Be a Fish and Game Warden: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a fish and game warden. Research the job description, the education and training requirements, and find out how to start a career in wildlife law enforcement.

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Should I Become a Fish and Game Warden?

Fish and game wardens, also called conservation or wildlife officers, enforce hunting, fishing, trapping and boating laws. Their main goal is to protect wildlife, which can include patrolling assigned fishing and hunting areas, collecting data, investigating complaints and pursuing prosecution. When animal or human safety is threatened, they might conduct search and rescue operations.

These wardens also respond to automobile collisions with wildlife, issue hunting licenses and conduct inspections of the various processing centers associated with fishing and other industries. Fish and game wardens should be comfortable spending time outside in all kinds of weather and terrain, as well as be a proficient swimmer. They also must be able to deal with stressful and potentially dangerous situations.

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Career Requirements

Degree Level Varies; generally an associate's or a bachelor's degree
Degree Field Wildlife, wildlife science management, fisheries sciences, natural resources law enforcement or a related program
Licensure and/or Certification Written and physical exams are required to be passed by applicants, but there is not an official certification or licensure requirement
Experience Once hired, cadets will be sent to a training program, likely at a police academy; some states may require experience as a police officer
Key Skills Physical endurance; ability to navigate natural settings regardless of weather conditions; compassion and dedication to the protection of wildlife; familiarity with mapping software; proficiency in use and maintenance of various firearms; ability to operate recreational and all-terrain vehicles used to traverse waterways and terrestrial environments; understanding of biology and scientific measurement and collection techniques
Salary $53,260 mean annual wage for fish and game wardens (May 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), iSeek.org, ONet Online, State of California

Step 1: Meet Physical Fitness Requirements

Fish and game wardens usually must meet physical fitness requirements. This generally includes nearly perfect vision, normal color perception and normal hearing. Applicants may also be required to pass several swimming tests. Additionally, wardens have to be able to pilot vehicles at high speeds, possibly in the water, over ice and on rough terrain. Applicants must also be U.S. citizens who hold a valid driver's license. Additionally, candidates must be free from revocations or suspensions for 12 months prior to application. Individuals interested in pursuing this career should first make sure that they could qualify for a position.

Step 2: Earn an Associate's Degree

In most states, the minimum educational requirement for fish and game warden positions is 60 hours of college credit or a 2-year associate's degree. Appropriate majors can include wildlife management, biology, ecology and natural resource management. Criminal justice is another way to pursue these positions, but criminal justice majors should also be proficient in life sciences in order to be considered for a position. It should be noted that federal government positions require a bachelor's degree in biology or criminal justice. Thus, prospective fish and game wardens who wish to work at the federal level should pursue a bachelor's degree rather than an associate's degree.

Success Tip:

  • Complete any available internship programs. Some academic programs may work with state government offices to place students in internships. Additionally, students enrolled in state colleges and universities may be able to become warden trainees while in school. These opportunities allow college students to gain on-the-job experience with issues like fishing and forestry while also building their resumes.
  • Participate in outdoor/recreational hobbies. Hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, boating and other activities based in nature can offer helpful experience and provide integral background knowledge needed for this position.

Step 3: Gain Preliminary Law Enforcement Experience

Aspiring fish and game wardens may need to work for two years as police officers before they can apply for the position. Prospective candidates can look to a state-certified police academy to complete this requirement. Such programs are generally completed in approximately four months, and they may provide college credit. This requirement may be waived for those who have two years of full-time military service with an honorable discharge or two years of experience in a natural resources job. This requirement can be highly variable by state.

Step 4: Get On-the-Job Training

Once hired, candidates typically complete training programs that can last 3-12 months, during which time they learn about numerous laws affecting endangered species and animal habitats. They may also be trained to deal with violations of drug and smuggling laws. In some areas, fish and game wardens receive instruction on how to enforce recreational, motor vehicle and criminal laws.

Step 5: Advance in Rank

Much like police officers, entry-level fish and game wardens who gain experience can become lieutenants, captains or majors, among other ranks. Qualifications for advancement might include passing exam scores and the fulfillment of performance requirements. In some states, fish and game wardens can also receive training for positions in specialized units, such as a K-9 teams, search and rescue teams, marine investigation units and forensics reconstruction teams.

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