So, You Want to Be a Game Warden

"They talk about the 'thin blue line.' The green line is a whole lot thinner."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004 - by Richard Simms
Wildlife Officer Matt Majors testfies in court against a wildlife violator who was also charged with drug violations and jailed.
Wildlife Officer Matt Majors testfies in court against a wildlife violator who was also charged with drug violations and jailed.
- photo by Richard Simms

Every wildlife officer in the world hears it -- hunters and fishermen who say, "I thought about becoming a game warden."

"I hear it at least once or twice a day, sometimes more," said Matt Majors, Hamilton County Wildlife Officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. "There's a lot of people who are envious of how we get out on the lake and in the woods doing stuff like this."

Many people still refer to them as "game wardens." The title was officially changed to "wildlife officer" in the early 1970's. The goal was to reinforce that TWRA officers do much more than protect for game & fish.

"We set our on schedules. We're away from ringing telephones. Hunting patrols, small game bag checks, court duties, boating enforcement, search & rescue, fishing enforcement, commercial fishing, landowners complaints, trespassing calls, media relations … I do a little of that every week."

Whether you call them game wardens or wildlife officers, these men and women seem to have the perfect job for people who love the outdoors. That's why the competition is intense for a limited number of jobs.

"I only know of four, maybe five people, out of the 30 or so that were in my college classes, that work for (TWRA) now," said Majors, a graduate of Tennessee Tech in Cookeville. "Three or four others work for other states. But probably only 15 to 20 percent actually got jobs with TWRA."

TWRA requires officers to have a 4-year college degree and typically applicants must score among the top five on the civil service exam to be considered.

Majors, originally from Cleveland, Tenn., did a lot of "volunteer work" for TWRA.

"Putting up wood ducks boxes, banding ducks & geese in college, working deer check stations, and anything else I could do to let them know I was interested in this line of work," he said.

His first job however, came from the North Carolina Parks Division where he worked more than four years before he got the chance to come home in 2002.

Beginning pay for a wildlife officer fresh out of college is $27,552 per year, about $14 per hour. By comparison, Chattanooga police officers start at $29,437 per year, and are not required to have a college degree.

"We fall in the middle-to-low end of salaries among our bordering states," said Majors.

Rather than money, most officers get into the profession because they love to hunt and fish. Majors says in fact, "there's very little time for us to hunt and fish during the main hunting and fishing season. We have to be working."

And there's another downside.

"It's very dangerous," exclaims Majors. "You have to work in all kinds of conditions, days and night, usually by yourself."

Most metro police officers know the nearest backup officer is only minutes, if not seconds away.

"If I'm looking for another wildlife officer to help me," said Majors, "they might be 15 to 20 minutes away, but more likely an hour."

He says that he gets great assistance from the Hamilton County Sheriff's department, however, "the places we patrol usually don't have street names and they wouldn't know how to get to us, or don't have the vehicles it takes to get to us."

"Backup is usually a figment of our imagination," according to Fred Funte, TWRA Training Supervisor. "They talk about the 'thin blue line.' The green line is a whole lot thinner."

Most police officers are taught that if they even suspect someone has a gun, to treat them as a potential felon. In the case of wildlife officers, they know that everyone they encounter during hunting seasons is expected to be carrying a weapon. Therefore they can't take the same precautions as regular police officers.

Funte says there's never been a Tennessee wildlife officer killed in the line of duty, however "in 2002 we had 16 officers assaulted (out of about 160 officers). That's a ten-percent assault rate. This year we've had nine assaults."

"We're starting to run across a lot of non-wildlife problems," said Richardson. "Assaults and narcotics are problems that are becoming more prevalent. We always want to treat folks with courtesy and respect, but we have to be vigilant as well."

In Tennessee wildlife officers are paid for a 37.5-hour workweek. Most however, spend much more time than that afield. They receive no overtime pay. Instead they get "compensatory leave." Officers can build a maximum of 450 hours "comp time" and most carry close to the maximum, which means they've got nearly 60 days of vacation waiting until the "off season."

When they're working however, they know that nearly every hunter or fisherman they meet has dreamed of walking a mile their boots.

For more information on how to become a wildlife officer, visit www.tnwildlife.org.

Marion County Wildlife Officer Russell Vandergriff at an illegal bait station.
Marion County Wildlife Officer Russell Vandergriff at an illegal bait station.


MGHC To Hold Rain Barrel Class Saturday

The Master Gardeners of Hamilton County, in association with the University of Tennessee Extension, hold their Rain Barrel Class this Saturday from 10 a.m.-noon. MGHC classes take place at the UT Extension, Agricultural Service Center, 6183 Adamson Circle, located off Bonny Oaks Drive. The cost is $40 per person (payable to UT-TSU Extension) and includes the barrel, plus the ... (click for more)

Free Hikes At All Tennessee State Parks On June 2 For National Trails Day

Tennessee State Parks will celebrate National Trails Day and kick off Great Outdoors Month with free, guided hikes at all 56 parks on Saturday, June 2. The variety of events includes ranger-led day hikes, night hikes, history hikes, nature hikes and trail clean-up hikes. With more than 1,000 miles to explore, ranging from easy, paved trails to rugged backcountry trails to ... (click for more)

Aaron Biddle, 21, Shot And Killed On Basswood Drive Saturday Afternoon

Aaron Biddle, 21, was shot and killed on Saturday afternoon. The Chattanooga Police Department responded around 3:45 p.m. to the 7800 block of Basswood Drive on reports of a person who had been shot.  Upon arrival, police were able to locate the victim who had succumbed to his injuries. A suspect was detained by police immediately upon their arrival.  Investigators ... (click for more)

Corker, Aide Help Gain Release Of Holts From Venezuelan Prison

 Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, welcomed the release of American citizen Josh Holt and his wife, Thamy, who have been detained in a Venezuelan prison for the last two years.   “I am pleased to join Senator Hatch and President Trump in announcing the release of Josh and Thamy Holt,” said Senator Corker. “Senator ... (click for more)

Conserving White Flight To Private, Public Secluded Schools Is Shameful

If you really care about the kids of Hamilton County’s most distressed schools, then you’ll take help where you can get it. The question on your mind isn’t which political label someone wears. Anyone who shifts attention away from the critical issues facing public education and toward political labels is not really committed to public education. Their support for equitable, quality ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: School Board Suckered

Just eight short days ago, Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd called a study on Hamilton’s County’s pseudo ‘socioeconomic desegregation’ farce as “the most far left, liberal document I have ever read. It does not represent the values of Hamilton County and I am insulted and disrespected by it." Then the School Board got so embarrassingly suckered  on Thursday  night ... (click for more)