I am going to bet there is not a hunter in Texas who would not say hunting in Texas is as good as it gets. Variety of game, quality and long seasons all make Texas a land of opportunity when it comes to hunting.
The same holds true for non-game wildlife, too.
A lot of the credit goes to landowners who understand habitat is important for all wildlife and who often open their land to hunters and others.
There is also the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department with its game wardens, who are often the face of the department because they are who hunters most often see, and wildlife biologists that monitor populations, harvest and changing conditions to come up with seasons and limits to perpetuate a species.
Larry LeBeau is an example of those wildlife biologists. Based in Smith County as a regulatory biologist since 2005, LeBeau has been with the department since 1993. He started as a wildlife technician at Cooper Lake and White Oak Creek wildlife management areas, before moving to area manager at Sabine Bottom WMA and then Tyler. He will wrap up his career later this month.
LeBeau’s tenure has fallen between two generations of biologists — the old-school style that were just boots on the ground and today’s modern version who are just as comfortable with technology and algorithms.
Like most wildlife biologists, LeBeau’s career has been filled with variety. His duties changed with the seasons, from spotlight deer counts in late summer to aging and scoring deer at a locker plant in the fall.
“To come up with bag limits, season dates and antler limits, we have to have a baseline of what a population is doing. It starts with field data we get with spotlight surveys, then data with harvested deer. With years and years and years of information, we have that data to know what is going on in a population,” LeBeau said.
One example he noted is the antler restriction regulation in eastern Texas. Prior to its introduction, 80 percent of the bucks taken were 2 and a half years old and younger. Today the vast majority are 3 and a half years plus.
The remainder of the year includes working with landowners and hunters in various ways. Working primarily Smith and Wood counties, LeBeau has helped show landowners and hunters what they can do to improve their hunting.
Deer season has always been his favorite time of year.
“For me as a wildlife biologist, it is the hunting season even though it is the most time consuming. It is a time to go visit the lockers, hunt camps or with private landowners to hear the stories. That is where we get to hear that the fruit of our labor is working,” LeBeau said.
Because he was likely to be involved with hunting on relatively small acreage compared to other regions of the state, LeBeau worked a lot with hunters. He said it has been satisfying to see the quality deer taken in the area in recent years.
But it is not all deer data work. One of his early jobs called for him to help with the capture of deer at Inks Lake State Park for release in Hunt County. More recently, he has helped with the release of Eastern wild turkeys. Much of the work in his district did not involve game animals at all.
“A lot of landowner work in East Texas is with smaller tracts, often people who have bought some land and moved to the country, and their interest is in the non-game aspect of wildlife. They want to manage for bluebirds and hummingbirds or do gardens with pollinators for bees,” LeBeau said.
In recent years, LeBeau has added management of The Nature Center at TPWD’s Tyler facility as part of his duties. That has put him in contact with hunters and fishermen of all experience levels, along with school-aged children, college students and adults learning about nature. The Center will soon house all local TPWD divisions including Wildlife, Fisheries, Parks and Law Enforcement.
LeBeau identified former state waterfowl biologist Carl Frentress as his mentor. LeBeau said he looked up to the way Frentress connected hunting and fishing to the natural world and the lifecycle.
“He was just full of wisdom. Not just hunting and fishing, but how the world worked,” LeBeau said.
Others who have followed have looked up to LeBeau’s guidance.
“I’ve known Larry since 1993 when he first started with TPWD at Cooper WMA as the first agency employee on the property. I was in graduate school at Texas A&M-Commerce at the time and he was instrumental in influencing my eventual career with TPWD in so many ways,” said Steve Lange, TPWD Wildlife Regional Director for the Post Oak Region.
LeBeau started his wildlife career working on a private ranch in the Panhandle and used that experience in relations with landowners and hunters while with TPWD.
“Since 1997, Larry has worked with private lands providing common sense technical guidance through the relationships he’s fostered and maintained through the years. The trust built amongst landowners is priceless in our business and Larry is one of the best,” Lange said.
It takes an entire state to create the quality of wildlife Texans enjoy, and that includes biologists like Larry LeBeau.