How to Become a Game Warden
Officers who patrol natural areas, enforcing laws regarding the treatment of wildlife and human behavior in these areas, are commonly known as fish and game wardens, or sometimes conservation or wildlife officers. They ensure that hunters and fishermen possess licenses and obey laws limiting what they are allowed to take, teach and enforce safety in camping and boating, and may even help to conduct searches for missing persons in their jurisdiction. Fish and game wardens may also be responsible for monitoring endangered species and ensuring their habitats are protected.
For those looking to find out how to become a fish and game warden, they should first meet the basic physical requirements in addition to certain education and law enforcement experience. Follow the steps to becoming a game warden below to give yourself the best shot at success in this career.
Meet Basic Game Warden Requirements
The exact requirements necessary to become a fish and game warden vary from state to state, but typically applicants will need to be at least 18-20 years old, U.S. citizens (or legal residents), and residents of the state in which they intend to work. Physical requirements have the most variance, but often include normal color vision correctable to 20/20, normal hearing, and the ability to pass a physical exam. Requirements similar to those for other law enforcement officers, such as a clean background check, no history of drug use, and the legal ability to drive and carry a firearm, also apply. Applicants will need a degree of familiarity with local fish and wildlife, even if it is not in the form of a degree for game wardens. Oral and written examinations are often part of the application process. Some states may require prior law enforcement experience.
Obtain Relevant Game Warden Education
The next step in how to become a fish and wildlife officer is to meet the education requirements. Most states require at least some college education, but more commonly an associate's or bachelor's degree will be needed. States will list the necessary degrees for game wardens in the application requirements, but they often include:
- Biology or sub-fields such as botany or oceanography
- Environmental science
- Park or wildlife management
- Criminal justice
Some schools offer online degrees in wildlife management or criminal justice, just check to be certain that you are looking at an accredited university. Some of these online programs may also have practical requirements which cannot be performed online, however. Internships are sometimes an option within these degree programs, and participating in these can help to build your resume before applying. If an internship isn't available, look for seasonal work at parks or volunteer work instead. Attending a law enforcement academy may also be required, which will provide the training and education necessary to function as an officer of the peace.
As noted above, knowledge of local plants and wildlife is necessary even if one's degree isn't in this area, so courses on wildlife conservation and other similar topics are recommended as a supplement to other degrees.
Fish and Game Warden Career Information
Once you have the appropriate game warden education and training, you can apply to fish and wildlife officer positions and start your career. Like other law enforcement roles, wildlife officers sometimes adhere to a rank system, with titles like sergeant, captain, or investigator. Increased rank often comes with greater responsibilities, supervisory roles, and higher pay, serving as the primary form of career advancement. Cadet or trainee ranks may exist for the purposes of training new wardens, or may function similarly to internships.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fish and game wardens had a mean annual wage of $59,260 in 2018; wages can be affected by cost of living, education, rank, and/or experience. States with the highest numbers of fish and game wardens include Texas, New York, North Carolina, California, and Wisconsin, so these may be good places to consider when applying to and enrolling in universities.