Oklahoma has a great variety of wildlife habitats and is one of the most ecologically diverse states in the country, with over 760 different species of wildlife. Hunting and fishing are very popular pastimes in Oklahoma with more than 1.6 million acres being devoted to hunters and anglers. Deer hunting alone contributes over $600 million to the state’s economy.
Over 100 fish and game wardens work in Oklahoma to protect the state’s wildlife. This includes both game wardens that work for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and federal game wardens from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Together, there are more than 65 public hunting areas in the state that game wardens monitor.
Game wardens in Oklahoma are trained law enforcement officers who have a variety of roles in the stewardship of the state’s resources. They are experts on Oklahoma’s wildlife and help biologists perform tasks like assessing the status of fish populations and health in a particular lake. This type of information helps anglers decide where to fish.
Helping the public is another aspect of game warden jobs in Oklahoma. This can range from speaking to schools and scout groups to helping to teach hunter education courses. They also arrest violators of fish and game laws and by doing so help to preserve the state’s fish and wildlife populations.
Poaching is a persistent problem throughout the country, and Oklahoma is no exception. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reports that over 90% of these types of violations go unreported. When they are reported, violators frequently move across state lines to commit wildlife crimes in other states. Oklahoma game wardens have been able to crack down on this activity, since the state joined the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
Becoming a Game Warden for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation
The state of Oklahoma sets high standards for those who seek jobs as game wardens with the state’s Department of Wildlife Conservation. These game wardens are in the eye of the public and must be experts in a variety of areas.
The requirements to become a game warden for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation are described below.
Exam to Be Selected to Apply for Game Warden Positions – The first step to becoming a game warden in Oklahoma is to take the standardized employment exam for prospective game wardens. The test is free. It does not guarantee that game warden jobs are currently available, but the top scorers will be notified when there are positions and invited to submit an application.
The 100 question exam covers the following areas:
- Biology and environmental science relating to fish and wildlife
- Oklahoma geography
- Wildlife laws and regulations (state and federal)
- Environmental education and communications
- Journalism (general and photo)
- Technical writing and editing
Basic Requirement to Take the Exam:
- Being 21 years old
Educational Requirement to Take the Exam:
- Bachelor’s degree
- Degree in wildlife preferred
- Must have at least 16 hours of courses related to wildlife
- 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
Hiring Process for Applicants – When there is an opening for a game warden position, the department will select up to four people to go through the application process. They will notify the candidates by email and invite them to submit an application. The department requires that applicants submit transcripts of their college courses with the application.
The following steps, along with the test scores, will determine which applicant is hired to become a game warden:
- Psychological exam
- Physical exam
- Drug screen
- Background check
- Personal references
New recruits go through two phases of training:
- Law enforcement training
- 576 hours from the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET)
- Field training
- Six months of on the job training.
Becoming a Federal Game Warden in Oklahoma
Game wardens who work for the federal government in Oklahoma are employees of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement.
Basic Requirements – All applicants to become federal law enforcement officers must meet strict requirements. This includes those who seek to become federal game wardens. These requirements are shown below:
- Being a citizen of the U.S.
- Possessing a valid driver’s license
- Being from 21 to 36 years old
- The following people may be able to apply if they are older:
- Federal law enforcement officers
- The following people may be able to apply if they are older:
Educational Requirements – The federal government requires that prospective game wardens have the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree. It should be in one of the following majors, so something closely related:
- Criminal justice
- Law enforcement
- Wildlife management
Training for Federal Game Wardens – Successful applicants are thoroughly trained for their dual role of law enforcement officials and experts in wildlife management. This is done in two phases that are shown below:
- Basic law enforcement training:
- Federal Law Enforcement Training Center for 20 weeks
- Training to be a game warden:
- Field training at the first assigned post for 44 weeks
Popular Wildlife Management Areas in Oklahoma
Oklahoma has a large number of wildlife management areas (WMAs) that game wardens in the state monitor. Some of these areas that are particularly popular with travelers include the following:
- Red Slough WMA
- This area in southeastern Oklahoma has over 300 species of birds, including a number of unique species. People come from all of the US and the world to watch birds at this slough.
- Sandy Sanders WMA
- This 19,100 acre area is pristine prairie that is used for bird watching, hiking, and hunting
Due to the incredible diversity of habitats and wildlife in Oklahoma, the federal government established nine different wildlife refuges there. One that has been ranked among the top ten scenic drives in the country for watching wildlife is the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge located near Lawton. It has many species of big game animals such as bison and elk that require protection from poaching.
Oklahoma Wildlife Officer Salary
Game wardens can earn respectable salaries in Oklahoma. In 2018, they earned an average of $53,250, or $25.60 an hour. When new to the field they can expect a more modest hourly rate of $20.56, while those earning in the top 25% earned $49.83. Professional experience goes a long way in determining your level of compensation and those who stick around for the long haul are the ones to get the big bucks.
Through 2026 the state expects to add an average of 10 new wildlife officer positions every year. These additional jobs will only increase your chances for upward mobility within the field, which is good news for any warden thinking about a leadership position.
There is more to the total compensation package than just a solid salary. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation offers a handsome benefits package that includes:
- Retirement plan
- Deferred compensation
- Annual leave
- Money-saving plans
- Sick leave
- Travel expense
- Longevity payment program
- Medical/dental/life insurance
Salary and employment data compiled by theOklahoma Employment Security Commission (https://www.ok.gov/oesc/documents/lmiwagereport.pdf) and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/odwc-careers.)
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.
Salary data accessed in July 2019.