What are Game Warden Education Requirements?
Let’s get this out of the way at the beginning, game wardens are licensed peace officers. That means they swear an oath, they wear badges on their chests, and they often carry guns. They’re the protectors of nature; they’re environmental law enforcers. Imagine Aquaman, the Lorax, and Batman morphed into a single person dedicated to keeping natural resources safe from humans, and keeping humans and animals safe during outdoor recreational activities. That’s a game warden.
And it’s a perfect profession for adventurous spirits who like to help others and aren’t afraid to step up when their number is called.
Sound good? Maybe you’re thinking you want to be a game warden but you don’t know how to get there? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Becoming a game warden—or “conservation officer” as they’re often known—takes hard work and and a dedication to human and animal wellbeing. But, there are also steps you can take and subjects you can study to gain the knowledge and skills to differentiate yourself from your peers.
Table of Contents
- What Skills Do I Need
- What Tasks Will I Perform
- What Should I Study
- What Job Titles Should I Look For?
- Career Outlook
- Bottom Line
Skills Game Wardens Need to Acquire
First, let’s start off with the skills you need to acquire. The Department of Labor lists six primary “knowledge areas” as crucial to someone hoping to become a successful game warden. You can expect to develop some of these skills during your schooling and the early part of your career, but you can get started on others now.
You’re probably not going to jump into your new career tomorrow so no one’s expecting you to know the finer points of environmental law or public safety policy right now. But, the customer service aspect of the job is often overlooked and it’s something you can always be developing. Many game wardens spend hours of their days serving the public—in either enforcement or collaborative capacities—and learning to read people and situations with grace, humility, and professionalism is incredibly important.
“As with any law enforcement profession, the best way to guide the public is to be a good example to them both on and off duty,” says Cpl. Joshua Hudson, a game warden with the Delaware Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police. “Show them how to be respectful to others, talk to them with sense and compassion and try to find a solution for them when they have called upon you for your services.”
Day-to-Day Tasks Game Wardens Perform
In addition to public service, the USDOL lists 21 primary tasks game wardens can expect to perform throughout their careers. Of course, one’s daily duties will depend on the state or office in which you’re employed and your level of seniority, but these 10 are the primary duties you can anticipate from Day One.
Tasks include but aren’t limited to:
- Patrol assigned areas by car, boat, airplane, horse, or on foot to enforce game, fish, or boating laws or to manage wildlife programs, lakes, or land
- Compile and present evidence for court actions
- Investigate hunting accidents or reports of fish or game law violations
- Protect and preserve native wildlife, plants, or ecosystems
- Issue warnings or citations and file reports as necessary
- Serve warrants and make arrests
- Provide assistance to other local law enforcement agencies as required
- Promote or provide hunter or trapper safety training
- Participate in search-and-rescue operations
- Investigate crop, property, or habitat damage or destruction to determine causes and to advise property owners of preventive measures
Courses for Future Game Wardens
Fourteen percent of respondents to a USDOL survey of current game wardens held a high school diploma or GED. So, it’s possible to get into the field without a college education, but it’s unlikely. The fact is, it’s a highly competitive profession and you need to differentiate yourself as much as you can if you want to earn a spot in a highly competitive field. A full 83 percent of respondents to the same survey held either 2-year or 4-year degree.
Asked what words of wisdom he’d give to would-be game wardens, Hudson agrees: “I would tell [students] to get involved in the community as much as possible and to take some type of college education related to either law enforcement or science. Also if available, I would have them look at any type of seasonal program that may be available through their state’s Game Warden Department and get involved with that so they can get the real life hands-on experience.”
The bachelor’s degree in conservation law enforcement at Unity College focuses heavily on a mixture of natural science and law enforcement. It blends together coursework from its environmental citizen curriculum as well as courses on crime scene investigation, surveillance, evidence handling, and interview/interrogation techniques.
Environmental Law Enforcement Job Titles
At the most fundamental level, game wardens patrol areas to prevent fish and game law violations. They investigate reports of damage to crops or property by wildlife and they compile biological data from the surrounding natural environment. To that end, “game warden” isn’t the only job title that will allow students to fulfill their need to help others, protect wildlife, and preserve a deep connection to nature.
Job titles for environmental law enforcers include (but aren’t limited to):
- Fisheries enforcement officer
- Natural resources officer
- Wildlife conservation officer
- Wildlife manager
- Park ranger
Other jobs that might resonate with those born to be law enforcers include police officer, forensic science technician, and environmental compliance inspector, but the duties, connection to nature (or lack thereof), and education varied too much to be included in our list.
Career Outlook for Game Wardens
As you might expect, a career as a game warden, conservation officer, or park ranger means you’ll be working in government. The job market for fish and game law enforcement officers is extremely competitive so be prepared for a challenge until you get your first posting. The number of jobs available is growing at a rate of 2-4 percent through 2026, which the labor department considers “slower than average.”
There were 7,000 game warden jobs across the United States in 2016 and just 700 new jobs are projected to become available due to growth and retirement through 2026. It’s a unique career path in which only the best of the best applicants are hired.
The median annual salary for these careers is $56,410, but it’s important to note, that is a nationwide median that includes workers at all levels of education and experience. It can vary significantly based on geography and employer and shouldn’t be considered a starting salary.
The Bottom Line
The life of a game warden is no joke. It’s not a career choice that’s right for everyone. It’s best left to those who feel they’ve been called to protect and serve; those whose commitment to protecting animals and people can be considered almost spiritual.
“Being in harm’s way is something that we face daily but is also part of the job,” Hudson says. “Every person we come in contact with usually has some type of weapon whether it be a fisherman with a filet knife or a deer hunter with his weapon of choice.”
Once you get past the inherently dangerous nature of the job, the hiring process is extremely selective. Basic requirements for most law enforcement positions include lengthy background checks and rigorous academic and physical training. Peace officer eligibility requirements vary by state so be sure to check out the specific guidelines in your area.
But when it comes to being a game warden specifically, Hudson’s advice is simple and straightforward: “The biggest thing I would say to anyone aspiring to be a game warden is to keep their nose clean and stay out of trouble. I would tell them to read the hunting and fishing guides as much as possible and become as familiar as they can with them.”
Check out Unity’s bachelor of science and master of science in conservation law enforcement if these career outlook and options appeal to you. If you’re more interested in the policing and legal aspects of being a game warden, check out our bachelor’s degree in environmental criminal justice.
Photo credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Mountain Prairie, Law Enforcement on Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge