A Profound Influence on So Many Young Hunters
George Mann of Opelika passed from this life November 16, 2015, at the age of 74 after an extended illness. His personal legacy with his wife, children and grandchildren is exceptionally strong. But Mann also touched the lives of so many more people in a powerful way.
The Real Deal
Mann was the real deal, as genuine as could be. Watching him interact with his 3-year-old granddaughter Rosemary, you saw exactly the same man that he was in a hunting camp with the guys. Consistency was woven throughout the fabric of his life.
Mann’s many accomplishments as a hunter and fisherman are legendary. Take a look at Pope and Young at the bow kills of George P. Mann for a sampling. Despite his great accomplishments, he saw no need to impress anybody. The contest was between Mann and the animal.
The record-book whitetails Mann took with a bow came from relatively small Alabama tracts he personally managed. His management strategy involved setting aside 10 percent of the acreage, preferably near the center of the tract, as sanctuary. He managed the sanctuary as thick as he could get it, impenetrable to man or dog. He never went in there, and would not let his scent stream drift through the area if he could avoid it.
Obsessive and Unorthodox
In addition, Mann obsessively managed the human disturbance factor, not over-pressuring these small tracts. He carefully monitored wind direction, and would not hunt a place with the wind anything less than optimal. Consequently, these areas became whole sanctuaries in effect, a place for mature bucks to escape from the human disturbance surrounding them.
Mann obsessed over detail, but only the details that matter. This was as true in his personal life as it was in his outdoor life, if the two were even separable.
Often unorthodox in his approach, Mann hunted almost exclusively from the ground. Many of his record-book deer were killed sitting in a metal folding chair, wearing hip boots, hidden in a creek bed. He would wade the creek to a carefully pre-selected point, and spend hours sitting in the chair with only his head and shoulders visible over the creek bank.
He had thought the whole business through. The flowing water masked his steps and scent. The creek bank and heavy foliage along the edge provided a visual screen. The plant life along the creek banks was most attractive to deer because of the rich, fertile soil, ample moisture and sunlight penetration.
Mann practiced with his bow in a most unconventional way – one arrow a day, every day. Think about it; what else could more closely replicate actual hunting conditions? He shot heavy, steel-shaft arrows of his own manufacture. His bow was so powerful I could not begin to draw it the one time I tried.
Mann could draw it effortlessly.
His bow kills included every conceivable North American big-game animal: elk, moose, grizzly bear, polar bear, black bear and all. Mann hunted fair chase, free range, wild animals with no gun back-up. Many of his bow kills are displayed at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum, adjacent to the Montgomery Zoo. This world-class, Smithsonian-quality exhibit, built by George as an educational facility, was the location of a memorial service held on December 27.
Many in attendance at Mann’s memorial were other friends, people who he had allowed to share his world. Prominent in attendance were people he helped with getting their first deer.
Over 200 First Deer
Mann personally helped over 200 people take their first deer. Of all his many accomplishments, this was what he seemed to enjoy most.
Mann allowed me to bring first-time deer hunters to his place for years on end. All benefitted from his personal attention and were coached through the whole process of trying for a deer, most of them successfully. Many of Mann’s other friends were allowed the same privilege of bringing first-time hunters.
Bo Jackson was taught to hunt by Mann, and one of my cherished possessions is a 5-by-7 photograph of Mann and Jackson with Jackson’s first turkey. The photograph bears the handwritten inscription, "Bo and his 240-lb. hen call," along with the vital statistics of the turkey.
Most of Mann’s first-time hunters were not celebrities, but many hold the potential to be great, in no small part due to Mann’s influence. Three come to mind: Trey Banks, Clay Hamilton and Eddie Hackett.
Trey and his father Quincey were Mann’s guests for a hunt when Trey got his first deer. I remember Trey as a slightly-pudgy little kid with impeccable manners. This little kid has now grown to be a star athlete, who is attending veterinary medicine school in Georgia on an academic scholarship. Inspired by Mann, Quincey founded Mentoring Sportsmen of Alabama that has introduced hundreds of kids to hunting and fishing.
Clay Hamilton and his dad Sam came to Mann for Clay’s first deer. Sam was Regional Director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Atlanta. He later became head of the agency in Washington, promoted against his will. His friendship with Mann led him on several trips to Alaska with Mann as a fishing guide and host. I accompanied them once, a life-altering experience. Clay, following in his father’s footsteps, is a pilot for the Fish & Wildlife Service, stationed at the location where Sam began his career in the Wildlife Refuge System.
Eddie Hackett and his dad Ed were at Mann’s camp with me on a really horrible day to try to hunt. The wind changed directions all afternoon, and none of us saw a deer. Determined to get Eddie a deer, George took him out the next morning, which was cold as all get-out, on the edge of one of his sanctuaries.
Mann was a camouflage-clothing manufacturer’s worst nightmare. He wore blue jeans, a solid brown shirt and white tennis shoes. But he knew how to be still. Sitting on the ground with their backs against a tree, Eddie and Mann saw a big buck plodding through the thick cover, his head bobbing from the weight of his rack.
Mann doe-bleated with his voice, "BEHHHH."
The huge buck stopped, turned toward them and started their way. Mann reached over and moved Eddie’s rifle barrel in line with the deer’s approach and whispered, "Get ready."
The deer walked up to seven steps, and Eddie executed a perfect right-behind-the-shoulder shot.
He told me later, "Mr. Pugh, all I could see through my scope was brown hair."
Eddie’s and Ed’s individual thank-you notes were heartfelt. Ed’s note, in part, read, "Eddie grew so much that weekend." Eddie has pursued a career in geology.
Mann’s last first deer was with his youngest grandson, Patton Mann Brown, at age 7 on November 17, 2013.
Jackson, Banks, Hamilton, Hackett, Brown and so many others like them are now lifelong hunters. George Mann’s positive influence on all of them is a profound legacy.
Corky Pugh is theexecutive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.