This is the final in a three-part series about game wardens in Central Texas.
TEMPLE — With its towns and cities sprawling into the countryside, does Bell County need three game wardens?
“We need four,” said Brandt Bernstein, who patrols the county with fellow game wardens Chris Wilson and Justin Valchar.
While Bell County may not have the wide, rugged range where whitetail deer roam, he said, policing hunters in a densely populated area presents an array of challenges.
Bell County also has two lakes and three rivers for the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to monitor, Bernstein said.
Bernstein, of Belton, has been in Bell County four years after serving two years as a game warden in Falls County.
He also worked as a police officer at the University of North Texas in Denton.
Varchar, a Temple resident, has been assigned to Bell County for five years after working five years in Fisher and Stonewall counties.
Wilson, who lives in Troy, has 10 years of experience as a game warden — eight years in San Saba County and two in Bell.
Wilson said he is still adjusting from a rural to an urban hunting environment and contrasted Bell with nearby Lampasas County. “About 80 percent of our hunters are local, just the opposite of Lampasas County,” where 80 percent of the shooters are out-of-towners camped on hunting leases.
“We have a lot of backyard shooters,” Bernstein said. “It is more of a metropolitan environment.”
With bullets flying close to residential areas, the three take a lot of calls from concerned neighbors. “We have a lot of conflict-resolution issues,” Varchar said. “Some feuding neighbors.”
“We deal with trespassing issues, shots-fired calls, road-hunting and spotlighting issues,” Bernstein said.
“A lot of people in urban areas don’t know what we do,” Varchar said. “We are peace officers. Some people think we are animal control officers.”
Don’t bring a dead skunk to a game warden for rabies testing, he said. That is a matter for local police or the county sheriff.
High-tech hunting — legal and illegal — is a challenge for them, Varchar said.
Aerial hunting by helicopter is becoming more popular, he said, and is legal with proper state permits and landowners’ permission.
Three commercial helicopter companies operate out of Draughon-Miller Central Texas Regional Airport.
Game poachers are getting more sophisticated with night-vision and thermal-imaging equipment.
“Their technology beats ours,” he said.
For more information on hunting in Bell County, call the TPWD Region IX office in Temple at 254-778-8913.