February 16, 2021
Venola was born in Glendale, California, in 1958. His father Erik Venola was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, and a soldier stationed in Hawaii who later became a successful service-rifle competitor.
Richard Venola enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1976 and traveled the world extensively while documenting the firearms he encountered. His early assignments included Marine Security Guard (MSG) duty at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph Dubs was assassinated on February 14, 1979, which had a profound effect on the Venola. Then-Sgt. Venola separated from active duty in August 1979 and became a Reservist to attend college at the University of Montana in Missoula to pursue a degree in Journalism. Then the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, which pulled on his desire to return and report on combat from the perspective of Mujahideen fighters. This experience can be read in the article, “When They Were Friends,” which originally appeared in the 2010 edition of Guns & Ammo’s “Combat Arms” magazine.
Venola sold his Harley-Davidson Shovelhead motorcycle and used the cash to make his way to Europe, Israel and Egypt before entering Pakistan in 1981. At the border, he was arrested for attempting to enter Afghanistan and spent one week in jail. He was then released and hiked 300 miles solo across Afghanistan while befriending locals and imbedding himself as a journalist within Mujahideen units. There, he photographed and documented Soviet attacks and battlefield combat from October to November 1981. After 30 days, he journeyed back to Pakistan where he was arrested at the border again and jailed for another week. Sharing his photos and observations with the U.S. government at the embassy earned him a ticket back to Montana where he completed his education.
Venola graduated in 1983, and subsequently completed Officer Candidate School (OCS) and The Basic School (TBS) at Quantico, Virginia. On receipt of a commission in 1984, he commanded units at Camp Fuji, Japan, and Diego Garcia, and trained with elements of the French Foreign Legion. He was redeployed to Kuwait in 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm before retiring as a captain in 1996.
Venola began free-lancing as a gunwriter until he accepted a position as associate editor of RifleShooter magazine in 2004. Privately, he was invited to join The Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles, No. 1071, and in 2007 was promoted to become Guns & Ammo’s 12th editor, a position he held through 2009. Missing his family, he returned to live and write articles in Arizona.
In 2012, Venola was arrested for second-degree murder by the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office for shooting James Patrick O’Neill, 39, at his home in Golden Valley, Arizona. Claiming self-defense, two trials produced deadlocked juries that were split in favor of acquittal. He returned to free-lance writing and exploring the desert until his death. — Eric R. Poole
He will be missed.
Nye County. That part of Nevada seems appropriate for Richard somehow because if he loved anything more than the high desert, I don’t know what it could be.
The term “one of a kind” may be an overworked cliché, but it’s a description that fits perfectly when talking about Richard. He was a U.S. Marine, editor, gunwriter, adventurer, hellraiser and all-around bon vivant with amazingly eclectic tastes and interests. But in the final analysis, if you could look up “gun guy” in the dictionary, you’d more than likely see his picture.
He possessed a remarkable combination of historical background, intellectual curiosity, an encyclopedic grasp of firearms, plus a devil-may-care attitude which made everybody want to hang out with him. Rich was interested in a variety of subjects, and if there was anything you were at all well-versed in, he was your best conversational buddy — instantly.
I worked with and for Richard for several years as we labored to put out Guns & Ammo and its Annual publications. He had strong opinions about firearms, but why would you want to follow a gunwriter who didn’t? Not surprisingly, he was a tireless champion of calibers and firearms that struck his fancy; commercial appeal and popularity often ran a distant second to his eclectic tastes.
He delighted in straying off the beaten path of conventional wisdom. Example: He was firmly convinced that the .276 Pedersen should’ve been the service cartridge over the .30-’06 Springfield.
In a 2011 article for “Shooting Times,” he made his case, referring to the star-crossed .276 as an ’06 alternate: “… which would even today be as close to perfect for men and deer as any casing ever devised. Also, had we gone with the perfect Pedersen,” he continued in a not-so veiled dig at the 5.56 NATO, “we still might be using it instead of that ridiculous mouse cartridge with which we've been saddled for four decades.”
In the never-ending battle between AK and AR enthusiasts, he was an unabashed champion of the Kalashnikov, and had the bona fides to cement his opinion. His Marine background obviously gave him a practical leg up on military firearms, but he was no slouch when it came to the sporting end of things.
Besides our efforts at print journalism, we occasionally donned white lab coats for G&A’s “Torture Test” videos, in which we would submit various samples of current shooting hardware to various indignities. My job was pretty much to play straight man to Richard and load magazines. No question, he was the center of attention! Lunch breaks generally revolved around heading to a Mexican restaurant near the old Petersen Ranch where, along with Garry James and a rotating array of cameramen, we’d expense a lengthy feed before heading back to work.
We both shared a fascination with herpetology and no matter what we were doing in later years, he would always send me pictures and hair-raising details about exotic snakes — generally lethal ones — that he encountered on his adventures in Africa and the American Southwest.
To the end of his life, Richard was a member of a gun club not far from his birthplace of Glendale, California. Nils Grevillius — also a member—shot with him there for many years and had this to say:
“As his father Erick Venola was an esteemed foundational member, it’s as though Richard was raised in our Club. He was equally skilled at skeet, trap, rimfire and high-power rifle competition. There was an annual event we laughingly described as the “White Trash Carbine Match,” with veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam taking shooting positions with younger vets and civilians of various stripe: firemen, tradesmen, teachers, lawyers, plus many retired and active law enforcement. Besides the actual shooting, there was a lot of lore-swapping and ammo sharing, plus sighting in weapons of every imaginable manufacture domestic and foreign. Venola was ever knowledgeable and well versed in every type and caliber. Later around the campfire, more lore was passed, and our friend Richard was always ready with a sea story.”
We are all going to miss those sea stories. — Payton Miller
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