Known throughout the state as South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement Officers, game wardens are sometimes the only force standing between poachers and endangered species. A recent case involving the arrest of a man stealing turtle eggs on Hilton Head Island demonstrates the importance of game wardens all too well. These public servants are sworn to serve and protect the wildlife, fish, and delicate natural habitats across the state, from the lowcountry to Table Rock State Park.
Prospective DNR Law Enforcement Officers who have learned about how to become a game warden in South Carolina should be prepared for a selective application process and an extensive training academy.
Becoming a Game Warden with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Being Prepared – Chief among essential game warden requirements in South Carolina is education, which mandates one of the following credentials:
- Bachelor degree
- Associate degree or two years of college credit and either:
- Two years of related experience, such as class 1 law enforcement or military service
- Four years of experience as a South Carolina DNR DLEO
Game warden jobs can involve highly stressful situations where officers need to make accurate split-second decisions. Having a solid foundation with a bachelor degree in any of the following subjects can provide officers with valuable skills, and is preferred for federal applicants:
- Law Enforcement
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Criminal Justice
- Wildlife Management
- 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
Submitting an Application – Applications for South Carolina game wardens must be submitted online. These are filed through the state’s Human Resources Division for the DNR. The first step in this process is to create an account. Next candidates can apply for vacant Department of Natural Resources Law Enforcement Officer positions. Before applying however, it is important to make sure the applicant can meet the eligibility requirements:
- Has completed the education requirement
- Is a US citizen
- Is at least 21 years old
- Is of good moral character
- Has not violated state or federal fish and game regulations in the past three years
- Has no convictions for crimes of moral turpitude or those whose sentence exceeded one year
- Has no felony convictions
- Has a mostly clean driving record and credit history
- Is willing to relocate to any county in the state
Once an online application has been made, the applicant will need to mail the following documents to the DNR in Columbia:
- Credit check disclosure form
- Official 10-year driving history from the DMV
- Copies of:
- Finished online application
- High school diploma or GED transcript
- Birth certificate
- Driver’s license
- College diploma or transcript
Hiring Process – A recruiter will review all applications, and the most competitive will be chosen to continue in the hiring process. Successful completion of each of the following progressive steps moves an applicant closer to hire:
- Panel interview
- Written exam basic skills and problem solving
- Physical agility test:
- Obstacle course
- 150-pound drag
- Swimming 75 yards
- Treading water for five minutes
- Interview with the Colonel Deputy Director of Law Enforcement
- In-depth background investigation
- Conditional offer of employment
- Medical exam and drug screen
- Psychological test
Training – Once new officers have made it through the extensive hiring process they will promptly begin their game warden training. This starts with a 12-week basic course at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy in Columbia. The cadet game warden will be trained alongside other newly-hired law enforcement officers in subjects including:
- Suspect pursuit and arrest
- Crime scene investigation
- Report writing
- Courtroom etiquette and procedures
- Firearms training
DNR Law Enforcement Officers will differentiate from other police units during their second training course, an eight-week specialized academy only for DNR Officers. This includes careful instruction on:
- State and federal boating, hunting, and fishing laws
- Record and form completion
- Vehicle and equipment maintenance
- Biology and wildlife management
Federal Game Wardens in South Carolina
Just as the FBI enforces federal laws in cooperation with local police departments, federal game wardens protect South Carolina’s natural resources alongside state DNR Law Enforcement Officers. However becoming a fish and game warden at the federal level is altogether different from that of state officers.
For one thing, applying for the official position of US Fish and Wildlife Service Office Special Agents has a different set of prerequisites. Candidates must be between the ages of 21-36 and be able to qualify on a firearms certification every year. Applicants at the federal level are also preferred to have a bachelor degree in a field having to do with Criminal Justice or Wildlife Management. Applications are made online through the federal USA Jobs website.
Twenty weeks of criminal investigations and wildlife training is followed by 44 weeks of field training with an experienced officer. This year-plus regimen includes instruction on topics which are similar to the state-level training:
- Use of firearms
- Electronic surveillance techniques
- Crime scene investigation
- Waterfowl identification
- Evidence collection
Game Wardens Take Action in South Carolina
It may be a bad pun, but it is no exaggeration to say South Carolina DNR Law Enforcement Officers recently went hog wild on North Island in Georgetown County. Officers were on hand to make sure three recent feral hog hunts with dogs went according to the rules, in an effort aimed at eliminating the invasive decedents of the farm animals from the territory. Game wardens ensured hunters were wearing orange, had the proper state hunting license, and that no wild pigs were removed from the island alive.
In contrast to these legal hog hunts, another DNR Officer recently responded to reports of a poacher on Hilton Head Island. Upon arrival the game warden found a man with 114 suspected eggs of a species of endangered turtle. The poacher stated he believed he could sell the eggs to local bars as aphrodisiacs for one to five dollars. However as he unfortunately discovered, each turtle egg poached carried with it a fine of potentially $1,000 and one year in jail.
South Carolina Wildlife Officer Salary
South Carolina conservation officers through the Department of Natural Resources, Division of Law Enforcement earn a starting salary of between $33,608 and $38,460. After, these professionals can earn up to $50,930.
These wildlife professionals work throughout the state’s nine districts.
The South Carolina Department of Administration reveals an average salary of $39,104 for conservation officers.
Salary and employment data compiled by South Carolina Department of Administration and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources – https://www.admin.sc.gov/files/Detailed%20Statewide%20Compensation%20Reports_3.pdf and http://www.dnr.sc.gov/law/lawenforcementapp.html. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment for conservation officers. Data represents state salary ranges for the occupations listed and includes workersat all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Salary data accessed in August 2019.