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Fish and Game Warden Education & Careers You’ll protect wildlife and people when you study to become a game warden.

game warden outdoors

Law enforcement sometimes goes beyond protecting just people.

Fish and game wardens (also called conservation officers) serve and protect the public while conserving fish, wildlife, and other natural resources so that everyone can enjoy them. They perform law enforcement duties, educate the public, and do search and rescue for those lost in the wilderness.

What makes for a good game warden? They must be positive, hardworking people who want to succeed in all they do. They also need good life experience, sound judgment, and a strong moral character.

If you’d like to combine your passion for the great outdoors with your interest in law enforcement, getting an education to serve as a game warden can help you do just that.

Game Warden School

There’s no specific game warden school, but getting a degree in criminal justice may go a long way toward the educational requirements of the job. There are also many accredited online schools so you can get the education you need.

Some states have game warden academies that you’re required to attend for basic training before you can become a game warden. The length of academy training will vary from state to state, but you’ll generally study many of the same subjects regardless of which state you live in:

  • Boat operations and water rescue
  • Defensive tactics
  • Driver training
  • First aid
  • Fish, wildlife, and natural resource management
  • Homeland security
  • Law enforcement
  • Physical training
  • Use of firearms

There may also be a period of required field training, which will provide you with hands-on experience.

Game Warden Degrees

Every state is different, but many require game wardens to have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.

Commonly, departments of fisheries and wildlife require candidates to get an associate’s degree in natural resource science, criminal justice, or a closely related field.

Some people also study criminal justice administration, public policy, and administration, or emergency and disaster management, if they aspire to roles higher up in the chain of command. No matter which degree you earn, you’ll likely need to complete a certain number of classes in wildlife or biology.

Consider your particular career goals to determine which degree to pursue.

Fish and Game Warden Requirements

Before you can begin your career, you’ll need to meet the following fish and game warden requirements:

Age: In most locations, you must be at least 21 years old.

Physical stamina and skill: Fish and game wardens have physically demanding jobs, so you must be able to hike over rough terrain, swim, be able to physically control and arrest violators, and operate boats and four-wheel drive vehicles. Some states will require you to take a physical fitness exam with sit-ups, push-ups, and a 1.5 mile run so that candidates can prove their physical fitness.

Exams: You often must pass your state’s standardized game-warden exam. These tests consist of questions about state and federal wildlife laws, local geography, biological, and environmental sciences related to fish and wildlife, and writing skills.

Before becoming a game warden, you’ll be interviewed and need to pass psychological and physical exams, take a urinalysis to screen for illegal drug use, and pass a thorough background check. And some states will only hire police officers.

If you’re just starting out, here are some steps that will help you develop the skills you need to become a game warden:

  • Stay in good physical shape
  • Gain a knowledge of the outdoors and outdoor activities
  • Study natural resource laws and law enforcement techniques
  • Find a summer internship in resource management, outdoor recreation, or law enforcement
  • Become a state law enforcement agent

Game Warden Duties

A game warden’s primary duty is to enforce state fish and wildlife laws. That’s why they’re expected to know everything about hunting, fishing, wildlife regulations and management, camping, and other outdoor activities. When violators break the law, game wardens are close by to arrest them.

Some game wardens start their days well before sunrise, helping biologists study wildlife or fisheries. This research helps set dates and “bag limits” (daily or seasonal hunting or fishing restrictions). Wardens also check licenses and enforce hunting and fishing bag limits.

In addition to enforcing laws, they have many other duties that bring them into contact the public.

Game wardens visit sportsmen’s clubs, schools, scout and civic groups, and speak about hunting and fishing regulations. They also commonly help teach hunter education courses.

They may visit landowners and encourage them to allow hunters and anglers on their property to hunt and fish for excess wildlife. They also monitor and regulate poaching. Catching poachers requires specialized techniques and tactics, and this is the “detective” side of game-warden work.

Job Outlook and Salary Information

There are approximately 7,230 fish and game wardens in the U.S. Earning a four-year degree may set you apart from the competition.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) 2020 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median annual salary for fish and game wardens is $58,040.

Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections for employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Ever wonder which states have the highest number of game wardens? Here are the top five, according to the BLS:

  • Florida
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Tennessee
  • California

Don’t live in one of these states? Don’t worry. Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Maine, and North Dakota have the highest concentration of game warden jobs.

And here are the median salaries the top-paying states:

  • California: $88,150
  • New Jersey: $85,010
  • Illinois: $79,730
  • Washington: $77,330
  • Iowa: $72,890

So regardless of where you want to work, if you’d like to protect the environment and our wildlife, start by getting the education you need to become a fish and game warden.

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020; www.wildlifedepartment.com/laws_regs/facts.htm; www.tpwd.texas.gov/warden/recruiting-careers/instructions