[October 2019 | San Juan Silver Stage]
Someone appears out of nowhere, comes upon you, and changes your life forever. We call these people “Game Wardens.” So, when you go hunting this fall, you just might have the opportunity to meet one of Colorado’s finest, wildlife, law enforcement officers.
I spent 33 years working with these fine people, and enjoyed every minute of it!
Since I was 13 years old, I knew I wanted to be a Colorado Wildlife Officer in a mountain district. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Management from Colorado State University, I was hired as a Wildlife Conservation Officer in 1963, and assigned to a district just two days before the opening of the big game season.
I lived my dream in the mountains of Southwest Colorado.
A wildlife offi cer checks hunting licenses. Glen Hinshsaw photo.
In those days, there was no formal training to be a wildlife officer. That first big game season, I rode around with neighboring officers to learn the ropes. I had no uniform, no badge, but had full peace officer authority. I had never seen a ticket book and had no idea what the statutes were. What I read was pretty out-of-date. My first law book gave a game warden the authority to search, without a warrant, all stage coaches, buckboards, wagons, barrels, and boxes for illegal game and fish.
My, how things have changed. Today’s wildlife officers are required to have a minimum of a Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife biology or some related field of study. Following the preliminary application, there are a series of tests. Those who pass are then invited to make a final application. Those who are accepted undergo a rigorous 12 months of training to become District Wildlife Managers (aka Game Wardens).
Trainees must complete training with the Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy to become certified Colorado State Peace Officers. After successful completion of that training, they enter the Colorado Parks and Wildlife training program. They learn how to handle wildlife issues in different parts of Colorado, so that when they are assigned a district, they will be qualified to handle everything from game damage, game and fish management, public relations, hunter education training, wildlife crime investigation, collection and preservation of evidence, and court procedures. They are further trained alongside members of other law enforcement agencies to provide backup assistance as requested. Officers are cross-trained to respond to incidents such as “active shooter.”
Today’s world is so different. When I went to work, only men could apply. In 1975, the first women were employed as wildlife officers. We did not carry side arms, and in mountain districts, we had very poor, two-way radio communications. We worked alone, most of the time, in the backcountry.
Today’s officers face unprecedented dangers; however, most of the people wildlife officers meet are folks just out enjoying the great out-of-doors, and its wildlife. But, bad people also enjoy the outdoors and one never knows the difference until it can be too late.