everything from Brook Trout to Wahoo—and next to each species was a minimum weight requirement required to earn your Badge of Honor. (A brown trout had to weigh at least 5 pounds, for example. A giant tuna? 400 pounds.) The badges themselves were small brass pins that featured the gamefish in the center; on the back of the pin, the fish’s weight was engraved. 

The Badge of Honor program relied on the honor system. The only documentation you had to provide to claim your prize was a mail-in affidavit that began with this statement: “I hereby swear that the following statements are the truth…”  

A Massive Success for Decades

While there is no record of the number of honor badges F&S readers applied for, it’s safe to say the program was an enormous success—because it continued for 40 years and was expanded to not only include new species of gamefish, but also big-game species like Whitetail, Moose, and Bighorn Sheep as well as “First Bird” honor badges for hunters who shot their first Dove, Grouse, Pheasant, Quail, Duck, or Goose. 

An assortment of Field & Stream honor badges on the cover of Field & Stream magazine
An assortment of F&S Honor Badges graced the cover of the March 1962 issue. Field & Stream Archives

Field & Stream finally ended the Badge of Honor program in 1977. But nearly 50 years later, there’s still a market for those vintage Honor Badges among collectors—with some of the rarer pins fetching prices upward of $200.

A Modern Classic Badge of Honor

A Field & Stream honor badge pinned to a denim jacket
The new limited-edition Honors Badge features a bass and a duck. Field & Stream

This is an exciting new era for Field & Stream. We’re returning to print with a brand new F&S Journal. (Become a member here!) We’ve launched a new line of F&S merch. (Treat yourself to a new hat, t-shirt, or hoodie here!) We’re hosting the first-ever F&S Music Fest later this fall. (Get your tickets here!) But that’s not all. The feather—or pin—in our hat to this relaunch of Field & Stream is a (very) limited-edition modern redesign of the F&S Honor Badge, exclusive only to early members of the 1871 Club. If, like me, you’re one of the lucky ones who scored one of these pins, I hope you wear it with pride—maybe even adorned on your trusty fishing hat.