How to Become a Game Warden in South Dakota

South Dakota’s game wardens work for the state’s Game, Fish and Parks Agency and are known as conservation officers. South Dakota is home to an array of protected wild lands, ranging from the Black Hills National Forest to the Missouri River and its tributaries.

The state’s diversity of wildlife and game results in both sport and sustenance hunting being a way of life throughout South Dakota. Conservation officers enforce all wildlife and fishing laws in force throughout their jurisdiction.

In addition to their law enforcement activities, South Dakota’s conservation officers also collect wildlife census data and make presentations to the public on the value of conservation.

Therefore, conservation officers in South Dakota must not only be trained in law enforcement, they also often have a background in ecology and conservation.

Many South Dakota residents rise to this challenge, and the number of applications always far exceeds the number of available positions. Applicants who have a thorough understanding of the requirements and selection process have the best shot at success.

South Dakota Game Warden Eligibility Requirements

The best candidates for conservation officer positions in South Dakota combine physical aptitude, a love for the outdoors, and some experience in law enforcement. For the best shot at landing one of these positions, applicants should be expected to encounter fierce competition.

With such stiff competition, applicants who can effectively demonstrate law enforcement skills and some knowledge of the natural resource conservation issues the state faces are more likely to be considered.

Basic Qualifications to Work for the Game, Fish and Parks Agency

Residents who are interested in becoming a conservation officer can find job postings on the website of the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Agency.

Age: 21 years of age or older at the time of academy training

Citizenship: Proof of U.S. citizenship or of permanent resident alien status for those who are eligible and have applied for citizenship. Must be a resident of the state at the time of appointment.

License: A valid South Dakota-issued driver’s license is required. Individuals must agree to participate in driver training programs through the state as they arise.

Military Service: Applicants who are former members of the United States military require ‘Under Honorable Conditions’ discharge documentation.

Work Eligibility: New employees must present original documents that establish identity and eligibility for U.S. employment opportunities as per federal law – applicants must be eligible to accept employment before the process continues

Background and Legal History: Applicants must pass an intensive background investigation in order to continue the application process. Disqualifying elements include:

  • Having abused drugs
  • Convicted of a felony
  • Convicted of any offense which precludes you from carrying a firearm under state or federal law
  • Failed urinalysis prior to employment

Academic Credentials: A bachelor’s degree in a field like Wildlife and Fisheries Science, Zoology, or Biology is advantageous.

Additional Requirements: State Bureau of Human Resources application

Law Enforcement Standards Training

Law Enforcement Standards Training: Basic 520-hour South Dakota Law Enforcement Officers Standards Training Course

Game, Fish and Parks Conservation Officer Field Training:

  • 15-week training program located at various sites across the state that covers:
  • Report writing
  • Arrest and control techniques
  • Firearms training
  • Game, fish, and parks laws
  • Driving maneuvers
  • Conducting surveillance and undercover operations
  • Boating laws and regulations
  • Recertification and Professional Development

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

  • Firearms
  • Defensive tactics
  • Law enforcement

Interview: Candidates will have a face-to-face panel interview during the later stages of the application process

Medical Condition: The applicant must be examined by a licensed physician to ensure that they are in good health.

Hearing: Candidates should have a ‘normal’ range of hearing and may be subject to a hearing test to confirm this data.

Vision: Vision corrected to 20/20 in each eye. Normal color vision with no other conditions is required for the role. Applicants who have engaged in vision correction surgery may need to speak further with the hiring officer.

Physical Readiness: The applicant must be in sound physical condition and able to swim. Applicants must successfully complete each component of the physical readiness testing.

Psychological Condition: Applicants will participate in a psychological assessment to determine their suitability for hire.

Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, and Desired Qualifications

  • Required to carry and use various firearms and weaponry
  • Effectively operate and negotiate a vehicle on rough terrain
  • Professional development or college courses in natural resource management, criminology, psychology, business management or sciences
  • Ability to use word processing, spreadsheet, database and email software in a networked environment
  • Ability to use proprietary software
  • Ability to engage in mechanical work.
  • Ability to use professional level English grammar, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, and composition; reading and comprehension
  • Ability to use foundational math skills including advanced arithmetic, payroll/accounts receivable, and estimation
  • Additional languages are an asset

Salaries for Conservation Officers with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department

The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation reported that conservation officers in the state earned an average salary of $40,310 ($19.38/hour) in 2016.  Officers earning within the top 25%, typical the more experienced members of the team, earned $46,550 ($22.38) on average, while those newer to the field earning within the bottom 25th percentile made an average of $34,445 ($16.56/hour) that year.

South Dakota’s Bureau of Human Resources reported the range of salaries that conservation officers earned as of 2017.  Officers at the high end of the salary range earned 67% more than conservation officers just starting out:

  • Annual: $31,320 – $52,200
  • Hourly: $15.00 – $25.00


South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks

20641 SD Highway 1806
Fort Pierre, SD 57532
Phone: (605) 223-7660

School Programs

ProgramPrograms Offered

Augustana College

2001 S Summit Ave, Sioux Falls, SD 57197-0001
Phone: (605) 274-5516
  • Biology

Black Hills State University

1200 University St, Spearfish, SD 57799-9500
Phone: (800) 255-2478
  • Biology

Dakota Wesleyan University

1200 W University Ave, Mitchell, SD 57301-4398
Phone: (605) 995-2600
  • Wildlife and Wildlands Science and Management
  • Biology
  • Criminal Justice

Kilian Community College

300 E. 6th Street, Sioux Falls, SD 57103-7020
Phone: (605) 221-3100
  • Criminal Justice

Mount Marty College

1105 W. 8th Street, Yankton, SD 57078-3724
Phone: (855) 686-2789
  • Biology
  • Criminal Justice

Northern State University

1200 S Jay St, Aberdeen, SD 57401-7198
Phone: (605) 626-3011
  • Biology
  • Ecology

Oglala Lakota College

490 Piya Wiconi Road, Kyle, SD 57752-0490
Phone: (605) 455-6000
  • Natural Resources Management and Policy

Presentation College

1500 N Main, Aberdeen, SD 57401-1280
Phone: (605) 225-1634
  • Biology

Sinte Gleska University

E. Highway 18, 101 Antelope Lake Circle, Mission, SD 57555-0105
Phone: (605) 856-8100
  • Law Enforcement Administration

South Dakota State University

Administration Lane, Brookings, SD 57007-1898
Phone: (800) 952-3541
  • Natural Resources Management and Policy
  • Wildlife and Wildlands Science and Management
  • Biology
  • Microbiology

University of Sioux Falls

1101 W 22nd St, Sioux Falls, SD 57105-1699
Phone: (605) 331-5000
  • Biology
  • Criminal Justice

University of South Dakota

414 E Clark St, Vermillion, SD 57069-2390
Phone: (605) 677-5301
  • Biology
  • Criminal Justice