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.

Turkey Hunters Reminded Of Harvest Check-In Procedures

With spring turkey hunting season quickly approaching, sportsmen are reminded of the various methods to check in their birds. All harvested turkeys must be checked in by the end of the calendar day. Turkeys can be checked in on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s website or on the “TWRA On the Go” smartphone app or at a check station. For sportsmen who do not have ... (click for more)

Free Outdoors GA App Is Updated For Hunters

Almost one year since its debut, the free Outdoors GA app receives a new update allowing hunters to check their harvest without needing cell service, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division. “We continue to be pleased with this free mobile app that gives both novice and seasoned outdoor enthusiasts’ essential information in the palm ... (click for more)

Storm Costs EPB $2.5 Million; Smart Grid Helped Ease The Pain

Tuesday night's fierce storm cost EPB an estimated $2.5 million, President David Wade said Friday. He said the city utility will have to bear all the cost - unlike when it got federal aid after spending $18 million following tornadoes that raked the Chattanooga area in 2012. Mr. Wade said EPB's Smart Grid helped ease the pain, bringing back online about 27,000 affected customers ... (click for more)

1 Killed, 1 Injured In Brainerd Shooting

One person was killed and a second person injured in a shooting in Brainerd on Thursday night. The call was to 3301 Pinewood Ave. at 7:05 p.m. It was reported that a silver vehicle was seen leaving the scene. One of the persons shot, 23-year-old Antonio Baldwin, died during surgery. The injury to William Daniel, 21, is not life-threatening. Police said both of the ... (click for more)

Repeal Obamacare, Congressman Fleischmann - And Response (2)

Chuck: I'm writing to express my strong opposition to the plan that is being rolled out by Paul Ryan to replace Obamacare. And as I'm writing this, I'm remembering all the times you and all of your Republican colleagues over the last six years campaigned on REPEALING  Obamacare and used that call to action as the basis for your reelection. And I'm also remembering the ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Scottsboro Boys

There is a good-sized train tunnel that runs under the northern tip of Lookout Mountain, right next to Cummings Highway. It was inside that tunnel on this very weekend 86 years ago, that the worst tragedy in the fabled history of the South was born. This was during the tight grip of the Depression and about two dozen hobos had jumped the train from the time it left Southern Railway's ... (click for more)