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.”