September 24, 2012
A young kid with goose-calling chops the size of Chesapeake Bay strolls into the 1984 World Championships. Sean Mann has been here before; he has placed in this calling competition before, but never like this.
For years, Mann had fiddled with goose calls, trying to make them sing just right. He thinks the revolutionary flute in his pocket could maybe win this contest if he has the guts to get it running in front of the best callers in the country.
"When I took the first prototype to the World Championship in '84, I was terrified," said Mann of the now famous Eastern Shoreman. "I pulled this huge call out of my pocket and the guys started laughing and making the obvious jokes. But I knew if I never used it, I would never know what might happen. So I jumped."
Mann and his Eastern Shoreman did not finish in the top five, the first time he had failed to accomplish such a feat in four years. But his disappointment quickly turned into opportunity when several competitors — some who laughed in his face earlier that day — wanted to buy his new invention. At first, he did not have much interest. In those days, most of the competitive callers spent $10, maybe $20 on a call. So Mann put a $100 price tag on his flute, figuring it would get the guys off his back. Only problem was they started pulling out their money.
"It turned out a lot of the guys who I had just competed against€¦wanted to buys calls from me right then and there," said Mann, whose goose calls have now won every world title — Canada, live goose, snow and speck. "A bunch of guys wanted calls, and I thought if I told them $100 they would leave me alone. One of the major call manufacturers offered me $2,000 for it."
Respecting the Bay
The Eastern Shoreman's place in waterfowling history would be affirmed the next two years as Mann won back-to-back World Championships and Mid-Atlantic Goose Calling contests. He was getting more and more orders for the call, trying to keep pace with the demand. It was time to fully commit.
Mann left his bank job to turn his passion for geese and call-making into big business. He became an outfitter too, spending falls in Alberta at the front of the migration, calling birds in so close clients hardly had to leave the blind to retrieve them.
"I think that a carpenter loves to build, and a painter loves to paint," Mann said. "Running a business is a necessary part of being able to do the things that you love your way, on a daily basis.
"I don't go on second-rate hunts or blow second-rate calls, so I don't take people on second-rate hunts or make second-rate calls."
And if you hunt with Mann, you better respect the resource. He is a big proponent of taking only what should be taken, something he credits to his upbringing and an "internship" with a local Maryland outfitter, R.L. "Bunky" Ewing Jr.
"Part of where we live, and where we are raising our kids, is that we hold outdoor resources near and dear to our hearts," Mann said. "We are not a bunch of face-painting, game-hating, law-breaking punks, who just want to pile 'em up, desecrate them, put it on film and say 'look at me!' That type of person is not welcome in Chesapeake Bay country. Never has been. Never will be."
The obsession with geese started at a young age for Mann. He grew up near the Chesapeake in his father's gun shop when he wasn't hunting, fishing or crabbing. If Sean saw a passing Canada, he would make dad pull the car over immediately, listening intently to goose clucks he would one day perfect. But by the time Sean was 15, his hunting options had become limited. His father was suffering from some lingering health issues, and though he still enjoyed it, the elder Mann had to curtail his days afield. The teenager was out of luck.
So Mann started calling around to the clubs, asking if he could sweep floors and clean out blinds after a day's hunt. No one returned his phone calls — no one, except Bunky.
"(Bunky) is still alive and well, and has always had a heart of gold," Mann said. "He gave a kid a chance when nobody else would. He is as funny a person as you will ever meet, and is one of the greatest storytellers ever born. Some of them are even true!"
One day, Bunk was short a guide and sent Sean into the field with a client. Mann watched nervously as a veteran guide quickly called in some geese, the entire pit limiting in two volleys. Group after group left the farm with full bags until it was just Sean and his client, needing one more bird to fill limits.
"That day, one of the guides stopped by to see how I was doing€¦the cavalry, I thought," Mann said. "No, he had just left something in his blind. The lesson is there is no cavalry."
He began guiding at every opportunity, learning the intricacies of setting up a proper spread and calling. Mann continued to perfect his craft through college, and when the Shoreman took flight and the nine-to-five at First National of Maryland went by the wayside, he was ready.
"The bank job was a great experience. It was my version of business school," Mann said. "The call thing took off and it has been a blur ever since."
The education Mann received in those Maryland fields led to a burgeoning business, which he runs with the same values his father operated the family's gun shop. He has always been a believer in being yourself and keeping simple goals. Sean Mann is the same guy, whether he is chasing Canadas on TV or sharing a pit with you in Alberta or Chesapeake Bay.
"There are a lot of people running around the outdoor world trying to become somebody," Mann said. "My parents taught me that I was somebody when I was a kid. My family reinforces that every day. I don't look outside for my identity; I look inside."