Lone Star Laws | Texas Game Wardens
To protect the state’s wild animals and wild places, Lone Star Law’s Texas Game Warden Randolph McGee puts dealing with people first.
Photos by John Radzwilla
By Glenn Hunter
We’re riding with Texas Game Warden Randolph McGee in his grey, 2016 Chevy Silverado half-ton pickup, headed east on U.S. Route 82 in Grayson County, Texas. McGee, a popular, 45-year-old cast member of the Lone Star Law reality show about Texas game wardens on TV’s Animal Planet, puts 35,000 miles a year on the four-door truck. He calls it his “office,” for good reason. Wardens with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) work out of their vehicles, communicating by two-way radio as they enforce the state’s hunting and fishing laws, protect its natural resources, and oversee boating safety.
McGee, a 16-year veteran of the agency whose regular assignment is Fannin County, next door to Grayson, is explaining that, besides protecting 250,000 square miles of Texas lakes, deserts, plains, piney woods, bayous, and coastline, the state’s roughly 540 game wardens are police officers charged with enforcing all Texas’ criminal laws. The Silverado says “State Police” on the back, and McGee carries a holstered, .40-caliber Glock pistol. “Ninety-five percent of our interaction with the public is compliance,” he says. Animal cruelty cases aren’t uncommon—he busted one guy who knocked a pig’s teeth out with a hammer—and he’s always on the lookout for hunting and fishing violations. Recently, he cited a woman for illegally catching and possessing a four-foot-long paddlefish, a threatened species in Texas. She’d been lying on a cot in a parking lot covered with blankets, McGee remembers. Once the covers were removed, he found the fish wrapped in a towel between her legs.
We’re headed this morning for S&S Consolidated High School in Sadler. There, about 15 boys and six girls between the ages of nine and 17 have gathered in a classroom for a six-hour hunter’s education class. The class is being led by Game Warden Bryan Newman, McGee’s working partner for the last decade or so. Newman has been telling the youngsters how and when to tag their deer—“immediately” after it’s shot, he stresses—when McGee enters the room.
For the next hour or so, the two wardens take turns telling the students the difference between bolt-, lever-, and pump-action hunting rifles, the definition of a “waste of game” violation, and how to safely carry their firearms in the woods. McGee also recalls several stories illustrating the “dangerous things that can happen” while hunting, including the time a guy blew his hand off after firing a rifle whose barrel was caked in mud. “I don’t want to scare you, but I don’t want you to go out there and do something stupid,” McGee cautions the students. “Think before you act.”
Back in the Silverado, the game warden takes a pinch of Longhorn snuff and heads north on F.M. 901 for Lake Texoma, a popular recreational reservoir that he calls “a magnet for our clients.” We pull off the main road there and begin inching along the Sherwood Shores area on the lake’s west side. Suddenly, McGee spots three or four people sitting under a canopy, with several fishing poles in the water. He stops the truck and, after exchanging pleasantries and inspecting a small-mouth bass they’ve caught, casually asks, “How you fixed for licenses?” One man in the group produces a combination hunting-and-fishing license, and McGee notices there’s a deer tag missing. “Did you kill a deer?” he asks. The man says yes, adding that he’d just forgotten to fill out his “harvest log” on the license to reflect the kill. Although his failure to do so constitutes a violation of the law, the game warden decides to let him off with a written warning.
“Our job is dealing with people,” McGee says back in the truck. “We’re in the people business.” That’s why his classes in speech communication in college were almost as valuable to him as his training in law enforcement, he says. It’s also why he makes it a point to frequent the area’s little cafes, getting to know the locals who gather there to sip coffee and chew the fat. Becoming a known quantity leads to trust and, often, valuable tips about who’s doing something they shouldn’t be doing, he says.
Texas game wardens “get to pick our own hours,” McGee goes on. He’ll prove that today, when he won’t return to his family in Whitewright until 9:30 p.m. That’s because McGee also is a trained auctioneer and frequently plays that role for charity events in towns like Bonham and Anna. Tonight, he’s auctioning off items at the Tanglewood Resort in Pottsboro to raise money for a scholarship fund for Nathan Halfmann, a 16-year-old Pottsboro High School student who drowned in Lake Texoma in 2018. McGee’s participation in the effort is especially poignant, since he’s the one who found Nathan’s body.
The Top Ways To Break TPWD Law During Deer Season
When it comes to getting on the wrong side of game wardens with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department in general, it’s hard to beat the intoxicated guy who drove up behind Randolph McGee’s pickup one night with his high beams on. “Hey, buddy,” the drunk yelled out the window. “I’m pullin’ your a– over!” Soon cited for his sixth DWI offense, the man had mistaken the game warden for a friend of his.
While that was an outrageous instance, there are much more common mistakes people make that can get them in trouble with Texas game wardens during deer-hunting season. According to McGee, three of the top offenses then are:
° Tagging violations. “They’re always No. 1,” McGee says. “Hunters will put a dead deer in the back of their pickup and say, ‘Let’s go eat breakfast’ before tagging them first. But that tag needs to go on immediately.” Failure to do so can bring citation for a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $25 to $500.
° Failing to comply with the “13-Inch Rule.” McGee says this “popular violation” in North Texas, also a Class C misdemeanor, has hunters ignoring requirements in certain counties to take just one buck per county with antlers (or ear-tip to ear-tip) measuring 13 inches or more on the inside spread. “Some hunters will protest, ‘But, I was 300 yards away and couldn’t tell,’” McGee says. “Well, don’t shoot ’em at that distance.”
° Trespassing violations. In Fannin County, for example, where there are many absentee landowners living and working in Dallas-Fort Worth, “the locals will go hunt their places during the week,” McGee says. Such violations are Class A misdemeanors, punishable by jail time as well as a fine.