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.”