A love of wildlife isn't enough to make it as a conservation officer. Bob Hamilton, who works as a conservation officer, says you also need to be tough.
"You have to be a special person to do it. Not everyone is a policeman. You have to be able to take the pressure, deal with criticism, work independently and be thick-skinned," he says.
The hardest part of the job, in Hamilton's opinion, is dealing with animals that come into conflict with people. That is, animals who become a threat to people -- like bears in a garbage dump.
"A lot of the job deals with problem wildlife. You have to be tough because you are putting a lot of animals down."
Being a conservation officer is anything but a 9-to-5 job. If you happen to be posted in an area with a relatively small population, you can expect to be called by local residents at all hours of the night.
Although Hamilton is paid for 35 hours a week, unpaid overtime can amount to as much as 50 hours per month! But, the strain of the extra work is balanced by enjoyment of the job.
"It's an interesting job, an 'outdoorsy' job with interesting technology that you get to play with," he says.
One thing a game warden cannot be afraid of is the dark!
It's 2 a.m. and you're struggling to make your way along the narrow, rocky forest path. The only thing guiding you is the spotlight a mile off in the distance. This is your destination. You're a conservation officer preparing to arrest spotlight hunters who are illegally poaching animals.
"It can be a scary situation," says conservation officer George Allerby of Missouri. "Spotlighters are hunters, so they have guns and knives and a lot of them are intoxicated. You don't know who you're going to run into."
Spotlighters use bright lights on the front of their vehicles to find and illegally hunt wild animals at night. Dealing with the danger of catching spotlighters is a regular part of the job.
In spite of a healthy fear of walking into a group of armed, possibly intoxicated hunters, this part of the job is one of the most exciting challenges for Nebraska conservation officer Dina Hopper Lincon.
"I think most conservation officers enjoy catching spotlighters," says Lincon. "It is some of the most adrenaline rushing work we do."
Lincon admits most people would probably call her crazy for enjoying a situation this dangerous, but risk is a factor of her job. As a conservation officer, Lincon is responsible for wildlife resource management and law enforcement.
"Like any other law enforcement officer, conservation officers may have to deal with dangerous situations," says Lincon.
Lincon has dealt with a number of such situations. On one occasion she was instrumental in catching a criminal from her county's most wanted list.
"One night I had to chase a drunk driver who nearly ran over several people in their campground. He jumped in the lake and tried to swim away from me, so I chased him down in the boat and caught him. It turns out he was wanted for a number of assault charges," says Lincon.
Yet high-speed boat chases or covert nighttime arrests of poachers aren't the norm in the day-to-day life of conservation officers. People in this field spend most of their workday assisting responsible citizens with legitimate questions or checking licenses and park passes.
"You deal with people who have questions about the park, about fish stocking and about hunting regulations. You have to be knowledgeable about every aspect of game and parks to answer those questions," says Allerby.
Dealing with the public is one of the biggest components of a conservation officer's job. Allerby believes many people get involved in this career because they'd rather be working with wildlife than people, but ironically end up working mostly with people.
"One of the big myths about this job is that you can shut yourself off from the human world and live like a wildlife hermit," says Allerby. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Lincon agrees with Allerby, saying an ability to communicate effectively with other people is a must for conservation officers. "Contrary to popular belief, if you're not a people person, you can't do this job."
Yet conservation officers also must have a deep interest in the outdoors. For example, Allerby, like most conservation officers, is interested in hunting, fishing and outdoor sports. "Keeping track of what campers, hunters or fishermen are doing gives me the opportunity to meet like-minded people," he says.
While Allerby admits being a conservation officer is hard work, he says the job involves so many appealing elements that he occasionally forgets he's getting paid for it.
"I get to work outdoors, meet new people and catch bad guys. On top of that, they pay me for it!" says Allerby.