How to Become a Game Warden
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine this: Deep, green forests lush and wild, alive with the sounds of its animal inhabitants; cool, rushing streams and vast rivers and lakes teeming with fish and birds; mountains and valleys abundant with acre after acre of flora and fauna; long, quiet stretches of grassy, peaceful meadowlands; and miles of coastline wild with foaming surf. Now imagine these areas are where you report to work every day. Your office is the outdoors. You have neither four walls nor a cubicle hemming you in. You have miles of land to patrol where your only walls are stands of trees, mountains, and bluffs. If you love being outside, protecting the environment, and working with animals, then a career where you not only get to defend our nation’s fascinating and glorious wildlife, but one where you can be out in fresh air nearly everyday is the one for you. Who is lucky enough to have this for their career? Game Wardens, Fish and Game Wardens, and Wildlife Wardens.
There are, of course, other requirements to becoming a Game Warden besides really loving the outdoors, but when you know what steps you must take, it is a straightforward process. While each state has slightly different requirements (such as age and degree specifications) the qualifications necessary to become a Game Warden or Game and Fish Warden are essentially the same.
The following list highlights the steps you’ll need to take to become a Game Warden, or a Game and Fish Warden:
- Characteristic: A love of the outdoors and being outdoors in all kinds of weather and terrain.
- Education: A four year Bachelor’s Degree, ideally in a related field (such as Biology, Forestry, or Criminal Justice), but some states consider those with two year Associate Degrees.
- Application: In order to be considered for a Game and Fish Warden position, most states require that you are at least 21 years old, though some accept 18. Additionally, you must have a valid driver’s license and will be subject to a thorough background check.
- Fitness: A certain level of fitness is expected to become a Game Warden. You will be tested on your fitness level during the application process.
- Mental Health: You will undergo a psychological exam to ascertain that you have good mental health.
- Training: Because a Game and Fish Warden is considered a Peace Officer, you must attend a Warden or Police Academy. The length of time varies, but is usually between three months to a year, the average being six months. You will take courses including those covering the laws you will need to know when you become a Game Warden; will learn various driving methods in various vehicles, situations, and terrains; will become adept at firearms safety and usage, and defensive tactics.
- Graduation: Once you graduate from the academy, you will be assigned a post in the state where you are a Game Warden, Fish and Game Warden, or Wildlife Warden.
Game Warden Salary
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2009, the mean annual Fish and Game Warden Salary was $54,950 annually, with Maryland offering the highest Game Warden pay at $67,430. The lowest of the high paying states was Wyoming, coming in at $54,350. Research shows that Game and Fish Warden pay in some states can start at just over $30,000 per year, but the norm is around $54,950. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also indicates that the lowest pay—the tenth percentile—was $14.87 per hour, or $30,920 per year.
Of course there are many factors that help raise the starting Game Warden salary, education being one of the most important. A four year Bachelor’s Degree in any subject is required for most states, but those with a degree pertaining to subjects like criminal justice, biology, forestry, wildlife management, and other environmental sciences will most likely have a chance to secure higher pay. Anyone with a law enforcement or military background will also have an advantage over those who do not in both pay and consideration for employment.
With the exception of Wyoming, the states that pay the highest Game Warden Salary are not necessarily those that have the most Game Warden Positions available. The yearly salary in states with a higher concentration of Game Wardens are below the national average with South Dakota at $36,820, Maine at $40,660, Montana at $42,420, and Idaho at $52,160. Perhaps the higher paying states can afford to do so because they have less Game Wardens to pay. Despite the difference in pay, a Game Warden’s duties are pretty much the same throughout the country. Differences would lie in the weather, amount of land patrolled, and type of terrain.
Compensation for Game Wardens—Top Paying States, National Averages, Lowest Pay
|Maryland||California||Nevada||Washington||Wyoming||National Average (est)||Lowest Annual Pay|
Fish and Game Warden—a Closer Look
It is a noble and ever-changing job being a Fish and Game Warden. For instance, the typical Game Warden job description specifies that it is the duty of the Fish and Game Warden, or Wildlife Warden, to enforce fish and wildlife laws, as well as boating and trapping laws, while protecting natural resources and patrolling assigned areas. The areas assigned to Wardens are often vast, so each day the job takes them somewhere new: One day they could be monitoring fish in a stream and the next day be relocating a black bear that keeps wandering too close to a campground. Their duties might take them to the beach or the dense forest, or even to the wide blue sky for aerial surveillance.
When looking into becoming a Fish and Game Warden or a Fish and Wildlife Warden, it will quickly become clear that it is primarily a law enforcement position. However, the main difference in being a Police Officer and being a Game Warden is that Game Wardens are chiefly law enforcement for fish, wildlife, and the environment, though they also watch over and protect human visitors in wildlife areas and parks. Game Wardens are also expected to implement general law enforcement when called upon, be it ticketing someone they catch exceeding the speed limit or providing back up to police officers, and Game Wardens have statewide jurisdiction to enforce the law. Furthermore, Fish and Game Wardens, or Fish and Wildlife Wardens, could very well serve as the only law enforcement in remote areas.
In addition to law enforcement, Game Wardens promote public education concerning outdoor safety and conservation, wildlife resources, and programs offered through the department. Other duties may include issuing hunting and fishing licenses, investigating crop or livestock damage caused by wildlife, participating in search and rescue operations, and conducting hunting accident investigations. They are often the foremost representative of their state’s Fish, Game, and Wildlife Department.
Fish and Game Warden Job Description
Not many careers offer such fascinating versatility in their duties as do Fish and Game Warden or Wildlife Warden careers. Game Wardens spend most of their time outdoors and have a high level of fitness—it is a job that encourages good health and well-being. In all seasons and weather, Game Wardens patrol their assigned areas, sometimes spanning hundreds of miles of varying countryside. Areas patrolled may include forests, lakes, mountains, deserts, and urban areas, and the vehicles used in patrolling these areas include trucks, ATVs, horses, airplanes, and boats. So, not only do Game Wardens get to see and work in a variety of landscapes, they also get the opportunity to operate a number of different vehicles. Patrol can also be done on foot, and while on patrol, Game Wardens observe their environment, ensuring that all is as it should be. Good hearing, vision, and attention to detail are necessary qualities to effectively observe their environment. Game Wardens work independently much of the time, but are expected to be able to work well with others when necessary.
Because Game Wardens are Peace Officers, they are required to wear a uniform and carry a weapon. Although it does involve some paperwork, this is definitely not an office job; therefore, the ability to compile reports that document daily activities is essential. Game Wardens must be well-versed in the laws and regulations they are upholding and possess the ability to investigate in-depth when necessary. Furthermore, with law enforcement comes the occasional duty to arrest those suspected of violations like poaching, or driving or boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs; thus, Game Wardens must prepare cases for trial. Preparing for trial may include collecting and preserving evidence, presenting such evidence and other information in court, and testifying effectively.
Fish and Game Warden Working Conditions
Because most days are spent in the field, a Fish and Game Warden, or Wildlife Warden, should be comfortable outdoors in all weather and at various locations. Sun, rain, wind, or snow, blazing temperatures or freezing cold, one day may be spent along a creek or river and the next in a lush forest. Each day is different for a Game Warden not only in terms of weather, but daily activities. There are many various duties that come with the job—upholding the law, preserving wildlife and the environment, public education, and investigations. Although many of these duties are performed solitarily, a Warden may interact with the public quite often, whether it is to educate about conservation and wildlife, laws and regulations, or hunter safety, or to help sort out problems between landowners and wildlife.
Game Wardens have the pleasure of working in various locations and all kinds of weather, but they are sometimes expected to work during state and federal holidays, hours beyond eight a.m. to five p.m., and have days off other than Saturday and Sunday; furthermore, they may at times be on call 24 hours a day. Additionally, Game Wardens may be assigned a post anywhere in the state and are expected to reside within reasonable limits of that post. Indeed, these are further aspects of the job that keep it interesting.
Occasionally, Game Wardens may be in somewhat hazardous positions—handling drunken hunters, poachers, or stumbling on a hidden location for illegal drug activity in the woods. They may encounter wounded or aggressive wildlife, and may have to assist with human and wildlife interactions. Fortunately Game Wardens are trained to know how to act in all of these situations in order to keep themselves safe.
Game Warden Training
Once hired, Game Wardens will attend either a Game Warden Training Academy or a Police Academy, depending upon what their state of employment offers. Because Game Wardens are Peace Officers, they receive law enforcement training. Much like its duties, Game Warden Training is similar throughout the country; however, there are some slight differences, such as the length of time Game Wardens are required to attend a specified Academy. Depending on the state’s particular requirements, attendance at the Academy can last anywhere from three to twelve months. To illustrate, Montana Game Wardens can expect to attend an Academy for 12 weeks, whereas Virginia Game Wardens must attend for 34 weeks.
While at the Academy, Game Wardens will be tested on a variety of skills for which they will train extensively. Training for Game Wardens usually includes learning defense tactics and how to correctly use firearms like handguns, rifles, and shotguns, in addition to immobilization weapons like dart guns. There is also daily intense physical fitness training that involves push ups, sit ups, running, and swimming, as Game Wardens are expected to have a high level of fitness. Additionally, Game Wardens learn to operate a number of different vehicles on different terrains; for example, in Virginia driving courses might include High-Speed Reaction, Off-Road Obstacle Negotiation, and All Terrain Vehicle Operation. In states with more snowfall, such as Wyoming, Game Wardens will learn to use snowmobiles in addition to other vehicles. Since most states have waterways to be patrolled, Game Wardens must be excellent swimmers and know or learn how to operate watercraft.
In addition to the aforementioned physical requirements, Game Warden training involves gaining knowledge of federal and state laws pertaining to fish and wildlife, as well as humans. Game Wardens will also learn administrative aspects relevant to their job.
Finally, training for Game Wardens includes basic first aid and CPR training, which is repeated each year of employment.
Game Warden Requirements
Game Warden education requirements call for at least a high school diploma, and at most a four year degree with a specific focus relating to the field, such as Criminal Justice. Most states require prospective employees to be at least 21 years old before entering the academy or the day they enter the academy, or by the day of appointment to the position; however, here are a few states that will accept those as young as 18 or 20.
It is necessary to be a United States citizen and have a valid driver’s license in the state that you are applying to be a Game Warden in order to meet the basic Fish and Game Warden qualifications.
As part of the application process, candidates are subject to an extensive background investigation. This investigation involves a check of criminal and credit history, driving record, and in general confirming that the applicant is of good moral character. There is also a psychological exam to verify that the aspiring Game and Fish Warden is in acceptable mental health. Oftentimes a polygraph test is included in this part of the application process.
Furthermore, potential Game Wardens must meet certain physical demands. Vision and hearing are checked, and binocular vision of 20/30 (in most states) or better with or without glasses or contacts is desired. Additionally, the candidate must have uninterrupted peripheral vision of 140 degrees or better, night vision, and the ability to distinguish red and green colors. Other physical necessities are the capability to perform a specified amount of sit ups and push ups, run a certain distance within given time limits, swim at length, and carry and drag heavy objects. Basically, one of the main Game Warden requirements is that the applicant be in excellent physical condition.
Finally, applicants must possess some basic knowledge of fish, wildlife, and outdoor recreation.
Game Warden Education
While there aren’t Game Warden schools per se, there are several choices of degrees at a variety of schools you can obtain that would meet many of the requirements for becoming a Game Warden. A degree in criminal justice, offered throughout the country at schools both large and small, is just one choice, and it will certainly be helpful with the law enforcement aspect of the Game Warden’s job. In addition to criminal justice, most colleges and universities offer degrees in natural resources or conservation-related sciences such as biology, forestry, and ecosystems, to name just a few. These nature and environmental science related degrees are also good to have when applying for a Game Warden position. Thus, the lack of designated Game Warden institutions simply means that any college or university potentially could be considered “schools with Game Warden programs.” To that end, getting your Game Warden education is easier than you might think since the necessary courses are available at most any college or university in the United States.
The electives available to choose from when getting a Game Warden education include some fascinating subjects, and you might be surprised at the amount of classes you can take and the topics they cover. For instance, forestry, wildlife, and recreation are just a few subjects from which to choose. Forestry courses are not merely learning about trees, they can include wetlands analysis, water and soil quality, and wildlife conservation. Wildlife electives might focus on conservation, ecology, and management, while recreation will cover topics that include planning and managing. You should also expect to learn about more technical subjects like economics, statistics, computer science, and engineering. Finally, general coursework such as English composition, mathematic, history, and science will apply.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Texas, the second largest state in the US, has one of the most diverse landscapes out of all 50 states. To illustrate, there are hundreds of miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, 15 rivers, five verdant state forests in the eastern part of the state, millions of acres of arid desert terrain in the western part, rugged mountains, and the southernmost part of the Great Plains rolls gently down the state from north to south. Just as the geography of Texas is widely varied, so are the animals. Armadillos, prairie dogs and prairie chickens, cougars, black bears, jackrabbits, and deer, the list goes on. In the many bodies of fresh water, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, there are countless fish and mammals, and birds abound statewide. If you enjoy spending most of your time outside, working for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) offers endless opportunities and experiences.
If you would like to be a Game Warden for the TPWD, you should first determine if being a Texas Game Warden is the job for you. It best suits those who love the outdoors and enjoy spending most of their time outside. It is a Peace Officer position, so Game Wardens wear uniforms, carry weapons, and uphold federal and state laws, most of their focus being on the laws that protect fish and wildlife in the state; however, if they are needed to support other areas of law enforcement, then they do so. The day to day job of Game Wardens is never stagnant—the scenery is ever changing, as are the animals and people a Texas Game Warden interacts with each day.
Once you’ve determined if a job with the TPWD is for you, then you need to know how to become a Game Warden in Texas and the qualifications for working at the TPWD. Much like other states, Texas requires a four year bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university in order to become a Game Warden. Although they do not specify that the degree is in criminal justice or in a wildlife- or conservation-related field, those with degrees in these subjects will have an advantage over those who do not. Also, you must be 21 years old on or before entering the Game Warden Training Academy, which is located near Hamilton, Texas. Cadets will live at and attend the Game Warden Training Academy for 30 weeks.
The TPWD offers numerous other positions for those who are interested in working in the field of parks and wildlife: Fish and Wildlife Technician, Park Manager, Park Specialist, Park Ranger, Game Warden, and Natural Resource Specialist (Wildlife Biologist, Fisheries Biologist). The education requirements for these positions range from a high school diploma or GED to Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife sciences or other related fields. The lowest paid beginning yearly salary (Park Ranger) is about $20,832 to $30,192, while the highest paid beginning salary (Fisheries Biologist) ranges from about $28,536 to $50,820 per year with opportunities for advancement in all positions. As with any job, the more relevant education and experience you possess, the more of an advantage you have over applicants with less education and experience.