Montana’s vast natural resources are stunning and appreciated by all. Every year out-of-state tourists spend $3 billion visiting, while Montanans themselves take advantage of all the hunting and fishing the state has to offer.
The need to protect the state’s natural resources was recognized as early as 1895 with the establishment of the Board of Game Commissioners which hired four game wardens to enforce the newly established laws on designated hunting seasons and bag limits. The Fish and Game Department was officially created in 1901. Back then the $100-a-month salary game wardens were offered was considered massive.
Today’s fish and game wardens are sworn in as commissioned peace officers employed by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. As of July 2019, 75 field wardens, 11 warden sergeants, seven warden captains, nine investigators, and two warden trainees worked for the Department.
Steps to Becoming a Game Warden in Montana
Basic Requirements – The following requirements must be met in order for an application for the job of game warden in Montana to be accepted:
- At least 20 years old
- U.S. citizen/resident of Montana
- Valid Montana driver’s license
- Excellent physical and mental health/good eyesight
- Basic knowledge of Montana’s fish and wildlife species
- Basic knowledge of outdoor recreational activities in Montana
- Knowledge of law enforcement principles/procedures related to fish, wildlife and parks
- Knowledge of relevant federal, state and tribal laws
- Willing to serve anywhere in Montana
Degree Requirements – The entry-level degree requirement is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college/university in a field like fish & wildlife, park management, outdoor recreation or criminal justice.
Montana has two excellent state university systems that make it easy for anyone in the state to get the required degree. This includes campuses in Billings, Bozeman, Havre and Great Falls, as well as in in Butte, Dillon, Helena and Missoula. The state also has three four-year private colleges, three community colleges and seven tribal colleges.
Taking the POST and the Physical Fitness Exams – Those whose applications are accepted must take and pass both the POST (Police Officers Standards and Training) law enforcement test and the MT Physical fitness test. The written POST exam consists of four timed sections focused on mathematics, reading comprehension, grammar and incident report writing. The physical fitness test is based on the Cooper Standard PT Test which is adjusted for age and gender. Both tests are fully described at the Montana law enforcement tests website.
Participating in Training – All newly hired game wardens must attend a 12-week basic course at the Montana Law Enforcement Academy. The program covers such things as:
- State and federal laws
- Human behavior
- Law enforcement functions
- Patrol operations
Graduates are assigned to field positions, usually at one of the Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks regional offices, for a variable period of on-the-job training before being assigned as a district game warden. All game wardens are on probation for one year.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Game Warden in Montana
The job of game warden is extremely rewarding and varied but also very demanding and statistically one of America’s most dangerous law enforcement positions. Game wardens have been killed or injured by a criminal’s assault or in a plane, boat, snowmobile or other vehicle accident. Game wardens enforce laws related to hunting, fishing, trapping, boating, snowmobiling and riding off-road vehicles of all kinds. They also are responsible for protecting the environment.
Specific duties and responsibilities of a Montana game warden include:
- Patrolling assigned district (districts average 1,800 square miles)
- Checking hunting, fishing, boating and other licenses
- Verifying fee and registration compliance
- Investigating suspected and reported violations
- Issuing citations and making arrests
- Operating check stations
- Monitoring activities of license vendors / selling licenses if needed
- Monitoring the activities of outfitters and guides
- Assisting other law enforcement officers whenever needed
- Testifying in court when needed
- Maintaining a diary of daily activities
- Auditing records of persons dealing with wildlife resources (taxidermists, managers of shooting preserves, etc.)
- Collecting data and performing biological tests for wildlife management
- Assisting with the management of state parks and fishing access sites
- Attending relevant conferences and meetings
- Giving classes on water, hunting, archery, snowmobile and ATV safety
- Disseminating literature / speaking at schools, civic organizations, etc.
- Assisting with search-and-rescue operations
- Maintaining equipment
It is noted that the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks hires other full-time, part-time and seasonal persons such as conservation specialists, wildlife biologists, water safety officers, program specialists and support personnel.
How to Apply for a Game Warden Job in Montana
Men and women who meet the basic requirements should look for current openings and submit an electronic application form found at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks careers website. Those whose applications are accepted will be scheduled for the POST and physical fitness exams. Individuals who pass both exams are then required to successfully complete the following steps in the hiring process:
- Step 1: Written exam (covers interests, personality and mental ability)
- Step 2: Oral exam
- Step 3: Psychological profile test
- Step 4: Thorough background investigation
- Step 5: Medical examination
Individuals who successfully complete all steps will be scheduled for training based on rank (a composite of scores received on all steps).
Game wardens in Montana earn an average annual salary of between $44,000 and $56,000. Benefits include paid health, life, vision and dental insurance, credit union, retirement plan, paid two week vacation, and paid holidays/sick leave. Internships are available for current college students. For additional information about the hiring process, call the hiring and training officer at 406-444-2452.
Montana’s Vast Natural Resources and Majestic Wildlife
Wildlife – Montana is filled with wildlife. The elk, deer and antelopes outnumber the human residents. It has the largest migratory elk herd in the nation and the largest grizzly bear population in the lower 48
The Treasure State is a bird watcher’s paradise with 61 different species of non-passerine and 41 of passerine birds. (Passerines have three forward and one backward toe for sitting on a perch while non-passerines do not.) The state boasts the largest breeding population of trumpeter swans in the nation. Montana also has 10 species of reptiles, 24 of fish, nine amphibians and over 24 kinds of mammals including antelopes, bears, beavers, bison, goats, coyotes, deer, moose, elk, wild horses, opossums, porcupines, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, squirrels and wolves.
Lakes – There are 3,223 named lakes in Montana, the largest number of freshwater lakes in the West. Flathead Lake, the biggest, is found in northwest Montana. It covers over 200 square miles and has approximately 120 miles of shoreline.
Rivers – Montana has roughly 76 rivers, about 40 of which are excellent for both float and fly fishing. Anglers compete for Montana’s famous wild trout as well as perch and catfish. The rivers also provide some of the nation’s most exciting scenic river trips and whitewater rafting. The Yellowstone River is the state’s longest.
Parks – Montana holds two of the most famous national parks: Yellowstone (with Wyoming) and Glacier (joins Canada’s Waterton Lake NP to form the world’s first international peace park. National parks are protected by federal game wardens.
There are 54 state parks in the Treasure State. The largest is Makoshika National Park located in the Badlands area. The famous Caverns State Park features an exciting two-hour cave tour. Montana also has the nation’s longest county park; Hill County Park is 10 miles long and one mile wide.
Montana Wildlife Officer Salary
The Research and Analysis Bureau of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry reported that fish and game wardens earned an average salary of $50,820 in 2018, or $24.35 per hour.
That year, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that fish and game wardens in the top 25% earned an average of $55,010 per year, while those in the top 10% earned $58,950.
In addition to a respectable salary, Montana’s game wardens get a generous benefits package that includes things like:
- 15 days of vacation per year
- 12 days of sick leave per year
- 15 days of military leave with full pay
- 11 paid holidays
- Earned leave benefits that can be used for maternity and paternity leave (birth or adoption) and leave for immediate family illness care.
Longevity pay/salary increase:
- 5 Years: 1.5%
- 10 Years: 3.5%
- 15 Years: 5.5%
- 20 Years: 7.5%
- 25 Years: 9%
- 30 Years: 10.5%
- 35 Years: 12%
The number of fish and game warden jobs in Montana is projected to increase by 8.3% over the decade leading up to 2026, according to information from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.
The table below contains additional salary data for Game Wardens in Montana as published by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry from May 2018:
Salary and employment data sourced from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks
(https://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0010/chapter_0010/part_0020/section_0160/0010-0010-0020-0160.html) and the Montana Department of Administration State Human Resources Division – (https://hr.mt.gov/newbenefits).
Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment and for workers at all levels of education and experience. It does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
All sources accessed in July 2019.