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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in Virginia

Game wardens in both Virginia and West Virginia recently teamed up to conduct an undercover operation resulting in the arrest of six people on charges related to game law violations. Known in Virginia as conservation police officers, game wardens made several undercover buys from the suspects who were operating an illegal processing and distribution ring for poached deer meat.

Undercover ops are just one of the methods game wardens use to combat poaching. Employed with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, game wardens also play an important role in public education and safety in addition to stopping poachers.

Candidates who are interested in learning more about how to become a game warden in Virginia can consult the following guide.

Game Warden Jobs with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries

Minimum Qualifications – Before filling out an application for conservation police officers, candidates should ensure they meet a few initial eligibility requirements:

  • A high school diploma or GED
  • Are at least 21 years old
  • Have a good driving record and the ability to obtain a Virginia driver’s license
  • Are in good, healthy physical condition
  • Are willing to take the life of a person in defense of oneself or another
  • Are willing to investigate fatal cases of drowning and hunting accidents
  • Have no felony convictions

Coming from a strong educational background will demonstrate a prospective conservation police officer’s knowledge of wildlife management. Exceeding the minimum game warden requirements of a high school diploma or GED is recommended for candidates who would like to distinguish themselves on their application.

Having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in any of the following subjects is something the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries strongly prefers:

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

Applicants for federal game warden positions, which will be explained shortly, are also shown preference if they have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to Criminal Justice or Wildlife Management.

Applying – Prospective game wardens are advised to email or call a Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Recruiter at (804) 367-3443. Vacant game warden positions are posted on the Virginia Jobs website. Application instructions are provided through job announcements, which will include submitting an online application along with a resume and cover letter.

Candidates who are selected for further scrutiny in the hiring process will undergo:

  • Medical, hearing, and vision evaluation
  • Psychological assessment
  • Polygraph examination
  • Background investigation, including of:
    • Credit
    • Character
    • Reputation
    • Criminal, work, military (if applicable) and education history

Training – Game warden training in Virginia takes place over two phases: a 29-week Basic Law Enforcement Academy, followed by a 15-week field-training program. The basic academy covers the essentials of law enforcement, and is conducted alongside other law enforcement officers from different agencies across the state. Field training takes place with an experienced training officer who will provide instruction to new recruits on the essentials of being a conservation police officer. These programs include education about:

  • Firearms
  • Virginia State and federal laws
  • Emergency first aid
  • Swimming
  • Wildlife crime scene processing
  • Suspect arrest and detention
  • Driving maneuvers
  • Self defense


Game Warden Jobs with the Federal US Fish and Wildlife Service

Just as federal law enforcement agents have overlapping jurisdiction with state and local law enforcement, so too do federal game wardens. These federal officers function in much the same way as their counterparts at the state-level with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. However there are some key differences between federal and state game wardens operating in the state:

  • Federal game wardens are employed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Office
  • Federal game wardens are preferred to have a bachelor degree related to Wildlife Management or Criminal Justice
  • Federal game wardens must be between the ages of 21-36
  • Applying to become a fish and game warden at the federal level involves submitting an application for Service Special Agents through the USA Jobs website
  • Training for federal game wardens also takes place in two phases: 20 weeks of basic law enforcement training in Georgia followed by 46 weeks of field training


Fish and Game Wardens at Work in Virginia

Perhaps the most frequent criminals that Virginia’s game wardens deal with are those who illegally hunt deer. Less common but just as serious are other cases of poaching involving marine animals. Virginia’s long coastline provides as much opportunity for those illegally harvesting marine life as its two national forests do for big game poachers.

A Virginia truck driver working for a Virginia-based seafood company was recently pulled over by game wardens thanks to a tip from the public that he was illegally harvesting oysters. In addition to finding the daily limit of 16 oyster gatherers in his truck, game wardens spent six hours measuring the 188 bushels and found all but one to contain undersized oysters. The driver of the truck was arrested and faces a $1,000 fine for each illegal bushel.

Whether through public tips or undercover operations, Virginia conservation police offers are often the only thing standing between those wanting to bring malicious harm to the state’s natural resources and members of the law-abiding public who play by the rules.

Virginia Wildlife Officer Salary

Data published by the State of Virginia’s labor market information website in 2013 found that the median game warden salary in the state was $41,198. However, professionals considered to be experienced earned an average of roughly 16% more that year at $49,333. The average starting salary in 2013 was reported to be $36,914.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary among game wardens in Virginia in 2013 was $45,500. Their data concluded that game wardens earning in the top 25% averaged $50,850 per year and those in the top 10% averaged $60,030 per year.

In addition to a valuable compensation package, game wardens in Virginia also receive the following benefits:

12 paid holidays per year
Virginia Retirement System (VRS)
5 healthcare plans to choose from
Group life insurance
Short-term and long-term disability

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