Everything Animals: Being a game warden is no game
Warden Chad Barrett talks to dispatch while on patrol in Waterbury.
Warden Barrett shows reporter Rachel Feldman the tools in his truck used to pull heavy animals into the truck bed.
A sample of the gear inside a game warden's truck, including a search and rescue bag and a tagging kit.
Warden Barrett and Col. David LeCours explain a recent snake trapping to reporter Rachel Feldman.
Duxbury, Vermont - March 29, 2011
Chad Barrett's truck is loaded up with his snowmobile and his snow shoes, but he isn't heading out to enjoy the last days of winter. He's heading off to work.
"My office most of the time is my truck," he says while driving to Duxbury.
Barrett is a state game warden, one of only 34 in Vermont. They're police officers that specialize in fish and wildlife enforcement and have the same training as all other cops.
Thirty-nine wardens is considered full staff, but because of budget constraints that number is smaller. With two people still in the 2-year-long training process, including Vermont's only female game warden, 32 officers are currently patrolling the entire state. Less staff means more responsibilities for everyone.
"Normally if we were up to staff, each warden would be covering probably six to eight towns, but right now we're covering between 11 and 15," Barrett says.
While the job comes with perks like a truck, a lot of gear and a lot of freedom, Barrett says it also has its dangers and downfalls.
"You're called out at 2 o'clock in the morning," he says. "You're trying to be as safe as possible knowing there's probably no other officers out at this time, so if you need someone else they're going to be who knows how far away."
Game wardens work alone in remote areas, have odd hours and often have to kill wounded animals. Plus they typically deal with situations that would give most police officers pause.
"If you talk to most other police officers they'll say wardens are crazy in the respect that most of the people we deal with every day, especially in the fall of the year, are carrying firearms. We know it," says Col. David LeCours.
LeCours oversees Vermont's game wardens. The Fish and Wildlife Department is currently taking applications for new wardens, but LeCours warns people that the job isn't all about dealing with cute fuzzy animals.
"Just yesterday Chad had a seven-foot Burmese python snake here that we obtained from one of the local residences," he says. Before a person can get the job, there's an intensive application process that begins with a general fish and wildlife knowledge test and an application to the Vermont Police Academy.
"If you can't get into the police academy we can't hire you," LeCours says. Those hired as game wardens make about $40,000 a year while they're training and about $50,000 once they're on patrol.
Becoming a game warden is extremely competitive. In 2010, the pool started with 300 applicants. By the third round of interviews that was narrowed down to 40. Out of those 40, ten were ultimately chosen to serve as game wardens. However, due to funding only one person was able to get the job.
Despite the competition and some mocking misnomers like "fish cops," Barrett says it's all worth it because Vermont's changing seasons means the job never stays the same.
"Just about at the end of those four months when you're like, 'Oh I wish something else would happen,' it does," he says.
And for avid outdoorsmen like Vermont's state game wardens, that's what makes this unpredictable job worth doing.
If you're interested in applying or finding out more about what it takes to be a game warden visit the Fish and Wildlife Department's website here and look at the document here.