Game Wardens Career Overview: Requirements, Duties, and Salary

Game wardens, also known as fish and wildlife officers, work in state and federal conservation management to protect wildlife and natural resources. Game wardens intervene and make arrests when wildlife crimes occur. Their tasks often involve remote and rugged terrain, making this job ideal for outdoor lovers.

State, federal, and private sectors employ game wardens to oversee adherence to wildlife laws and regulations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recorded the average annual wage for fish and game wardens as $57,810 in May 2020.

Game wardens must hold an associate or a bachelor's degree, be at least 21 years old, and maintain excellent physical fitness. Common degrees for game wardens include criminal law, environmental studies, wildlife management, and biology. On this page, we provide an overview of how to become a game warden.

Read the Specifics: Specializations | Salary | Requirements | FAQs

What Does a Game Warden Do?

A game warden maintains and manages wildlife conservation by enforcing fishing, hunting, and poaching laws. State and federal parks, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and state wildlife departments hire fish and wildlife officers to carry out wildlife conservation laws.

Game wardens regularly interact with law officials at the state and federal levels. On an average day, a game warden may also speak with recreational hunters and fishers to check for proper licenses and ensure the safety of outdoor activities.

Game wardens investigate poaching violations, conduct search and rescue operations, present at public educational programs, and offer assistance to other law enforcement agencies. Those interested in working outdoors might consider game warden training.

Game wardens investigate poaching violations, conduct search and rescue operations, present at public educational programs, and offer assistance to other law enforcement agencies.

Fish and wildlife officer job descriptions vary by region. Depending on their location, game wardens possess different qualifications and specialities. Game wardens working in forest land may monitor hunting activity, while those monitoring the coast might enforce fishing laws.

Game wardens may work normal daytime hours or evening hours. Overtime might occur if game wardens respond to an emergency situation. Working during holidays and weekends is not uncommon, as these are the busiest times for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation.

Key Soft Skills

Communication: Whether communicating with colleagues or the public, game wardens must clearly articulate the laws and ask the right questions. These communication skills also extend to written communication.

Problem-Solving: Game wardens often solve problems in the field with limited resources. Using the tools and knowledge available, game wardens must uncover helpful solutions in a reasonable amount of time.

Time Management: While working in the field, game wardens own sole responsibility for completing tasks. They must carefully manage their time.

Key Hard Skills

Navigation: Navigating in the field is crucial, especially if game wardens are attempting a rescue or tracking an animal. Using a compass and GPS are important hard skills for game wardens.

Knowledge of Wildlife: A game warden's wildlife knowledge varies depending on region of employment. They should also have knowledge of local plants.

Familiarity with Local Laws: Game wardens must be proficient in various laws and regulations to enforce them. This includes local, state, and federal fish and wildlife requirements.

A Day in the Life of a Fish and Wildlife Officer

The average day in the life of a fish and wildlife officer depends on where the officer works. For example, some game wardens might patrol assigned areas to enforce local laws while others specialize in search and rescue operations.

Fish and wildlife officers might not always work the same hours each day. Daily tasks depend on when a game warden is on duty. The list below details a game warden's regular tasks:

  • Enforce laws
  • Investigate violations of the law
  • Assist wildlife management efforts
  • Write incident reports
  • Coordinate public educational programs
  • Testify in court
  • Collect and catalogue evidence
  • Investigate and collect wildlife and environmental change data
  • Work with law enforcement agencies
  • Perform search and rescue operations

Areas of Specialization for Game Wardens

While all game wardens enforce laws that protect fish and wildlife, some might choose to specialize within the industry. Specialties allow game wardens to focus on particular tasks or problems. The table below details some of the most popular fish and wildlife officer specializations.

Specialization Description Required Education Licensure and Certification Requirements Career Titles Within This Specialization
Search and Rescue Game wardens with this specialization focus on finding and rescuing civilians in the field. Officers may work with canines, scuba gear, aviation, and CPR. Standard game warden education or work experience, intensive training Firearm license, state certification Wildlife officer
Special Operations Game wardens in special operations work to locate and expose potential violations of wildlife and fishery conservation laws. Bachelor's degree, intensive training Firearm license Undercover game warden, undercover officer
Public Education Game wardens can specialize in public education. These wardens hold expertise in giving presentations to the public on local wildlife and conservation efforts. Associate degree, basic game warden training Yearly stamina testing, firearm license Wildlife control agent, wildlife manager
National or State Park Ranger Game wardens working in national or state parks enforce state and federal wildlife laws within the park. Bachelor's degree, master's degree required for senior roles Yearly training that varies state by state Park warden, park ranger

Game Warden Salary and Career Outlook

The BLS reports a $27.90 median hourly wage for game wardens as of May 2020. The agency projects employment numbers to increase 7% from 2020-2030. Prospective game wardens apply for jobs through state or federal fish and wildlife services. These jobs remain highly competitive.

The BLS reports a $27.90 median hourly wage for game wardens as of May 2020

Game wardens' career progression begins at entry-level roles and rises through several levels of seniority before advancing to the highest credential. Obtaining the most senior game warden position usually requires several years of experience. Game wardens usually receive promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain based on written examinations and on-the-job performance.

Senior-level game wardens generally pass stricter sets of requirements to receive promotions. These requirements are usually specialized certifications or a defined number of years of experience. The exact promotional path for game wardens may vary based on location and department.

Average Annual Salary: $57,810
Source: BLS

Next Steps on the Career Path

All fish and game officials must earn associate degrees. Some states require game wardens to earn a bachelor's degree in wildlife conservation, environmental management, criminal justice, biology, or a related topic. To earn promotions, game wardens must serve for a defined number of years and earn specific certifications. Potential senior-level game warden roles include:

  • Federal Wildlife Officer
  • Wildlife Inspector
  • Game Warden Captain

Where Can I Work as a Game Warden?

According to the BLS, Florida, Texas, and New York have the highest levels of employment for fish and game wardens as of May 2020. The BLS also recorded California, New Jersey, and Illinois pay game wardens the highest salaries, with California paying an average annual salary of $88,150 as of May 2020.

Game wardens find work in state and national parks, along with lakes, forests, coastal regions, and mountains. Location affects game wardens' specializations and job duties. Duties may include leading search and rescue operations or teaching educational programs.

Game wardens can find work in nearly every state and community. However, prospective game wardens must consider potential relocation if desiring to work in a specific region.

More job opportunities exist in metropolitan areas. According to the BLS, Oklahoma City, OK, Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport, VA-NC, and Providence-Warwick, RI-MA land in the top three metropolitan areas with the highest employment for game wardens.

How to Become a Game Warden

The precise requirements and steps for becoming a game warden differ state to state. However, a set of basic qualifications usually remains consistent in all locations.

At a minimum, game wardens must possess a valid U.S. driver's license, perform a physical readiness test, pass a background check and medical examination, plus be a minimum 21 years old. Read below for the steps to becoming a game warden.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Many prospective game wardens earn a degree in criminal justice or in environmental and ecological study. Some states require game wardens to earn an associate degree while others require a bachelor's degree. Job candidates might consider earning a certificate in a specialized area to boost their resumes.

Step 2: Complete Training

Similar to law enforcement, game wardens complete training at an academy. Training includes wildlife conservation skills and law enforcement tactics. Trainee game wardens must possess exceptional physical fitness, good hearing, strong vision, and a desire to work outdoors.

Step 3: Pass All Tests and Exams

After successful completion of a training program, game warden candidates must pass a series of exams. The exams consist of written and practical sections, including a medical exam and proof of safe firearm usage.

Step 4: Receive a Job Offer

Once prospective game wardens earn passing scores on all exams, they can find work. Candidates submit job applications through state or federal fish and wildlife agencies. Recent graduates may qualify for entry-level game warden roles unless additional work experience appears on the application.


Game Warden Requirements in Education

Depending on their home state, game wardens must earn an associate degree or bachelor's degree to qualify for fish and game officer training. Common degrees include natural resource science, criminal law, or biology.

Game warden candidates take a 15- to 44-week training course. The number of weeks required varies based on location. Training includes physical conditioning, defensive tactics, and firearms. Candidates also obtain knowledge of state and federal laws, arrest procedures, and first aid.

Depending on their home state, game wardens must earn an associate degree or bachelor's degree to qualify for fish and game officer training.

Some states require training in all-terrain vehicles, whitewater rafts, aircraft, snowmobiles, mountain bikes, and jet boats. Candidates may learn how to use night vision goggles, GPS units, digital cameras, and radar-spotting scopes.

In addition to basic training, game wardens receive 700-750 additional hours of training in wildlife and fish law enforcement. Generally, training at the state level requires fewer weeks of study than training at the federal level.

Learn more about degree programs for game wardens:

License and Certification Requirements for Game Wardens

Specific license and certification requirements for game wardens vary by jurisdiction. Some game wardens choose to earn certifications in specific topics to advance their careers. The list below covers the most common requirements:

  • Firearm License: During required training, game wardens must learn how to safely use a firearm. Game warden candidates must prove firearm skills before training completion.
  • State Certification: Some states require game wardens to earn state certifications. This certification is state-specific and proves that recipients know the wildlife and fishery regulations pertinent in their state of employment. Game warden candidates should consult individual state websites for more information.
  • Topic-Specific Certification: State and federal agencies usually do not require certifications in a specific area. However, such certification can help propel a game warden's career. Game wardens can specialize in cadet training, search and rescue, public education, among others.

Required Experience for Game Wardens

Game warden candidates can either earn a degree in higher education or possess at least one year of work experience in law enforcement or natural resources. Prospective game wardens may pursue education in criminal law or a field of natural studies. Work experience includes employment by a state or federal environmental agency.

Prospective game wardens can earn work experience along with an educational degree. Internships and volunteer opportunities exist at both the state and federal levels. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department offers internships to both high school and college students. Students can find seasonal employment and internships at the state level as well.

Fish and wildlife officer candidates should consider pursuing work experience in an industry related to their desired field of employment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a game warden a cop? true

A game warden can write tickets and arrest offenders similar to a cop, but game wardens report to a different agency than police officers. Game wardens also focus on conservation laws whereas police officers focus on general state and federal laws.

What are the different types of fish and wildlife officers? true

Game wardens, fish and wildlife officers, park wardens, and wildlife control agents fall within the same field. The responsibilities of each role varies state by state.

How long is game warden training?

Game warden training can last from 14 to 44 weeks depending on the state. All training programs test candidate's physical stamina and knowledge of local conservation rules and regulations.

What state has the highest-paid game wardens?

According to the BLS, California, New Jersey, and Illinois provide the highest-paying game warden jobs. Florida, Texas, and New York offer the highest number of jobs for game wardens.


Featured Image: Thomas Juul / The Image Bank / Getty Images

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