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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden

Fish and game wardens or conservation officers are peace officers who are commissioned in the state in which they perform their job duties. They ensure that applicable Fish and Wildlife Codes are obeyed and enforce state fishing, boating, and hunting laws and any federal laws that pertain to these activities.

Fish and Game Warden Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Fish and game wardens protect the nation’s wildlife from such illegal activity as poaching, trapping, and falconry and assist visitors at federal, state, and local parks. These highly trained officers keep a close watch on fish and wildlife, looking for changes, such as pollution, to their environment. Fish and game wardens investigate criminal behavior related to fish and wildlife, write reports, make arrests, gather evidence, interview suspects and witnesses, and may be called to testify in court. They also assist other law enforcement groups when wildlife – such as cougars, bears, or coyotes – wander into residential areas. Fish and game wardens may also help during search and rescue operations.

How to Become a Fish and Game Warden: Requirements and Qualifications

The minimum age requirement for fish and game wardens is either 18 or 21 years, depending on the state. Successful candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, but some states will waive this education requirement if the applicant has a two year associate’s degree in addition to law enforcement experience or full-time fish and/or wildlife experience. As there are usually more applicants for fish and game warden positions than there are job openings, a four-year degree can give an applicant an edge over other applicants. Once an individual is selected to become a fish and game warden, he or she undergoes further study at a training academy for approximately three to 12 months.

Fish and game wardens must be in good physical shape, must familiarize themselves with the outdoors and the laws contained in the Fish and Wildlife Code, and must study law enforcement policy and procedures. As this is a law enforcement position, a background check and polygraph are required in most states. Individuals must also be prepared to submit to periodic drug tests during employment.

Successful candidates must also:

  • Have or obtain the required education (an associate’s or bachelor’s degree)
  • Have a clean criminal record
  • Meet state age, citizenship, and other requirements

Contact your state’s Department of Fish and Game for information on local requirements and opportunities. You can request free info from a school below if you need to attain the minimum education requirement. Featured schools have online programs that allow students the flexibility to work while earning a degree.

Fish and Game Warden Job Training

Once an individual is selected to become a fish and game warden, he or she undergoes further study at a training academy for approximately three to 12 months. Individuals who earn a position as a fish and game warden with the federal government must complete a 20-week training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Agency in Glynco, Georgia; trainees spend the final two weeks in West Virginia. Training covers both wildlife law enforcement and criminal investigations, including such subjects as identification of wildlife and the proper use of firearms. Following successful completion of the training academy, fish and game wardens must shadow Field Training Officers (FTO) for 10 weeks to gain hands-on experience under the watchful eye of a seasoned fish and game warden before moving to their assigned location.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Previous experience working with wildlife, either in a paid or volunteer position, may enhance employment opportunities. Knowing how to drive a boat, a small airplane, or a tractor and understanding how to make basic repairs to motor vehicles are also beneficial.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Conservation officer
  • Refuge officer
  • Wildlife control agent
  • Wildlife enforcement officer
  • Wildlife officer

Career Opportunities and Employers

Fish and game wardens who gain experience and engage in continuing education may find advancement opportunities as a Field Training Officer (FTO) or in administration. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the states with the most jobs for fish and game wardens are Texas, New York, Georgia, California, and North Carolina. Metropolitan areas that lead the list with the most employment opportunities include Virginia Beach, Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; and Baltimore, Maryland.

Fish and Game Warden Salary and Outlook

The BLS reports that fish and game wardens earned an average annual salary of $54,970 as of 2015.1 The top 10% earned an average annual salary of $6,510.1 There were approximately 5,630 fish and game wardens working in the US in 2015, with the majority (5,100) employed in state government.1

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What is the work atmosphere like for fish and game wardens?

Fish and game wardens must have an affinity for the outdoors because their “office” is the outdoors, regardless of the season or the weather.

What kind of work schedule do fish and game wardens work?

Fish and game wardens generally work full time – which may include nights, weekends, and holidays – and should be prepared to work overtime when necessary.

How long does the hiring process generally take?

After submitting an application, candidates should expect the entire process to take a minimum of a few months.

Are there any risks with the job?

Yes. Candidates should be prepared for such risks as dealing with dangerous animals, poisonous plants, and hazardous materials.

Are there any continuing requirements for working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service?

Yes. Fish and game wardens must initially pass a physical examination. A similar evaluation will be administered annually throughout employment. Fish and game wardens must pass the physical exam – which consists of a 1.5 mile run, push-ups, sit-ups, and agility – to ensure they are still able to effectively do their jobs.

Additional Resources

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1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages May 2015, Fish and Game Wardens: http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333031.htm