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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in South Dakota

Despite a reputation as the law enforcement agency with the, “coolest toys,” this is not the main reason dedicated citizens decide to join the respected ranks of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Agency, where conservation officers are known casually as game wardens. These highly trained and educated professionals need a variety of tools to carry out their duties, which can involve:

  • High speed chases on I-90 through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland
  • Low speed ATV chases through the meandering roads in the Black Hills National Forest
  • Night vision surveillance systems to catch spotlight poachers
  • High speed boat chases along the Missouri River and its tributaries

South Dakota is one of the top employers of game wardens in the United States.

Becoming a Game Warden with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Agency

Meeting Requirements – Candidates demonstrating valuable law enforcement and wildlife conservation skills will be given preference in the hiring process. One way of demonstrating these important qualifications can be to obtain a bachelor’s degree in pertinent subjects such as:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement
  • Biology
  • Wildlife Management
  • Land Management
  • Crime Scene Investigation

Additionally, candidates who are pursuing federal game warden jobs should note that having a relevant bachelor degree is preferred.

In addition to making oneself a distinguished candidate, applicants will also need to meet these minimum game warden requirements:

  • US citizen at least 21 years old
  • High school or GED graduate with a good moral character
  • Not abused drugs for at least the preceding year
  • Has no felony convictions

Applying – Employed by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Agency, prospective game wardens will make their actual application online through the State Bureau of Human Resources. Searching for vacant game warden jobs in South Dakota, and completing an application for these, begins by first creating an account with the Bureau of Human Resources.

Applicants who are chosen to continue in the hiring process will need to distinguish themselves in:

  • Panel interview
  • Medical and psychological examination
  • Extensive background investigation
  • Drug screening
  • Physical abilities assessment

Conservation Officer Training – Game warden training in South Dakota takes place in two phases. Newly hired Conservation Officers will first complete the basic 520-hour South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards Training Course, followed by a 15-week Game, Fish and Parks Conservation Officer Field Training Program located at various sites across the state. These courses teach the essentials of how to become a game warden in South Dakota, providing both instruction on law enforcement and the specific duties of a Conservation Officer, and include:

  • Report writing
  • Arrest and control techniques
  • Firearms training
  • Game, fish, and parks laws
  • Driving maneuvers
  • Conducting surveillance and undercover operations
  • Boating laws and regulations

Game wardens will need to periodically re-certify themselves in courses covering:

  • Firearms
  • Defensive tactics
  • Law enforcement


Becoming a Federal Game Warden in South Dakota

In addition to South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Agency Conservation Officers, candidates may also work in the state as federal fish and game wardens. Officially known as US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents, the process of how to become a fish and game warden at the federal level is completely different from that for state officers.

The minimum requirements are similar, though these federal positions require applicants to be between the ages of 21-36. Applicants are also preferred to have a bachelor degree in field such as Wildlife Management or Criminal Justice. Applications can be made through the USA Jobs website.

Training covers similar topics with an additional emphasis on federal laws, and takes place over the course of 20 weeks in Glynco, Georgia. This is followed by 40 weeks of on-the-job field work with an experienced training agent.

Public Tips Keep South Dakota Game Wardens Busy

An example of innovative thinking has been demonstrated over the past several decades with the Turn-In-Poachers (TIPs) program. This is a collaborative effort between the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Agency and the Wildlife Protection non-profit organization. The program relies on public tips to report poaching and offers a reward for actionable intelligence. Because Conservation Officers must cover 1,200 square miles of water and 75,000 square miles of land across the state, any public help is welcomed. Poachers will illegally hunt, trap, and fish for reasons ranging from the enjoyment of killing to making a profit. Since its inception in 1984, over 3,000 arrests have been made thanks to tips reported by the public and around $130,000 has been paid out in rewards. More than one million dollars in fines and penalties have also been recovered.

South Dakota Wildlife Officer Salary

According to the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation’s Labor Market Information Center, the average fish and game warden salary in the state in 2013 was $37,772. That year, those in the top ten percent earned an average of $45,211.

Additional salary data provided by the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation’s Labor Market Information Center in 2013 is shown here specific to those earning within the 50th and 75th percentiles:

50th Percentile: $37,845
75th Percentile: $40,843
90th Percentile: $45,211
The official job title of South Dakota’s fish and game wardens is Conservation Officer. They can move up in the ranks from officer to specialist to supervisor to regional supervisor.

The salary schedule based on rank is shown here (South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Agency, 2013):

Conservation Officer

Minimum: $34,032.25
25% of Range: $38,286.28
Job Worth: $42,540.31
Maximum: $51,048.37
Conservation Officer Specialist

Minimum: $37,693.42
25% of Range: $42,405.10
Job Worth: $47,116.77
Maximum: $56,540.12
Conservation Officer Supervisor

Minimum: $37,693.42
25% of Range: $42,405.10
Job Worth: $47,116.77
Maximum: $56,540.12
Conservation Officer Regional

Minimum: $41,957.85
25% of Range: $47,202.58
Job Worth: $52,447.31
Maximum: $62,936.77
The table here provides additional salary data for the Central South Dakota nonmetropolitan area as published by the U.S. Department of Labor in May 2013:

Area name
Annual mean wage
Central South Dakota nonmetropolitan area

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