A remarkable era and career in NRA Publications has drawn to a close. One of the finest men to ever have an NRA employee number has moved on to a well-earned retirement. I’m referring to my dear friend and longtime boss, John R. Zent. Until April, he had served as editorial director of NRA Publications since 2004.
You’ve been able to find his byline in NRA magazines since 1982. At that point in time, magazines were still printed using hot type, and he has seen us well and truly into the digital age. He has led incredible growth within NRA Publications, including American Rifleman, American Hunter, America’s 1st Freedom and Shooting Illustrated, our Official Journals, but also Shooting Sports USA (which probably gave him flashbacks to his days with a ruler measuring picas for American Marksman, more on that later), “American Rifleman Television,” the websites for all of our magazines, as well as NRAfamily.org and our latest website launched just last year, NRAwomen.com.
John started out as an assistant editor after doing some freelance writing and several other jobs, which apparently involved having milk trucks catch fire, before making his way from Gettysburg College to NRA Publications. There he began a career as an NRA staff editor. For his early tenure, he didn’t even rank his own office—merely a desk and an IBM typewriter in the hallway—and the then-editor of American Rifleman didn’t actually speak to John for the first couple of months, but he wasn’t dissuaded.
In addition to working on American Rifleman, he was tasked with the monthly American Marksman, which was dedicated solely to competitive shooting, making sure match reports and a list of upcoming shooting events were as perfect as they could be made. John became an associate editor, traveling to international matches and other shooting events all over the country.
Little did he know that his NRA career would eventually take him across the world, from the Pan-American Games to the hunting fields of Alaska and Africa, with stops at gun factories and boardrooms along the way. And there were a lot of NRA Annual Meetings over the course of his nearly 39-year career. He went to work every day always thinking of those for whom he worked: NRA members.
John joined American Hunter in 1987, starting out at the bottom but eventually working his way up to editor-in-chief. A man truly knowledgeable about guns, John’s first love has been hunting. During his time at American Hunter, he personified what a hunter should be—and he listened to them and spoke out for them.
In the more than 30 years that I worked with him, I never once heard John raise his voice. He is a gentleman, through and through, and he treated everyone from a company CEO to an NRA annual member with dignity and respect. He defined professionalism and leadership for the editorial staff.
He was the best writer on the floor. And when John would take time from his managerial duties to pen stories for these pages, I knew those words would be the best possible, because, as a writer, John was and is a craftsman. He took his work seriously, doing research when he had to, and then blending what he had learned into simply excellent prose. As much as I will miss him, his voice is not lost to the members of NRA—John has agreed to write several important articles for us going forward.
John Zent has been many things to NRA over the years: writer, editor, manager, mentor and more, and he has cast a tall shadow. He made those under him better employees and better editors. I know, because I am one of them.