All Posts By


Meet Texas Game Warden Brad Clark

By | Features

Brad Clark grew up near Houston and spent a lot of time hunting and fishing with his dad and granddad as a child. Although he thought it might be cool to become a Texas Game Warden when he grew up, he didn’t seriously pursue it.

“Everybody talked about how impossible it was to become a game warden, that hundreds would apply for just a few openings,” said Brad. “So, I set my sights on a more traditional career and initially pursued a business degree.”

After a couple of years of studying business management, he realized that a career cooped up in an office was not what he wanted to do.

“The second half of my college career was totally focused on the end goal of becoming a Texas Game Warden. I met as many game wardens as I could and went on ride-alongs to learn more about it.  I graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2007 with a Wildlife Management degree.”

He didn’t get in to the first time he applied and went to work for the Texas Department of Corrections while keeping his eye on the prize. He made it as an alternate the second time he tried and started his training in 2010. He was commissioned as a Texas Game Warden with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in July 2010, ready for the next chapter in his life.

The day he graduated and was pinned as a Texas Game Warden at the state capitol in Austin was one of the most momentous days of his life, made even more memorable by what also happened on that day.

“My girlfriend was with me that day along with my family and there were just a million things going on with the ceremony and everything else,” said Brad. “I had a ring in my pocket, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to do it or not. And then as we were walking on the capitol grounds, I thought that it was a pretty good spot, so I got down on my knee and proposed and she said yes.”

The couple moved to Concho County in Central Texas for his first duty station and two years later he transferred to Smith County in East Texas, where he has been ever since.

Early in his game warden career, Brad was part of the statewide STORM team, a forensics accident reconstruction unit dispatched to all corners of the state to investigate boat accidents. After having two children, Brad decided that was too much travel for his young family, so he turned his attention to the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) unit and signed on as a drone operator.

Since 2017, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) has provided dozens of new drones for Texas Game Wardens across the state through TPWF’s Gear Up for Game Warden program. Gear Up for Game Wardens provides specialty gear for Texas Game Wardens through private donations. While the state provides the basic necessities for game wardens to do their jobs, there is still a critical need for additional equipment.

Brad recently received some new equipment after a Gear Up for Game Warden fundraiser in Tyler in October 2022. The successful event raised $75,000 which provided specialty gear for Texas Game Wardens in Smith County, including a new thermal drone for Brad.

“These drones are just flying computers, which means the technology is constantly improving. The drone I’ve been working with is perfectly capable, but the newer technology just takes it to the next level. Both the daytime camera and the thermal camera is able to zoom in a lot further. It’s also more weather resistant and can fly in conditions we can’t with the older technology.”

Brad and other Texas Game Wardens have used these thermal drones in many search and rescue situations and these high-tech tools have literally saved lives.

“That’s why many of us become first responders. We want to help people and serve our communities. When we are in a situation to do that and we have a positive outcome, that’s a real good feeling.”

Brad is tremendously appreciative of the many generous donors who have put these life-saving tools at their fingertips.

“I hope all of these donors feel like they have had a direct hand in saving someone’s life. Because without the donors, without their assistance, without their support, we wouldn’t have these tools to protect and serve our communities. We’re very grateful for their support.”

Meet Texas Game Warden Michael Hummert

By | Features

Texas Game Warden Michael Hummert grew up in the small town of Grandview, roughly 30 miles south of Fort Worth. Much of his youth was spent fishing, and he and his dad even enjoyed competing in bass fishing tournaments together—his dad in the adult competitions, and Michael, in the youth.

Photos by Lauren Hummert Photography

His family also grew up reading Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, and one story had a profound impact on him during his senior year of high school. According to Hummert, “Growing up, we had a subscription to Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, and there was an article called ‘A Game Warden’s Life.’ It seemed like a really interesting job, getting to be outdoors and give back to the hunting and fishing community that I had been a part of most of my life.”

Hummert went on to pursue his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. In 2004, he applied and was selected for the Texas Game Warden Summer Internship. “I got to spend all summer riding with the game wardens in Region II, all around the Dallas-Fort Worth area and up north to Lake Texoma. After spending the summer on the lake, boating and learning the job, I decided this was definitely the job I wanted to do.”

After graduating from the Game Warden Training Academy in 2008, he received his first assignment. “My first duty station was in Laredo for two years. Then I was transferred to Grayson County, so I went from South Texas to far North Texas, and I stayed there for eight years.”

“My wife and I met at college in Stephenville, so we had always said that if a spot in Erath County came up, we would put in for it. In 2018, the county came open, so I put in for it and got it! We moved and have been here ever since.”

Hummert and his wife are now raising their own family just west of Hummert’s hometown, and now he gets to pass down his and his dad’s favorite pasttime by taking his 10-year-old son fishing. “My son loves fishing, and that’s primarily what we do now.” His 7-year-old daughter, however, may need more convincing. “My daughter also likes to fish some, but she’s really into gymnastics, so that’s her favorite thing at the moment.”

Has his experience lived up to his expectations after reading that game warden article back in high school? “I would say definitely so. Still the best job in law enforcement as far as I’m concerned! The good part about our job is that it constantly changes. Right now, it’s summertime and it’s hot, and it’s tiring to be on the lake day in and day out, but dove season is right around the corner, and then deer season. It helps to keep you from getting burned out because what we are doing constantly changes.”

And change hasn’t only come with the seasons. Since becoming a game warden 15 years ago, technology has also proven to be a game-changer out in the field and in Hummert’s everyday duties. “When I first started, drones weren’t even a thing, and now we’ve had the drone department since 2018, which I’ve been a part of for a little over a year.”

As part of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) program, Hummert is an FAA-licensed remote pilot, and he has a drone on hand and ready to go for any mission, including lifesaving search and rescue efforts. “I had a missing person case in Callahan County in June, and the family and sheriff’s office had been searching for a family member with special needs for 4 ½ hours, and we were able to find him in less than 30 minutes.”

“They are such a powerful tool. Who would’ve thought ten years ago that we’d have these little mini helicopters. We are able to get these drones out there in the field, throw them up, and get straight to work.” And, over time, drones have been used for more efforts than just search and rescue. “I’ve responded to several brush fires in the county. I’ve been able to fly an overwatch for the fires, which allowed our emergency management coordinators to watch the live stream so they can decide where they need to allocate their resources. I’ve also done aerial crash mapping for the local highway patrol troopers, and I even helped with an unfortunate string of bomb threats at the local school by checking the rooftop and keeping an eye in the sky for anything unusual.”

Through the generosity of donors, Gear Up for Game Wardens has helped Texas Game Wardens keep the UAS program going strong by providing the vast majority of the drones in their arsenal. Donors have also helped secure other vital specialty equipment your Texas Game Wardens need to maintain safety and ensure the highest level of service for the people of Texas, including all-terrain vehicles, airboats, funding to replace retiring K-9s, and more.

“The support from the Gear Up for Game Wardens program shows that we have the public’s support behind what we do. It makes me proud to be a game warden. Having so many people supporting us and ensuring we have the equipment that we need is a great thing. There are really no words to adequately describe it, but it’s appreciated beyond measure.”

Meet Texas Game Warden K-9 Lola

By | Features

Texas Game Warden Scott Kirkpatrick loves his job, and especially that he gets to go to work every day with his K-9 partner Lola.

“She’s with me 24/7,” said Kirkpatrick, who works out of Johnson County in North Texas. “I just never know when I will get a dog call, so she’s with me anytime I am working.”

When Kirkpatrick first met Lola, she was a 6 1/2 -week-old puppy. At the time, Kirkpatrick didn’t know that she would end up being his partner. Kirkpatrick was fostering her as part of a puppy program started by several K-9 officers in Texas, Maine and Colorado. As Kirkpatrick got more involved in the network of K-9 officers across the country, they realized there was a need to train puppies in preparation for K-9 careers. Several officers across the country, including Kirkpatrick, volunteered for foster duty.

“When I was fostering her, Lola went everywhere with me to get her used to every kind of environment, from a rural pasture to a crowded Home Depot,” he said. “She quickly demonstrated that she had the drive and other characteristics that would make her a good K-9.”

As Kirkpatrick pondered the pending retirement of his K-9 partner, Ray, he realized his next partner was right underfoot.

“I have to admit I’d grown kind of attached to Lola, and I really liked the way her training was progressing,” he said. “I had started with her on some tracking exercises, and she just took that up like crazy. She just loves to work and her drive and energy are very high. So, I threw a pitch at my captain to see if I could keep her.”

Thanks to a Gear Up for Game Wardens K-9 fund, dollars were readily available to make the purchase, and Lola became an official member of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s K-9 team.

Gear Up for Game Wardens is a Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) program which provides specialty gear for Texas Game Wardens through private donations. While the state provides the basic necessities for game wardens to do their jobs, there is still a critical need for additional equipment. Thanks to the support of generous Texans, TPWF helped launch the Texas Game Warden K-9 team in 2013 and is providing ongoing support for the purchase of new dogs and related gear.

In April 2022 at 14-months old, Lola was certified in Police Search and Rescue with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In September of 2022, she certified in Trailing with the North American Police Working Dog Association. On November 3, 2022, Lola was officially commissioned as a K-9 officer at a Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission meeting in Austin, along with five of her K-9 colleagues.

Lola’s search and rescue training paid off for a frightened and lost little boy and his frantic family in mid-November 2022. Kirkpatrick got a call from Cedar Hill State Park, where a boy had been missing overnight. Kirkpatrick and Lola headed to the wooded area where he had last been seen, and Lola got to work.

“I saw her nose go down to the ground in a tracking behavior and she just took off,” said Kirkpatrick. “I just tried to keep up with her as best as I could, running through the brush and ducking down to avoid branches along the way. And then l looked up and there she was, just sitting right over there beside him.”

The little boy was safe and sound, and Lola had her first search and rescue mission under her collar.

“Of course, she got a treat after that successful rescue,” said Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick looks forward to working with Lola for the next eight or nine years, the average work life of a K-9. She will continue to hone her skills, while working alongside her human partner, who she adores.

“She’s very affectionate and just loves to get in your business. She gets very vocal when I’m trying get the harness on her to track something. She gets very excited about that. And when we are at home, I don’t get to do anything without her. If I’m going somewhere to run errands or whatever, she’s coming with me.”

Kirkpatrick appreciates the ongoing support the K-9 program receives from Gear Up for Game Wardens.

“Our program simply would not be where it is today if it was not for Gear Up for Game Wardens and the generous donations from the public. We are immensely grateful for their support.”

Meet Texas Game Warden Lance Lindley

By | Features

Lance Lindley grew up in the Panhandle town of Shamrock and lived across the street from a Texas Game Warden. He idolized him. Lindley loves to hunt and fish and spent lots of time growing up on Lake Meredith, where he was envious of the game wardens doing water safety patrols.

“I thought it would be so awesome to get paid to do that, but everyone told me it was impossible to get into the Game Warden Academy, so I didn’t even try when I graduated from college,” said Lindley.

Armed with a biology degree from West Texas A&M, Lindley landed a job with an environmental services company in Austin. He did that for a couple of years, and decided it was not the career path he wanted to pursue.

It took him two tries, but with the encouragement of the very game warden and family neighbor who first inspired his interest in the field, he made it into the Texas Game Warden Academy in 2005. His first duty station was Pecos County near Fort Stockton, where he served for three years. Wanting to get closer to home, he transferred to cover Hutchinson and Carson counties near Amarillo, where he’s been ever since.

“I love being a Texas Game Warden. The freedom of the job is probably the best thing about it. We work our own schedule, when we think it’s most important to be out there. And of course, being outdoors is a great perk, too.”

Texas Game Wardens are deeply connected to their communities, and many, like Lindley, choose to go back to their home ground. They get to know civic and business leaders, along with the landowners whose ranches they patrol.

Lindley got to know the plant manager of the Phillips 66 refinery in Borger at volleyball games where both their daughters played. The manager invited local law enforcement agencies for a plant tour, and he asked them to let him know if they ever needed any equipment, because Phillips 66 would like to support them.

As it turns out, Lindley had just been issued a new boat, but there weren’t enough funds to fully equip it. Phillips 66 stepped up with a donation through Gear Up for Game Wardens, and the boat was outfitted with the needed gear, including a side-scan sonar.

Gear Up for Game Wardens is a Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation program that provides specialty gear for Texas Game Wardens through private donations. The following year, Phillips 66 stepped up again to purchase a thermal drone for Amarillo-area game wardens, which has been used numerous times since for search and rescue missions.

This year, Phillips 66 donated $30,000 through Gear Up for a brand-new climate-controlled UTV.

“We spend a lot of time patrolling in rough and dusty areas, like the Canadian River off-road areas, in the dead of winter and the blazing heat of the summer,” said Lindley. “We are so grateful to Phillips 66 and Gear Up for Game Wardens for providing this equipment that will allow us to do our jobs more safely and effectively.”

Cooking up a Fundraiser for Gear Up for Game Wardens

By | Features

Stephanie and Jerel Wottrich love crawfish. In fact, at a recent special event held at their ranch in Driftwood, together with the Safari Club International (SCI) Austin cook team, they boiled up 1,000 pounds of the tasty crustaceans, accompanied by gallons of gumbo, 600 venison sausages, 18 smoked turkeys, and a whole roasted pig.

The event drew hundreds of hungry people, all for a good cause. Proceeds from the annual event benefit Gear Up for Game Wardens, a Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation program that raises private funds for specialty gear for Texas Game Wardens.

Stephanie and Jerel love to hunt and fish, and they are active members in Safari Club International. Jerel serves as president for SCI’s Austin chapter, and Stephanie is vice-president. Stephanie also serves as the regional rep for four chapters in Texas.

They’ve been doing a crawfish boil for several years now, and, in 2018, decided to make the event an SCI-Austin chapter fundraiser for the Gear Up program.

“We’ve always wanted to give back to the game wardens who do so much to conserve the natural resources of Texas,” said Stephanie. “When we learned about Gear Up, we decided it was a perfect fit. We want to help Texas Game Wardens get the specialty equipment they need, and we also want to expose more people to all that game wardens do to protect the wildlife and the people of our state.”

Besides delicious food, the all-day event featured family-friendly activities, including live music, a falconry demonstration, and much more. Texas Game Wardens were also on hand to educate folks about what they do and how they use specialty equipment in their day-to-day jobs.

“A lot of people just don’t know all that Texas Game Wardens do,” said Stephanie. “Besides enforcing hunting and fishing laws, game wardens play a huge role in swift water rescue during natural disasters and rescuing people who get lost or injured.”

Last year’s event raised $20,000, which went toward purchasing a swift water rescue boat. This year, the event raised $24,000, which funded two search and rescue thermal drones.

Thermal drones can make the difference between life and death in a rescue situation. Just one example is the 2019 rescue of an elderly man suffering from dementia and mobility issues who wandered off on a cold winter day in Montague County. Texas Game Wardens were called in, and they utilized a thermal drone to help find him in heavy brush. The heat signature generated by his body heat enabled rescuers to quickly hone in on his exact location and get him home safely.

“These specialty tools like thermal drones will generally be utilized when somebody is having their absolute worst day,” said Texas Game Warden Major Jim Ranft. “We are so grateful to have the support within the community to provide these tools that help save lives. It’s a reflection of the fine people that are members of the Austin SCI chapter and their support of protecting not only the resources, but the public and law enforcement.”

Plans are already in the works for next year’s event, which will be held Saturday, April 1, 2023.

“This started out as a little crawfish boil for some of our friends,” said Jerel. “It’s grown every year since we made it a fundraiser for Gear Up for Game Wardens. It just keeps getting bigger and better, and we are proud to support our Texas Game Wardens.”

Meet Texas Game Warden Calvin Harbaugh

By | Features

Calvin Harbaugh has been a Texas Game Warden for decades. Like most game wardens, he is an avid hunter and angler who loves spending time outdoors.

He was introduced to hunting and fishing by family members when he was very young. A close relative took him fishing when he was but a toddler, and he got his first BB gun at age eight. Soon after, he was introduced to hunting by the same treasured mentor.

“My Aunt Helen just loved all things outdoors, and I spent a lot of time fishing and hunting with her growing up,” said Harbaugh. “We spent a lot of time together in a deer blind on a hunting lease south of San Antonio. I shot my first deer with her, when I was 11 years old.”

In fact, the first time Harbaugh encountered a Texas Game Warden, he was in a hunting blind with his aunt, Helen Palmer. The game warden had seen the ranch gate open and was checking to make sure everything was all right.

Photo by Jonathan Vail

While Harbaugh remembers meeting that game warden, he didn’t exactly have a career epiphany at the time. When he graduated high school, he headed to Texas A&M with an initial interest in becoming a wildlife biologist.

“I started out in wildlife and fishery science, but I did not do so well in the chemistry classes,” he recalled with a laugh. “I changed majors and graduated with a rangeland ecology and management degree instead.”

After college, as he explored career options, he had another encounter with a Texas Game Warden, whom he met in a San Antonio field office for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“I wanted to see if I could learn more about becoming a game warden and met a man named John Caudle,” he said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was the regional director over all the game wardens in that part of the state. I just thought he was an older game warden who got stuck in the office. It was after meeting him that I realized that I definitely wanted to be a game warden.”

After that, Harbaugh did a couple of ride-alongs with Texas Game Wardens. He applied to the Texas Game Warden Academy, got in on his first try, and after close to 30 years as a field game warden, he’s now one of the old guys. But he’s definitely not stuck in the office.

“I think what I like most about being a Texas Game Warden is the freedom of the job and that I am outdoors pretty much every day,” said Harbaugh. “There’s something different every day, and I really enjoy serving the public. I have been really fortunate to get into something that gives me purpose and that I have so thoroughly enjoyed these many years.”

Hurricane Harvey / Photo by Earl Nottingham

Harbaugh started his career on the coast and moved inland soon after. Now he’s stationed in Fayette County near La Grange and has been there for more than 16 years. He’s a seasoned airboat operator and has been in just about every situation known to a game warden, including search and rescue operations for Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

“We were all over Houston in the days following the storm, and I couldn’t tell you how many people we moved out of harm’s way,” he said. “We were just doing our job, helping and protecting people, which is what game wardens do.”

Harbaugh was also among the Texas Game Wardens who came to the aid of Louisiana residents during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The equipment used by Texas Game Wardens in situations like Harvey or Katrina can mean the difference between life or death for both game wardens and the people they are charged with serving.

Hurricane Katrina / Photo by Earl Nottingham

Providing up-to-date equipment for the 550 Texas Game Wardens scattered across the state is a constant challenge for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. While the state provides the basic tools game wardens need, there’s an additional need for specialized equipment. That’s why Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, the state agency’s official nonprofit partner, launched Gear Up for Game Wardens in 2017. Through private donations, Gear Up for Game Wardens provides specialty equipment Texas Game Wardens need to maintain safety and ensure the highest level of service for the people of Texas.

Texas Game Warden Calvin Harbaugh with Randy Fowler / Photo by Jonathan Vail

In late 2021, Calvin Harbaugh took possession of a brand-new Patriot airboat outfitted for the rigors of game warden work. Funding to purchase the airboat was donated through Gear Up for Game Wardens by Ann and Randy Fowler in memory of Dan Duncan.

“It’s hard for me to put into words how grateful we are to receive this gift,” said Harbaugh. “We use an airboat all the time for our regular patrol duties like checking duck hunters or fishermen on the river. But we also use it during search and rescue operations, and it will no doubt be used for the next hurricane that hits Texas. Having the latest equipment helps ensure we can do our jobs safely and effectively for the people of Texas.”

Meet Texas Game Warden Raj Ataya

By | Uncategorized

Raj Ataya began his career as a Texas Game Warden a little later than most.

“In my late thirties, I decided I wanted to be a game warden,” said Ataya. “I applied to become a Texas Game Warden cadet, got in on my first try and graduated from the Game Warden Training Center in 2017. My first duty station was in Orange County, which is very close to home. I’ve been here ever since.”

Ataya’s experience was a little unusual because the vast majority of those who are accepted to become a game warden cadet don’t get in on their first try. Most years, about 90% of Texas Game Warden cadets have tried at least once, and sometimes several times before being selected for the highly competitive training academy.

Ataya’s life experiences are also atypical for most game wardens. He graduated from Baylor with a degree in international business and entrepreneurship and built a successful business involving restaurants and real estate right out of college. He is still a partner in the business, but no longer involved in the day-to-day work that keeps it running.

“When I was young, I wanted to be in law enforcement, but I put that dream aside after college. After I got my business established, I started thinking about law enforcement again and right about that time, I met Texas Game Warden Colt Crawford at the gym. He became my workout buddy, then best friend, and he took me on several ride-alongs to show me what he did. That sealed the deal and I decided to go for it.”

Ataya’s dedication to his new career is evidenced in everything he does, including returning to school to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice from Lamar University, a feat he accomplished while working fulltime as a Texas Game Warden. He loves just about everything about his job, especially his duties related to water safety.

“I really like being on the water, and I enjoy operating all the different types of vessels that we have. Airboats, patrol boats, surface drive boats, flat-bottom boats and SAFE boats; we have it all over here. I also really enjoy being connected to the local community here. That’s a big priority for Texas Game Wardens.”

Ataya’s work has been recognized at the local, state and even national levels. In May he was honored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission as the 2021 National Association of State Boating Law Administration (NASBLA) Texas Boating Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. This award recognizes an officer who has made outstanding contributions to the field of boating law enforcement. He won NASBLA’s Southern Region Officer of the year in July and is one of three finalists for the top national award, which will be announced soon.

Ataya is plugged into his community and is very appreciative of the support Texas Game Wardens receive from local citizens and businesses through Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program. Gear Up for Game Wardens raises private funds for specialty gear that helps Texas Game Wardens do their jobs more effectively. A recent fundraiser in Beaumont raised more than $100,000 that was put to use immediately. Gear Up funds were used to purchase a Minn Kota Raptor, which allows Ataya to drop an anchor when he ties on to another boat for a law enforcement check.

“I’ve used it more than 50 times in the last couple of months. It anchors both boats in place so we don’t have to worry about drifting while we are making a check. It’s a wonderful piece of equipment that helps us do our jobs safely.”

While Ataya spends a lot of time on the water, his other specialty is as a drone operator. He is called in often to assist in search and rescue and other law enforcement operations.

“Gear Up has been a godsend because there’s no way we can keep up with the fast-changing technology. Thanks to these private donations through Gear Up, we have access to the latest thermal drone technology.”

As Ataya continues to do the job he loves, he is heartened by the support Texas Game Wardens receive from his community through Gear Up for Game Wardens.

“It’s really amazing and it gives us a real good feeling to know that support is there. We’ve got a very special relationship with these folks, and we’re proud to serve them as Texas Game Wardens.”

Gear Up for Game Wardens Provides the Latest Drone Technology for Texas Game Wardens

By | Uncategorized

Texas Game Wardens strive to use the latest and best gear and technology in their mission to serve the people of Texas. But outfitting more than 500 Texas Game Wardens with more than standard-issue equipment is a daunting task. That’s why Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) created Gear Up for Game Wardens in 2017. Through private donations, Gear Up for Game Wardens provides specialty gear to Texas Game Wardens across the state.

Through the generosity of donors, Gear Up for Game Wardens has provided gear and equipment including all-terrain vehicles, airboats, and funding to replace retiring K-9s. Helping Texas Game Wardens keep up with the latest drone technology is another way Gear Up for Game Wardens is helping to protect the people of Texas.

“We have only had access to drones to assist us in our law enforcement work since 2018,” said Lt. Game Warden Matthew Bridgefarmer, who coordinates the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) program for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “We started using them for search and rescue missions, and quickly realized how useful they are in those and other law enforcement situations.”

Drone technology is changing rapidly and providing the latest models to Texas Game Wardens is a priority for Gear Up for Game Wardens. One of the latest models is the new Autel Evo 2, which is a thermal drone that is smaller than previous models, can detect heat signals for night missions, and has a longer battery life.

“This latest model is a small compact foldable drone that will fit in a backpack if a game warden needs to hike in for a mission,” said Bridgefarmer. “The thermal camera has eight times the magnification, and the battery allows for another 15 minutes of flying time. That extra time can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful mission.”

In addition, the new model is about half the cost of previous versions, which means dollars raised through Gear Up for Game Wardens can provide additional drones for more areas of Texas.

“The UAS program has grown quickly over the last few years, and we have 68 drones deployed around the state,” he said. “The majority of them were provided through Gear Up. If it wasn’t for the generosity of these private donors, our UAS program would be a fraction of what it is today.”

Texas Game Wardens are also Texas Peace Officers and are often called upon as force multipliers for smaller law enforcement agencies, especially in rural areas. Over the last 12 months, Texas Game Warden drone operators have participated in 70 search and rescue operations, 49 felony manhunts, 33 border security operations, 16 criminal investigations, and seven drowning recoveries. They are also used to assess disasters, investigate boat accidents, fight fires, and provide training support.

There’s a story behind every single one of those statistics. For example, earlier this year on February 27, Texas Game Wardens were called in to assist in the search for a man who was lost at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area in Potter County. The elderly man, who had diabetes and suffered from cognitive issues, was able to call 9-1-1, but he had no idea where he was. Night had fallen, and temperatures were in the 50s. The local game warden had trained with the new Autel Evo 2 drone just 17 days before and helped local sheriff’s deputies make a safe rescue to reunite the man with his family.

Texas Game Wardens who raise their hands to become drone operators do not receive additional pay for their extra duty. They take it on because they want to be able to deploy the latest technology to get their job done for the people of Texas.

“The fact that this equipment is being provided through private donations is just phenomenal,” said Bridgefarmer. “It’s extremely humbling to realize that, especially in this day and time, there’s still folks that support our core mission of conservation law enforcement and protecting the people of the state of Texas so much that they’re willing to open up their wallets. We all appreciate it and it helps stoke that internal fire that keeps us going.”

Gear Up for Game Wardens Hits $2 Million Milestone

By | Features

July 7, 2021
Media contact: Lydia Saldaña

Gear Up for Game Wardens Hits $2 Million Milestone
Recent Beaumont Benefit Raises More than $100,000

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program has reached a $2 million fundraising milestone, thanks to a recent fundraiser in Beaumont that brought in more than $100,000.

Through private donations, Gear Up for Game Wardens provides specialty equipment Texas Game Wardens need to maintain safety and ensure the highest level of service for the people of Texas. While the state provides the basic necessities for game wardens to do their jobs, there is still a critical need for additional specialized equipment.

“I’ve been amazed at the generosity and the compassion of our donors,” said Randy Risher, who is chair of the Gear Up for Game Wardens Leadership Council, and also serves as a trustee on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s board of directors. “The recent Beaumont fundraiser coordinated by the Saltwater Anglers League of Texas and Courville’s Catering & Events exemplifies the spirit of giving to Texas Game Wardens who stand ready to serve the people of Texas every single day.”

Since the program launched in October 2017, more than 1,300 donations have been made, for a total of just over $2 million raised. Specialty gear has been purchased and deployed across all eight game warden regions in Texas and the statewide Special Operations Unit. This new equipment provided by the program, and now being used by Texas Game Wardens, includes search and rescue (SAR) drones, SAR inflatable boats, side-scan sonar units, water rescue dry suits, night vision and thermal imaging units, ATVs, UTVs and specialized K-9 units.

The program launched in October 2017 after a group of dedicated individuals, including Risher, approached Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) with an idea of how they might support the efforts of Texas Game Wardens. TPWF is the official nonprofit partner of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Discussions continued, a leadership committee was formed and a website,, was launched to facilitate donations. Regional citizen committees fuel the effort, and fundraisers have been held across the state to support the effort.

In late May, Saltwater Anglers League of Texas and Courville’s Catering and Events staged the third annual fundraiser to benefit Gear Up for Game Wardens. The event raised more than $100,000 through donations and unique auction items, and the funds will be used to purchase specialty equipment for game wardens in the Beaumont area, including a thermal drone and flight accessories. The funds were presented to Texas Game Wardens at the most recent S.A.L.T. board meeting on July 6.

“I first heard about Gear Up for Game Wardens when one of our local game wardens couldn’t access a plane crash to make a rescue because they didn’t have the right piece of equipment to get to it,” said Rich Courville. “Luckily someone came by with a Polaris, and the game wardens were able to make the rescue. I wondered why the game wardens didn’t have that piece of equipment, and when I found out about Gear Up for Game Wardens, I wanted to help.”

The Saltwater Anglers League of Texas (S.A.L.T) is the oldest saltwater fishing club in Texas, and since 1968 has been supporting a variety of causes, including getting more children involved in the outdoors. Supporting Gear Up for Game Wardens was an easy ask.

“We’re a conservation club, and Texas Game Wardens protect the resources we love,” said S.A.L.T. Board Treasurer Roger Bertrand. “If we can help them do their jobs better, then it helps our organization and everyone who loves to fish in the coastal waters of Texas.”

Donations have come from all corners of the state and in all amounts, from $5 to more than $70,000. Since 2019, S.A.L.T. has donated more than $230,000 to Gear Up for Game Wardens and anticipates doing another fundraiser next year. The Sabine River Authority has also stepped up in appreciation of what Texas Game Wardens do for the people of Texas and has donated $120,000 to the program. In addition, co-chairs of the leadership council have staged fundraisers all over the state to fund equipment for game wardens in their local regions.

“The local committees are what make the program successful, and 100 percent of every donation received for equipment goes directly to purchase the specialty gear that our Texas Game Wardens need,” said Gear Up for Game Wardens Program Manager Austin Taylor. “It is amazing to be able to take the donations that we receive and quickly purchase equipment that is distributed across the state.  Knowing that our Texas Game Wardens have the tools they need to make their jobs more efficient and safer is all that matters.”

Texas Game Wardens have watched over the lands, waters, wildlife and people of Texas for more than 100 years.  Every year, Texas Game Wardens patrol over 10 million miles by vehicle and 130,000 hours by boat, facing challenges as unique as the 254 counties they serve. To find out more about the program, or to make a donation, go to

“The support we have received through Gear Up for Game Wardens is incredible,” said Col. Chad Jones, who heads the Law Enforcement Division at TPWD. “We are so grateful knowing that the people of Texas appreciate what our game wardens do every single day.”

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation raises private funds to advance Texas’ proud outdoor traditions and conserve our state’s wildlife, habitat, recreational areas, and natural resources. Since 1991, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation has invested more than $215 million in efforts to ensure that all Texans, today and in the future, can enjoy the wild things and wild places of Texas.


Eagle Scout Supports Texas Game Warden K-9 Team

By | Uncategorized

Shane Menz has spent more than two-thirds of his young life as a Boy Scout. His parents have supported him every step of the way. Now they are beaming with pride as he attains the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. It’s been a 12-year journey for Menz that culminated with 21 merit badges and a service project that will benefit the Texas Game Warden K-9 Team.

“I’ve always had an interest in training dogs because my dad is a police officer and works with K-9s,” said Menz. “I have grown up around police working dogs my entire life. About the time I was thinking about what I would do for my service project I met Texas Game Warden Scott Kirkpatrick and his K-9 Partner, Ray.”

Menz is fascinated by how the K-9s are trained to detect different odors, from rescuing people in search and rescue missions to sniffing out narcotics. Kirkpatrick explained how scent boxes are used in training the dogs for game warden work, and that there weren’t enough of the boxes available for all of the Texas Game Warden K-9s stationed around the state. Menz decided that would be the perfect Eagle Scout service project.

“I saw that scent boxes could assist them in training their K-9 partners in the detection disciplines,” said Menz. “I was very impressed with how the boxes were used and decided that this project would have the most impact now and in the future for training detection dogs.”

The project required purchasing building materials, including plywood and PVC pipe. Prospective Eagle Scouts are required to raise the funds necessary for their projects, but COVID 19 shut down traditional fundraising events. Menz’s parents helped him set up a GoFundMe effort online.

As it turned out, Home Depot ended up donating most of the supplies, so they ended up with a fundraising surplus of close to $700.  Menz decided to donate those funds to Gear Up for Game Wardens, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) program that raises funds for specialty equipment for Texas Game Wardens.

“We were thrilled to hear about this donation, and we’re earmarking the funds to benefit the K-9 Assistance Fund,” said Austin Taylor, who manages the Gear Up for Game Wardens program for TPWF. “The K-9 Assistance Fund provides the resources to replace retiring K-9s on a schedule that will allow for continuity within the K-9 Unit.”

Menz and his parents met Kirkpatrick recently to hand off the 15 scent boxes, which will be distributed to K-9 Teams across Texas.

“We’re all proud of Shane for the work he put into this project,” said Kirkpatrick. “I did a little research about Eagle Scouts and learned that only four percent of those who enter scouting achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. It’s a big deal, and somebody who has that kind of drive is going to succeed in life.”

Shane Menz already has his sights set on his next goal. He plans on earning a degree in Rangeland Ecology and Management from Texas A&M so that he can become a Texas Game Warden.

“That’s what I want to do with my life,” said Menz. “Maybe one day I will be able to use these scent boxes to help train my own K-9 partner as a Texas Game Warden.”

The fundraising goal for the K-9 Assistance Fund is $74,000 and with Shane’s recent donation and others, the total amount raised so far totals $73,219.

Make a Gear Up for Game Wardens donation today, and help push us over the top!