2018-02-11 / News

Noted sportsman goes on his final adventure

Preston H. Mann is remembered
BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 • pfoley@mihomepaper.com

LAPEER — Say the name Mann to any hunting enthusiast in Lapeer County, or anywhere in Michigan for that matter, and you’ll conjure up images of birds and dogs.

A memorial gathering was held Thursday at Muir Brothers Funeral Home, Lapeer for Preston H. Mann, 75, of Novi, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a dog trainer and advocate for upland game bird hunting.

“He was the best dog trainer I ever saw,” said Columbiaville’s Rob Trott, whose Great Lakes Outdoors television show ran for more than 20 years appearing on Michigan’s 11 PBS stations as well as stations in the rest of the country and Canada.

Preston H.’s father, Preston, who passed away at the age of 85 in 2004 began the Mann dog dynasty opening the Preston Mann K-9 school in Wayne, where he trained dogs for hunting, obedience and personal protection, after he got out of the Army, where he learned to train dogs at the end of World War II.

In 1951 the elder Mann moved his family and kennels to Metamora where Preston H. and his brother, Jay, grew up in the woods and fields near his family home. He became an avid sportsman, who enjoyed bird hunting, fishing and sailing.

His daughter said Preston H. worked for a time when was younger as a painter and later for the Toledo Scale Company, but his passion was dogs.

“He was a very smart problem solver,” Sarah said. “He really enjoyed being out in the woods with his dogs, just walking around.”

After successfully lobbying the Michigan Legislature to allow Gamebird Hunting Preserves to operate nine months of the year, Preston opened his first hunting preserve — the Metamora Shoot, Inc. in 1958. Six years later he partnered with Ed Wilson and the two opened Hunters Creek Club on a farm owned by Wilson’s father, Charles E. Wilson, who was president of General Motors from 1941 to 1953 and then became Secretary of Defense for President Eisenhower.

“When I was younger,” Sarah recalled, “Dad worked with grandpa at Hunters Creek. He also worked at Hunters Ridge in Metamora.”

But where his father saw his hunt club as a corporate retreat, Preston had something else in mind. While living in Lapeer he started leasing the right to hunt farm land in the Brown City area.

“What he did was very unique,” Trott said. “Preston leased farms and paid the farmers by how many people hunted and the birds they took.” Eventually he controlled the hunting rights to nearly 6,000 acres. “Nobody had that kind of land,” Trott said.

“He was a good brother and he paved a lot of ground for us,” said his younger brother Charlie, who bought the Hunters Creek Club from their father in 1993. Where Charlie and their father saw the club as a seven-day operation with services, Preston H. wanted to hunt seasonally and work with his dogs the rest of the year.

While there are nearly 40 pheasant hunting preserves scattered around the state, they might not exist if not for Preston H. Charlie who said his older brother worked hard to get the state legislature to recognize hunt clubs as an agricultural use. This kept local townships from zoning them out of existence.

Charlie added, Preston H. “exposed pheasant hunting to generations who lacked of places to go. He provided young people in ‘80s and ‘90s a hunting experience with their dads in a gamerich environment.”

Sarah said where “Grandpa set people up with guides, Dad set birds in morning and let people go hunting on their own.” She noted they were never rivals. “Dad pitched an idea to a different crowd. It was a blue collar working man crowd. Dad saw niche and filled it.”

He eventually bought a farm outside Brown City that he used as his clubhouse and training facility, and moved his family there. His hunting preserve, Farmland Pheasant Hunters, was a regular stop for a generation of hunters and a regular shooting location for Trott’s television show.

He appeared on the show in a segment called, “Dog tips with Preston” for nearly a decade.

“He had a funny voice. You could tell who it was without looking,” Trott recalled.

Charlie said $8 a bushel corn all but wiped out Preston H.’s type of hunting preserve. As a farmer cleared out fence rows to plant more corn, pheasants lost their habitat. “He targeted farms with fence rows,” Charlie said.

Sarah said he retired five years ago and sold his farm to the Amish before moving to Novi with his new wife Sarah “Terry” Mann, where he became active in the City of Novi’s 55+ Golf League. “I think he just liked being outdoors,” his daughter said.

“The last 13 years he my kids went on a lot of fishing trips,” Sarah said. “He took my oldest son on some pretty exciting fishing charters.”

She said her father also stayed active with Pheasants Forever and Ducks Unlimited.

In his last few months as his health declined, Sarah said he had him moved to Hospice of Little Traverse Bay Hiland Cottage, so she didn’t have to make the weekly trip from the Petoskey area.

The Mann family asks for donations to be made in Preston H.’s name to the Lapeer County Chapter of Pheasants Forever, P.O. Box 585, Lapeer, Michigan 48446 or Hospice of Little Traverse Bay Hiland Cottage, 1 Hiland Way, Petoskey, Mich. 49770.

Trott said Preston H. was a fighter. Just the week before he passed, “He told me, ‘Rob, I’m going to beat this thing.’”

He added, “He was a oneof a-kind guy. I never met anyone who did not like him.”

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