Training a New Generation of Outdoor Professionals


Mark Twain once said, “Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.” This rings true on so many levels. In the last several years, I have been fortunate to travel, and live, between our two coasts. Many people along the way have remained close friends and there have been many events that have helped shape who I am as a person.

As some of you probably read, I recently ventured to the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico to elk hunt. It was and still is the pinnacle of my hunting career, not only for the magnificent game animal we chased, but also for the people I met there. I have written about my guide, Mike White, who worked his tail off to find me a trophy bull. I praised Erin Berry and Executive Director Wayne Armacost for the stellar job they are doing and for making me feel welcome from square one.

But there is another element to that trip which I have yet to mention, or perhaps a better way to phrase it, would be to praise this group of people. During my stay at the Whittington Center, I happened to meet Dr. Thomas Warner and Dr. Peg Althoff, the program director and assistant director, respectively, of Kansas State University’s Wildlife and Outdoor Enterprise Management (WOEM) program. Along with them were 50 or so students who make the yearly pilgrimage to the Whittington Center for training on firearms and shooting range operations.

Larry Potterfield of MidwayUSA does a demonstration for students of KSU's WOEM program.
Larry Potterfield of MidwayUSA does a demonstration for students of KSU’s WOEM program.

WOEM is the first Bachelor of Science degree to train professional operation managers for hunting/shooting preserves and resorts, game bird production companies, fishing resorts, and outdoor experience companies, including trail riding, nature study, bird watching, and backcountry hiking and camping. However, the program is not a traditional wildlife and fisheries biology program. It is used to create professional managers and incorporates a series of business, hospitality management, natural resources, and wildlife and fisheries management courses with training in a wide range of outdoor skills.

The program was designed with input from working professionals across the United States as the outdoor industry continues to grow with each season, as do the potential job opportunities for young men and women trained in wildlife and related outdoor enterprises. These types of jobs exist in all 50 states plus Canada, Central and South America, Australia, and New Zealand. And with 38 million hunters in the United States alone, the need for these type of people is growing exponentially. To say the least, there are broad and exciting horizons for the graduates.

The Whittington Center hosts shooters of all skill levels from around the globe. Week in and week out they are teaching and training people interested in any facet of the shooting sports, and are an obvious choice for the WOEM students to continue their education. I had not heard of this program until I met Logan Mathias, the ranch’s intern who I have mentioned in a previous article. He was in one of the very early classes at KSU and is finishing out his final semester helping manage day-to-day operations, accommodating guests and even joining an occasional hunt. In fact, he packed out the head and cape of my bull and I can’t tell you how appreciative of that I still am.

I killed my bull on the third day of the hunt and spent most of the fourth day watching Adrian Valdez, one of the ranch’s maintenance workers who also happens to be one hell of a taxidermist, cape the head and prepare it for the salt. Throughout the day, as they moved from place to place, several of WOEM’s students stopped by the shop to watch Adrian work and congratulate me on the hunt. I admired these young men for taking the initiative and heading off the proverbial beaten path. They are following their love of the outdoors and doing something to make it more than a pastime. Lord knows there are already too many lawyers, politicians, and insurance salesmen in this world. And if I had it to do over again, well, who knows…

For more information on the program, visit

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