WDFW volunteer honored as Mentor of the Year
Washington has a long heritage of fishing and hunting, and one man has done a lot of work to ensure that tradition continues. Rich Mann is a former Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Police officer, a current volunteer with the Department, a long-time (30 years!) member of the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and now the NWTF’s 2022 Mentor of the Year!
The prestigious award was given to Mann at a convention in Nashville recently. He said he “got a lump in his throat” when he found out he was being honored because it’s such a big deal -and then he had to make some changes to his schedule.
“I wasn’t planning to go to the [NWTF] National Convention this year — I was planning to go hunting in Florida that week!” Mann said. In the end, he managed to attend the Convention and still make his hunting trip; a testament to his dedication to both hunting and mentoring.
Mann’s mentoring has been instrumental in recruiting new hunters, retaining current hunters, and reactivating former hunters in Washington. Each spring and fall turkey season, he takes new hunters out in the field one-on-one.
“I have about five to seven students lined up each season,” Mann said.
He estimates he’s mentored over 100 people in the approximately 12 years he’s been teaching people to hunt. In addition to the individual hunts, Mann teams up with WDFW, First Hunt Foundation, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, and other groups host mentored bird and deer hunts each season in northeast Washington, where up to 30 new hunters at a time are coached on hunting skills and ethics.
“Before he retired as the Region 3 Enforcement Captain, Rich Mann worked with the Hunter Education division at WDFW to set up the first multi-day turkey camps,” said Aaron Garcia, Hunter Education and volunteer coordinator for WDFW’s regions 2 and 3. “His participation was vital to the success of that camp. He continues to be a key person for all turkey camps, pheasant clinics, and deer camps. Without Rich and his tireless efforts, the WDFW’s mentored hunting program would not be possible.”
“This award couldn’t go to a more fitting person, and we’re extremely happy for Rich,” said David Whipple, Hunter Education and R3 Section Manager, “Rich has been such an important part of WDFW’s efforts to recruit, retain, and reactivate hunters in Washington. We look forward to working with Rich and NWTF into the future to implement WDFW’s Hunting and Angling Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation (R3) Plan.”
Mann also does a variety of other volunteer work, including leading tours and talking to members of the public about wildlife feeding at the WDFW Oak Creek Wildlife Area elk feeding station near Selah.
Mann grew up in Washington, fishing and camping as a young child, and took up hunting in high school. He attended Washington State University. He first hunted turkeys in 1990 but says,
“At that time there was no one to ask, no one knew what they were doing.”
Partnering with other would-be turkey hunters, they learned the ropes of pursuing these big birds and soon he was sharing that information with co-workers and helping their children hunt. Once Mann retired, he was able to spend more time mentoring. His goal, he says, is to leave would-be hunters with confidence in their new skills to hunt on their own. People are willing to come a long way to learn from him.
“Most of them come from Western Washington, so we meet at Cle Elum at 4 a.m.,” said Mann.
Eastern Washington has the most plentiful turkey habitat and turkey populations in the state, so it is a destination for many hunters. It’s also where Mann bases the majority of his mentored turkey hunts. He long ago made friends with property owners in the area who let him and his mentees hunt their land.
“That’s kind of my hunting honey hole now, if you will,” he said. “It’s been a great partnership with these eastern Washington landowners to bring youth out to hunt their properties.”
The property owners benefit too. Mann says participating landowners love to watch kids get excited about getting their first bird, and it reduces the number of turkeys on their property that can potentially cause damage.
Mann says he still hears from many of the young people he taught to hunt; some send him photos of how they cooked the turkeys harvested in the seasons after their mentored hunt. Others see him comment on hunting forums and reach out just to say hi.
“I recently got an email from a kid I took hunting two or three years ago congratulating me on this award,” he said.
Mann downplays the recognition though. Anyone who knows him knows he would be mentoring even if no one noticed. That’s because he says it’s that first call at sunup on the first day of the season that gets people hooked -and keeps him coming back each season.
“When that bird gobbles, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.”