According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 230 people worked as game wardens in North Carolina in 2012. About 200 of them worked for the Division of Law Enforcement of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission while the rest were federal employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Game wardens who work for the state of North Carolina are known as Wildlife Enforcement Officers. Like their federal counterparts, they are certified law enforcement officers with a high level of knowledge related to state wildlife issues.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over 90% of crimes against wildlife go unreported. To reverse this trend, state and federal game wardens have worked in tandem to investigate crimes against wildlife in North Carolina.
The illegal hunting of black bears has been a persistent problem in the South. State and federal game wardens worked together on a four year undercover operation in North Carolina and Georgia targeting illegal poaching rings.
These officers were able to infiltrate some of the rings, resulting in the arrest of over 80 people in 2013. They documented about 900 wildlife violations and expect that these arrests will help to deter future crimes against wildlife in North Carolina. Some of the crimes they encountered included the following:
- Bear baiting
- Illegally using dogs to hunt
- Illegally taking bears and deer, along with other types of animals
- Operating illegal bear enclosures in North Carolina
- Guiding hunts in the national forest without the proper permits
Becoming a fish and game warden in North Carolina can be highly competitive, with a process that varies depending on whether applicants are seeking state or federal jobs. The requirements and training for these different types of positions are described below.
How to Join the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission
The Wildlife Resources Commission of North Carolina receives hundreds of applications for game warden jobs and typically only hires 12 to 20 people at a time. They only accept applications when the agency needs more officers and is prepared to schedule a training academy for recruits. There may be one in the summer of 2014.
Basic Requirements to Apply:
- Must be at least 20 years old when they take the exam
- Must not have been charged or convicted one of the following:
- Any felony
- Certain misdemeanors within the past five years
- Must be able to read at the 10th grade level
- Must be willing to live and work anywhere in the state
Educational Requirement for Applicants:
- A high school education
- Although not required, the agency advises getting a formal degree in criminal justice before applying
- Grand Canyon University - B.S. in Justice Studies and M.S. in Criminal Justice
- SNHU - Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Rasmussen College - Law Enforcement Associate's Degree and Post-Degree Certificates; Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Utica College - Online Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice
- Penn Foster - Online Wildlife and Forestry Conservation Career Diploma
Physical Requirements for Applicants:
- Excellent vision
- Corrected vision of 20/30
- Wearers of glasses must have at least 20/100 vision
- Wearers of contact lenses for at least a year must have at least 20/200 vision
- Be able to see colors
- Normal depth perception
- Excellent hearing
- Excellent physical health
Steps in the Hiring Process:
- Medical physical
- Extensive background check
- Psychological screening
Training of Recruits:
- Basic training at an academy
- 19 weeks at the North Carolina Justice Academy
- Military boot camp structure
- 5:30 AM physical training each morning
- 19 weeks at the North Carolina Justice Academy
- On the job training
- At least six months with a veteran Wildlife Enforcement Officer
How to Join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in North Carolina
Game wardens of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement are required to have an in depth knowledge of wildlife management practices and law.
Basic Federal Law Enforcement Requirements:
- Driver’s license that is valid
- Age of 21 to 36
- U.S. citizenship
Educational Requirements for Applicants:
- A bachelor’s degree in one of the following or a related field:
- Criminal justice
- Police science
- Wildlife management
Training Requirements for Recruits:
- Twenty weeks of academy training:
- FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center)
- Forty-four weeks of field training
- Conducted at the first duty post
Law Enforcement Duties of Game Wardens in North Carolina
One of the main reasons that Wildlife Enforcement Officers in North Carolina need to be in excellent health is the intensely physical nature of the job. The agency expects game wardens to remain in top physical condition throughout their careers to meet the basic demands of their work.
In addition to needing to be able to traverse backcountry wilderness, game wardens are expected to be able to carry out the following duties:
- Conducting searches
- Processing crime scenes and collecting evidence
- Operating vehicles at high speed
- Using physical force to struggle with people
- Using deadly force
- Identifying motor vehicle characteristics such as license plates
- Working in settings with low amounts of light
- Reading legal papers
North Carolina Wildlife Officer Salary
The average North Carolina fish and game warden salary was $41,110 in 2019. In most cases, your experience level will at least partially dictate what kind of salary offers you bring in. For example, game wardens just entering into the field usually started out at around $36,740. But more seasoned officers often see their annual salary jump to $43,290, with even more room to grow.
From 2016 through 2026, the demand for game wardens all over the state is expected to rise by over 4%, which will create an average of 40 new jobs each year.
Not surprisingly, the rural regions where fish and other wildlife habitats are concentrated are also where the game warden jobs are found. For example, in 2018 salaries in the Piedmont nonmetropolitan area looked like this:
North Carolina’s wildlife officers also receive a great benefits package alongside respectable annual salaries. These benefits include:
- Health care
- Leave options
- Paid holidays
- Specialized raining
- Take home patrol vehicles
- Advancement opportunities
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/oes/2018/may/oes333031.htm), North Carolina Department of Commerce, Labor & Economic Analysis Division (https://www.nccommerce.com/about-us/divisions-programs/labor-economic-analysis-division), and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (https://www.ncwildlife.org).
Job growth projections sourced from the North Carolina Department of Labor and published in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2016-2026) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm.
Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment andfor workers at all levels of education and experience. It does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
All salary and job growth data accessed in June 2019.