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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!

Gear Up for Game Wardens Equipment Plays Critical Role in Turtle Rescues

By | Features

Texas Game Wardens were on the frontlines of the herculean effort to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles up and down the coast during the February deep freeze that engulfed the state.

According to the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN), more than 12,000 turtles were affected. That number is triple the number rescued during the winter of 2017-2018, which had been the largest cold stunning event since STSSN was established in 1980.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) personnel joined hundreds of others who pitched in to help.

“We knew it was coming and we were ready,” said Texas Game Warden Major Ellis Powell, who heads Region 8, which includes the lower Texas Coast. “It was all hands on deck. We worked shoulder to shoulder with our colleagues in the Coastal Fisheries Division. There were a lot of cold hands and cold fingers, but we all knew it was coming and we were as ready as we could be.”

Texas Game Wardens had access to some equipment this time that they haven’t had in the past. Two specially rigged airboat trailers and a Utility Terrain Vehicle provided through Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s (TPWF) Gear Up for Game Wardens program were critical elements of the Texas Game Warden response.

“We were able to move airboats around easily and for that reason, we got to a lot more turtles than we would have otherwise,” said Texas Game Warden Captain Ben Baker. “Thanks to the coordinated effort from many other organizations, we were able to pull to shore when the airboat was full with about 40 sea turtles, where we would hand them off to others for transport to warming centers. Then we would turn right back around to pick up more.”

It was tough work in extreme conditions. Once a stunned turtle was spotted in the water, Texas Game Wardens waded through freezing water to pull the heavy turtles into the boat. They repeated the process hundreds of times. Texas Game Wardens also patrolled hard-to-reach areas onshore with a UTV, also provided through Gear Up for Game Wardens.

“We found a lot of turtles on the shoreline that we could just pick up in the UTV,” said Baker. “The UTV also allowed us to transport rescued turtles from areas that conventional vehicles couldn’t reach, and that allowed much quicker transport to the warming centers.”

For Captain Baker and the men and women he serves with, the work is deeply satisfying.

“Texas Game Wardens do what we do because we love the resource,” said Baker. “It’s an opportunity for us to give back in a hands-on kind of way.  It gets us out of the law enforcement realm to focus on direct conservation. We know that if we weren’t out there along with all the others who helped, a lot of these turtles wouldn’t have made it.”

Baker and Powell are grateful to the generous donors who contributed to TPWF’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program to make the specialty equipment possible. TPWD game wardens and coastal fisheries staff rescued more than one thousand turtles, and Major Powell estimates the number would have been half that without the equipment provided through Gear Up for Game Wardens.

“You can solve a lot of problems with money and people, but that’s a finite number,” said Powell. “To have the citizens of the state of Texas step up and get behind our game wardens to provide these specialty tools we wouldn’t otherwise have is wonderful. Whether it’s search and rescue of people or search and rescue of turtles, this equipment is making a big difference in how we can meet our mission.”

Meet Texas Game Warden Kyle Hendley

By | Uncategorized

As he was growing up in the small coastal town of Refugio, Texas, Kyle Hendley wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he grew up. He loved hunting, fishing and the outdoors, and in high school he got to know a Texas Game Warden.

“I had some other career ideas in mind, but as I progressed through high school and got to know more about what game wardens were and what they do, it seemed like that was something I’d want to spend the rest of my life doing,” said Hendley. “From that point on, I was totally focused on becoming a Texas Game Warden, because that’s all I wanted to do.”

The game warden he met in high school has since retired and now serves as Refugio County Sheriff.

“Kyle was such a polite and respectful young man and he loved the outdoors,” recalled Refugio County Sheriff Pinky Gonzales. “You could tell his parents raised him right. He was very intrigued with my work life and when he graduated from high school, he told me that though he hadn’t planned on going to college, he would pursue a degree if that’s what it took to become a Texas Game Warden. I’ll never forget that. And sure enough, he followed his dream, and now he’s a great asset for the state of Texas.”

It took Hendley two tries to get accepted into the highly competitive Texas Game Warden Academy. The second time, he was accepted as an alternate, and thought he would have to wait another year to try again. But a slot unexpectedly opened up, and with less than a week to get ready, Kyle began the grueling seven-month training regime to become a Texas Game Warden.

His first duty station in Corpus Christi took him right back to the Texas coastal waters he loves.

“There was a lot to learn, but it was like coming home,” said Hendley. “My wife found a great job in Corpus, and family is less than an hour away. I hope to spend the majority of my career in this region of the state.”

Kyle has emerged as a leader in his district and is honing his skills in many different areas. He’s on the State Forensic Reconstruction and Mapping Team, also called the STORM team, which investigates boating accidents to determine their cause. He is also a licensed drone operator, as well as an airboat operator who works on joint operations with the Coast Guard.

As a Texas Game Warden, Kyle works with all manner of gear and equipment, some of which has been provided through TPWF’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program. Recently, his district received two new pieces of equipment through Gear Up for Game Wardens, including a UTV (Utility T  Vehicle) and airboat trailers specifically modified for a coastal environment.

“We have so many beach areas to patrol, and the UTV allows us to get to areas we couldn’t get to before,” said Hendley. “We’ve been able to use it to find trespassers hunting or fishing without landowner consent, and also for search and rescue operations. During the winter season, we often have to deal with cold-stunned green sea turtles, and this equipment is going to help us save those creatures when they are in distress.”

The airboat trailers are likewise modified for use in soft sand and other coastal condition.

“Before we had these new trailers, we were limited in where we could load and unload our airboats,” said Hendley. “Every time we’re out with it, we’re learning new spots that we can use. That’s vastly increased the range of areas that we can work, whether it’s enforcing hunting and fishing laws or helping in search and rescue operations.”

Hendley is deeply grateful for the support from generous donors to the Gear Up for Game Wardens program.

“It’s nice knowing you have that support, and that it’s coming from all over Texas,” said Hendley.

After several years on the job, Kyle’s passion for his work has not dimmed.

“I absolutely love my job,” said Hendley with a laugh. “I just had four days off and I was chomping at the bit to get back out there, because I love it so much. I feel very fortunate that my boyhood dream of becoming a Texas Game Warden has come true.”

Meet Texas Game Warden Kevin Winters

By | Uncategorized

Kevin Winters has dreamed of becoming a Texas Game Warden since he was a schoolkid. For a boy from the west side of San Antonio, it was a big dream.

“I fished with my dad, but I had never experienced hunting,” said Kevin. “My family struggled to make ends meet, and it just wasn’t something we did. When my middle school coach found out I was interested in the outdoors, he invited me to go on a hog hunt. I was hooked!”

His high school coach was also an avid hunter and invited Kevin and his friends to spend time at his hunting lease in Hondo. Kevin shot his first white-tailed deer there and learned more about what it means to be an outdoorsman. He also met a Texas Game Warden for the very first time.

“I was interested in law enforcement and knew about police officers and sheriff’s deputies, but I didn’t really know about game wardens,” he said. “He was so friendly, and I was very impressed with his uniform, especially his cowboy hat. I knew at that moment that’s what I wanted to do when I got older.”

Kevin did his homework and learned that he would need to pursue a bachelor’s degree to even think about becoming a Texas Game Warden. That was another big dream.

“I was the first one in my whole family to step foot on a college campus,” he said.

He pursued an associate’s degree in criminal justice, and continued to research what would it would take to make a good game warden candidate. Gaining some law enforcement experience was on top of his list, and he saved up to pay for tuition to the San Antonio College Law Enforcement Academy. That opened the door to his first job as an officer with Edgewood Independent School District, which led to a job with the Converse Police Department. His dream of getting a bachelor’s degree to qualify him for the Texas Game Warden Academy was sidetracked for a while.

“I had to work to help my family out financially, and I thought it would be good to get some law enforcement experience, so I focused on that for a few years.”

He spent another couple of years as a Border Patrol agent and realized he needed to refocus on his dream of becoming a Texas Game Warden. By this time, he had married his high school sweetheart, a teacher, who supported his decision to go back to school. He completed his bachelor’s degree while working full-time, now as a police officer with the City of Live Oak. Degree in hand, he applied to be a Texas Game Warden cadet in late 2015.

“I read somewhere that you have a better chance getting into Harvard, that there’s like a 3% chance of getting in, so I didn’t have my hopes too high,” said Kevin. “When I got the call, I was just overwhelmed. I had worked so hard, for so many years, and I could hardly believe I was on my way to becoming a Texas Game Warden.”

He headed to the Game Warden Training Center in January 2016, while his wife was pregnant with their second child. She held down the fort at home, while Kevin completed the grueling seven-month training regimen. From there the young family was stationed in Webb County, and then moved to Harris County a few years later.

“I loved working the South Texas brush, and also spent a lot of time in inner city neighborhoods in Laredo doing outreach,” said Kevin. “I put in for the Harris County position, because I wanted to learn about commercial saltwater enforcement so I could be a more well-rounded game warden.”

And then another opportunity presented itself: a chance to apply to be a member of the Texas Game Warden K-9 Unit.

“I grew up loving dogs and had always admired the K-9 teams at the police departments I worked at,” he said. “I applied and was thrilled to be selected. My K-9 partner and I will be supporting Texas Game Wardens all over the state.”

Kevin picked up his new partner, Tex, in early August and they’ve begun their intensive training together. Kevin and his wife are now back in their hometown of San Antonio raising their children near their families. For Kevin, it’s truly a dream come true.

“I’m back home after four years in my dream job, in my dream position as a Texas Game Warden, and now I’m part of the K-9 Team. My wife got her teaching job back at the school district she loved before we left in 2016. And my kids will grow up near their grandparents. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I’m very lucky and very blessed.”

Stroke of fate: Child rescued by Texas game warden on Lavaca Bay

By | Features

By: Matt Wyatt July 15, 2020 Updated: July 15, 2020 5:44 p.m.


Texas game warden Ben Bailey rescued a child who had been swept from shore in Lavaca Bay last week.

Ben Bailey was on his way to take his boat out of the water when he got the call.

The Texas game warden changed course with haste. Someone was in trouble.

He thought he was responding to an adult in distress, swept away from shore. He knew he had to get there quickly. The waves from passing vessels can prove deadly on an open Lavaca Bay.

“The wake from those ships can be as tall as a person,” Bailey said.

When he arrived on scene, the game warden was surprised to find an inner tube wrapped around a 6-year-old girl, 1,200 yards from shore and in the middle of the Matagorda ship channel.

She was crying heavily when he arrived, but Bailey noted it was fortunate that she smartly remained in her tube. Bailey gently pulled his boat up next to the little girl and hoisted her aboard.

She immediately embraced him.

Bailey returned the child to her grandmother where they had been swimming near Magnolia Beach. His work was done.

The rescue was a stroke of fate.

Water safety, patrols and rescues are a significant part of Bailey’s work life as a game warden in coastal Calhoun County.

However, it is up to individual discretion whether the warden patrols that community by truck or boat on a day-by-day basis.

The rescued little girl can thank her lucky stars that Bailey decided to go with his boat last Tuesday.

“It was by chance that I decided to go out on the water that day. And I’m glad I did because there weren’t any other boats out there to get her,” Bailey said.

Bailey said that with the busy Fourth of July weekend in the rearview, the bay was empty of anyone who could have assisted the stranded child. The Texas game warden was perhaps her only hope.

The incident serves as a reminder of the constant preparation and vigilance required of water safety.

Bailey, 35, said he and his wife Chelsea, who is also a game warden in Calhoun County, keep their kids in life jackets while on the beach.

“It only takes a second for something to happen,” said Bailey, who’s been a game warden for 10 years.

“That current and wind will push a float faster than you can swim. A lot of times we have boats get away from people, they’ll swim after them and they’ll end up drowning. Stuff gets carried out pretty quick.”

Game wardens have had a busy summer so far patrolling Texas waters.

Wardens carried out water safety checks on over 11,000 vessels and arrested 42 people for operating a boat while intoxicated on July 4 weekend.

Officers across the state were also involved in several water-related rescues over the holiday weekend.

Game wardens picked up three people whose boat had washed ashore on San Jose Island in Aransas County. Wardens brought to safety two people who were clinging to a kneeboard after their boat capsized on Lake Travis. A swamped kayaker was rescued, and a lost child was found on Lake Alan Henry.

Over that weekend, game wardens also investigated 21 boat accidents, three boating-related deaths and seven open-water drownings.

Water rescues are something game wardens are accustomed to as part of the job description. Game wardens usually are involved in over a thousand water-related rescues a year. Last year they made 1,097 water rescues. In 2017, wardens made 3,775, and the numbers do not include disaster events like Hurricane Harvey.

Water rescues are a constant part of a game warden’s education. In preparation for hurricane season, game wardens will be holding swiftwater search and rescue training on Lake Bridgeport this Wednesday.

For Bailey, saving someone on the water is just another day at the office for “the best job in Texas.” He recalls his tale of rescue with the measured humility so typical of many Texas game wardens.

His occupation is a calling he wanted to answer since he was young.

Bailey was born and raised in Louisiana but frequented the area where he now works as a child. His grandfather was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who flew B-52s on training missions to bomb Matagorda Island. They would hunt and fish a lot in the area, and it’s where he had his first run-ins with Texas game wardens.

“I remember interacting with Texas game wardens when I was young and it just left an impression on me, the way they carried themselves and how they talked. They were polite, professional,” Bailey said.

Now, he is who he once aspired to be. He does not seek recognition for the rescue he made last week, he said he’s only relieved that the situation worked out for the best. Often, it does not.

“I’m just glad it was a rescue and not a recovery,” he said.

Houston Chronicle article:

Generous Donations Provide Critically Needed Equipment

By | Features

Thanks to some recent generous donations, Texas Game Wardens near Corpus Christi now have access to some critically needed specialty equipment that will allow them to perform their duties more efficiently and effectively.

The Texas Brush Country Safari Club International (SCI) Chapter and the Saltwater-Fisheries Enhancement Association (SEA) provided $15,000 in funding to purchase a utility terrain vehicle (UTV) for Corpus Christi area game wardens.

“The Brush Country Chapter of SCI was happy to partner with our friends at SEA to help out our local Texas Game Wardens, said Jeff Sizemore, President/Treasurer of the Texas Brush Country SCI Chapter. “We know how important their role is in the Lone Star State and we’re eager to help once again via Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation’s Gear Up for Game Wardens program.”

The UTV will be used by game wardens for conservation law enforcement, public safety and emergency response.

“We’ll be using the new UTV in many different ways,” explained Texas Game Warden Lerrin Johnson, who is stationed in San Patricio County. “We will be patrolling the beaches and checking fishermen. We also protect the endangered sea turtles that come in to nest along the shoreline. Later on, during hunting season, we’ll be patrolling ranches and checking in with hunters.”

A Gear Up for Game Wardens presentation at the January meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) Board of Trustees meeting led to a $12,000 donation from ExxonMobil for some critically needed gear. ExxonMobil’s Samantha Omey encouraged her company’s donation after hearing the update which led to funding the replacement of two needed airboat trailers on the coast that were out of commission due to aging and rust. Without the new trailers provided by ExxonMobil’s donation, the airboats would not be in service today.

“We appreciate what Texas Game Wardens do to protect our natural resources on the coast,” said Samantha Omey, Southwest Government Relations Manager for ExxonMobil, a long-time corporate partner. “These airboats help our game wardens get the job done, especially all the extra work and hours these folks put in during crises like hurricanes. Texas Game Wardens always go the extra mile.”

Texas Game Wardens on the front lines of conservation law enforcement and emergency response sincerely appreciate the support.

“We are immensely grateful for the generosity of Texas individuals, companies and organizations,” said Johnson. “These donations are providing critically needed equipment that we utilize in the field every day and helps us do our jobs better and safer. I know every game warden out there appreciates Gear Up for Game Wardens.”