Game Warden Dornell Crist witnessed 90 pound alligator gar and 60 pound catfish on the Trinity River and retrieved a 10.5-foot alligator run over on Interstate 45. He also has seen “humongous” deer and rescued bald eagles.
As a Game Warden, Crist also assisted local law enforcement in capturing a burglary suspect and had a standoff with a knife-wielding man during a domestic disturbance. He evacuated residents and reported hot spots during recent wildfires and aided stranded residents during Hurricanes Ike and Rita.
“Many people think we only enforce the fish and game and water safety laws,” said Crist. “But we are law enforcement officers like anyone else.”
Crist, a 1994 graduate from Sam Houston State University, has been a Texas Game Warden for nine years, serving out of the Madisonville office, 26 miles north of Huntsville. Before getting his dream job, he served as a Deputy Sheriff in Walker County; a Community Service Specialist with the Gulf Coast Training Center; and a Parole Officer and Supervisor with the Texas Youth Commission in East Texas, covering Orange, Angelina, Sabine, Newton and Jasper counties.
“This job is one of the best,” said Crist. “If you love being outdoors, and you love law enforcement, this is the job for you. I love the freedom and I love doing work without a lot of supervision. It’s a great job. We get the best law enforcement training. It’s a very rewarding thing doing something that preserves the natural resources for future generations to come.”
There is no “typical” day for Crist. In fact, there is not even a set schedule. Game wardens are required to work 160 hours in any 28 day period, but their schedules depend on activities in the area. It may mean checking fishermen and water safety compliance early in the morning and returning at 5 p.m. to investigate reports of trespassers or illegal hunting activity on private property.
During the summer months, Crist focuses on the water, making sure boaters have safety equipment, such as life jackets, sound devices, fire extinguishers and registration. He also makes sure captains haven’t had too much to drink by administering “float” test to detect those over the legal limit. It includes observing for signs of intoxication and asking suspects to recite the alphabet, count backwards, and count fingers. If drunken boating is suspected, the suspect is transported to land and administered the standard field sobriety test after a 15-minute rest period to regain his or her land legs.
During his outings, Crist also will check for bag and size limits for fish.
In the fall, it is hunting season, and Crist will check bag limits for deer and birds and illegal hunting at night or on private property. Those caught with illegally harvested wildlife face heavy fines, which can range from $20 for some fish species to thousands of dollars for each deer, depending on its size. Deer and hog hunting are prevalent in East Texas, and Crist receives frequent complaints of hunters crossing into private property to track down their prey and hunting dogs, leaving cut fences and destroyed property along the way.
"We make sure that people don’t use or abuse the resources," Crist aid. "It is for all people of Texas to enjoy, and we make sure they resource are there for people. We do that by being out there and visible."
Crist assists local law enforcement, whether it is tracking a wanted criminal or aiding in emergency situations. He was first one scene at a domestic disturbance and had to face man banishing a knife who was high on methamphetamines. He led a 35-minute standoff with the man in his home. He also sat in the woods, waiting for the return of a burglary suspect who was wanted by local police.
Crist also aids during times of disaster, like wildfires and hurricane. He once plucked three men from a tree who went out to check their trout lines during flooding of the Navasota River. He brought food and water to residents during power outages caused by hurricanes and patrolled local businesses to protect them from looters.
As a game warden, Crist goes through extensive law enforcement training, with some extra lessons, like how to capture and relocate an alligator, and how to operate several different vehicles and equipment, such as four-wheel drive trucks, ATVs, boats, jet skis and night vision goggles, to name a few.
Crist said the favorite part of his job is dealing with a diverse array of people he encounters on the job, from wealthy homeowners on Lake Conroe to those who fish the Trinity River to put food on their table.
"I have learned to deal with different elements of society," said Crist. "Most people are really good, but I have to be ready to deal with the criminal element."
Crist said he also gets for work in some of the most beautiful places in Texas.
"I get to work in some of the most pretty places," said Crist.