By Doug Leier

One of the more common questions asked of any Game and Fish employee, whether it's over the phone, through friends, via e-mail, or at the grocery store, is: "How do you get a job as a game warden."

I get variations of this comment frequently when the topic of my occupation comes up in conversations with hunters and anglers. While I'm no longer a game warden, that's how I started my career with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and I had those same thoughts, too. "That's gotta be a neat job."

And it is. But wanting to be a game warden, and becoming one, are two different things. While I always dreamed about a game warden's career, I had to be realistic about my chances. The sheer number of conservation law enforcement officers is small compared to the number of police and sheriff's department officers. Job openings are few and far between.

I have fond memories of my work as a game warden, but invariably, people ask why I ever changed jobs. Sometimes, new opportunities just materialize and life leads you in a new direction.

Are there days I miss being a warden? You bet. I still remember a rather mundane weekday afternoon checking river anglers and happening across a few big catfish over-limit, or the exhilaration of working night patrol with aerial spotters seeking out shiners, or the adrenaline rush of closing in to make a poaching case. It was exciting and rewarding work.

Game warden stories are the topics at gas stations, coffee shops and across the prairie year in and year out. In just a few short years I amassed an array of stories.

While game warden jobs are few and far between, when an opening does occur, the Game and Fish Department embarks on a long process to identify potential candidates.

To become a North Dakota game warden, candidates must be at least 21 years of age, have a valid driver's license, be in good physical condition, and hold a four-year college degree. Many wardens have degrees in biology, criminal justice or related disciplines, but other college degrees also qualify.

The main determining factor is the game warden exam. Anyone who meets the minimum requirements can take the test, simply by submitting a letter of intent to Robert Timian, Game and Fish Department enforcement chief, by October 30. The test is Nov. 1 in Bismarck.

Following the testing process, the top scorers move on and several may be selected for comprehensive interviews, with positions filled from those final candidates.

Game wardens are licensed peace officers. If the successful applicant is already licensed, he or she heads straight to field training in various parts of the state, learning the craft from veteran wardens. Otherwise, further training to become a licensed peace officer is the next step.

Thousands of men and women are interested enough in hunting, fishing and conservation, plus bear the right qualifications, to take the game warden test. The odds might seem long, but every time the test is given, eventually someone gets to realize their dream.

The only way to find out if your aspirations of becoming a game warden will be fulfilled is to test the waters, so to speak, and send in the letter of intent, but time is running out.