Wildlife Careers for Deer Hunters

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Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Even though those words were spoken over 2,500 years ago, I have found they still hold true today. As someone with a passion for hunting and all things outdoors, I feel very fortunate to have spent all 14 years of my professional career working in the field of wildlife management. That’s not to say that every day of those 14 years has been exciting or easy, but it has certainly beat having to “work” for a living!

If you have ever dreamed of turning your passion for deer hunting and management into a career, then I am here to encourage you to pursue that dream… or at least give it serious consideration. There are a variety of wildlife careers out there, depending on your current interests, education and skill set. While these careers may carry a variety of job titles, most of them can be lumped into two broad categories: wildlife technicians and wildlife biologists. Let’s take a look at each, discussing what they do, who they work for, and what is required to qualify for each position.

WILDLIFE TECHNICIANS

The wildlife technician position is where I got my start, and after 14 years of working for various state, non-profit and private organizations, in a variety of positions, it is where I have returned. Wildlife technicians cover a broad spectrum of duties depending on who the person is working for and on what type of project they are working. Even within a single organization, such as a state wildlife agency, the duties can vary greatly. I began my career with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) stationed on a Wildlife Management Area, where I assisted with a lot of hands-on habitat management work. That work consisted of operating farm equipment, such as tractors, mowers, seed drills, disks and sprayers, as well as a good bit of grounds-keeping work.

In addition to the typical duties, I was also fortunate enough to be involved in a variety of wildlife surveys, some nuisance trapping work, managing public land deer hunts, and plenty of other cool stuff. It was the perfect job for a deer enthusiast who enjoys the hands-on aspect of managing land for wildlife. However, if I had been working in the non-game program for the same agency, my duties would have been completely different, most likely involving more wildlife surveys, along with a lot more time in the office performing data entry and analysis.

Potential Employers
Employers of wildlife technicians vary broadly and may include state fish and wildlife agencies as well as federal agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), National Park Service (NPS), US Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and others. Other technician opportunities may exist with universities, non-profit conservation organizations or private companies that perform research, management and consulting services.

Qualifications
While some state agencies only require a high school diploma, the high demand for these positions has just about made it impossible to land the job without a bachelor’s degree. To be even more competitive, it is preferable to attend a college or university that offers a degree specific to wildlife management or conservation biology as opposed to just getting a bachelor of science degree in biology. If your goal is obtaining a wildlife technician position as a stepping stone to become a biologist, then it certainly would be beneficial to go one step further and pursue a master’s degree. Again, you would want this to be specific to wildlife, preferably dealing with a topic on which you may wish to focus your career. For example, if you want to become a deer biologist with a state agency, then it would only make sense to do your master’s research on something dealing with deer.

Experience is not typically required to qualify for a technician position, but it would give you an edge over those without it. Look for opportunities to volunteer or intern while getting your degree, even if it is only on an occasional basis. This will not only give you experience, but it will also give you the opportunity to begin networking with potential employers once you earn your degree.

WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS

While wildlife technician work is typically hands-on field work, wildlife biologists are often more involved in planning, research, data analysis and report writing. Like wildlife technicians, their duties can vary greatly depending on their employer and the nature of the project in which they are involved. For example, there are biologists whose focus is on public land management, biologists who work with private landowners on habitat improvement, and biologists who work with specific types of wildlife such as deer, turkey, elk, or bear.

Any of these three types of biologist positions may be appealing to the deer hunting and management enthusiast depending on whether one prefers the hands-on management work or would rather be involved in the planning or consulting aspect. In my personal journey to find my dream job, I quickly realized that sitting behind a desk crunching numbers and writing reports was not for me. When the opportunity arose, I didn’t hesitate to trade in my office chair for a tractor seat!

Potential Employers
Like technicians, most wildlife biologists are employed by state and federal natural resource agencies. However, they may also work for non-profit organizations, universities and private environmental consultants.

Qualifications
Wildlife biologist positions will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a wildlife- or fisheries-specific major will improve your odds of landing a job. While most states and private companies don’t require a master’s degree, the intense competition for wildlife positions makes having one a big plus, especially if the position is involved with research.

Regardless of whether you are just finishing high school, or in the prime of your career, it is never too late (or too early) to begin pursuing your dream career in wildlife management. While it is certainly not an avenue to fame or fortune, there is a lot to be said for having a job you love. In the end, you may never have to “work” another day in your life!

If you have any questions regarding wildlife careers, feel free to post them in the comments section below, and I will try to answer them as best I can.

Did You Know? If you’re interested in a future career in wildlife management, each year QDMA offers scholarship opportunities to high school juniors or seniors and college students to attend our in-person Deer Steward courses free of charge! Look for more information and scholarship application links on our Deer Steward page.

  • Joe

    Hi, I’ve always wanted to get into a position like this or simalar I’m 41 I’ve ranched most of my life I can operate all heavy equipment that you have mentioned I’m an avid bow hunter an outdoors man I only have a high school diploma but I don’t want to spend anymore of my time doing things I don’t love any advice? Or help?
    Thank you

    • Brian Grossman

      Joe,
      It may be tough with just a high school diploma, but it’s certainly possible, especially if you are good with equipment. Maintaining Wildlife Management Areas requires a lot of road grading and repair, farming-type work on tractors, using dozers to put in firebreaks or to repair dams or levees, carpentry skills to maintain the grounds and buildings, along with the ability to use a whole host of other equipment. I would start with a phone call to your state fish & wildlife agency. Ask them about employment opportunities for someone with your knowledge and abilities. If you’re settled and don’t plan on moving, then that will certainly limit the possibilities. If you are the type who’s willing to pull up roots and go wherever the job is, then I think with time you can find the type of work you’re after. Keep at it!

      Brian Grossman

  • Emily Caudle

    Hey, My name is Emily. I have just finished high school and am looking in to going to college. I’ve always wanted to wildlife biology, but I want my target animal to be deer. I am a hunter, but more than that I just find deer fascinating. I see people all the time on the internet that says they are deer biologist. How did they get there???!!! Like I said, I want to study/work with deer. Is this even possible? How would I get there?
    Thanks!!!

    • Brian Grossman

      Emily, it is certainly possible! Most states in the whitetail’s range have a “deer project leader” who oversees the deer management efforts in that state. In some cases, that person is responsible for more than just deer (elk, bear, etc). There are also opportunities in the form of biologist and technician positions who work directly with these deer project leaders.

      You will need to attend a college that offers a wildlife-specific degree, and I would plan on going as far as getting your Master’s Degree. If you really want to focus on deer, I would make sure that your Master’s thesis is deer-related.

      In the meantime, I would contact your state’s fish & wildlife agency and ask to speak to the person in charge of its deer management. Talk with them about their job, and what they do on a daily basis to see if it is truly something you would enjoy. You may even be able to volunteer or shadow them for a few days to really get a feel for the work.

      Hope this helps, and if you have any additional questions, just let me know.

      Brian Grossman

  • Eric

    Hi Brian, I’m 29 years old and live in Massachusetts. My entire adult life has revolved around construction. More specifically, pipefitting and plumbing. Since the recession, I have gone from job to job and am currently at a shipyard where rumors of layoffs are running wild. Sometimes I feel trapped like I’ve got all my eggs in one basket and at my age, I think I need to make a move soon if I want to make a change in my life. I have always loved the wilderness and bowhunting and woodworking are my two passions in life. I’ve dreamed of having a job where I’d be close with nature and the woods and of all the research I’ve done, I think a wilderness technician would be a good fit. So I have a few questions. First off, Do you have any advice/input for my particular situation? Secondly, how hard is it to get a job like these in today’s economy? Is it a gamble? Will I be going to school for a slim chance of finding work afterwards? Anything you can offer in advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    • Brian Grossman

      Eric,
      I’m not going to lie to you, wildlife work can be a tough field to get your foot in the door. Most positions require at least a 4-year degree and because of the competitiveness, many positions are being filled by those with Master’s degrees. Also consider that the starting pay may be substantially less than you were making at pipefitting and plumbing. I don’t say any of that to scare you off, I just want you to know what you’re getting into. If you’re not tied down and willing to move wherever a job may take you, then that certainly helps your odds in finding wildlife work.

      If you are seriously thinking about seeking wildlife work, I would talk with some folks in your area that work for your state’s fish & wildlife agency. Ask them about their job, what they do, employment opportunities, etc. It’s a big decision, but luckily you’re still a young guy and you have plenty of time for a career change. I wish you the best of luck, and if you have any additional questions, just let me know.

  • Nicole Flory

    Hi. My name is Nicole and I was wondering, what high school courses could my son take that would maybe count towards college credit if he is wanting to pursue a degree in something like a wildlife tech or biologist? It is definitely his passion! He has been hunting/fishing since he was a young boy with his dad and has immersed himself in learning about different species of fish, wild game, etc. He is in the 10th grade this year and I would like to allow him to take courses that are geared more towards his interest in the outdoors. Can you give some guidance?

    • Brian Grossman

      Nicole,
      That’s great that your son has taken an interest in the wildlife field. Honestly, what classes he takes in high school isn’t overly important, as long as it is preparing him for college. Of course, any biology, anatomy or even agriculture classes would give him a good foundation of knowledge going into college. If he is serious about pursuing a career in wildlife, then he will definitely want to focus on colleges that have a wildlife-specific degree program, rather than just a generic biology degree. I would also encourage him to check into volunteer opportunities with your state’s fish & wildlife agency. Not only would he gain experience and get to network, but it would also give him valuable insight into what these jobs entail, so he can make an educated career decision.

      Hope this helps. If you have any additional questions, just let me know.

      Brian Grossman


About Brian Grossman

Brian Grossman joined the QDMA staff in August, 2015 as its Communications Manager. Brian is responsible for amplifying QDMA’s educational message for hunters through social media, e-mail, the QDMA website, and Quality Whitetails magazine. He has been a freelance writer, photographer, videographer and web designer since 2003. A trained wildlife biologist, Brian founded the Poor Boys Outdoors and Working Class Hunter web shows and associated media during his free time while working full time as a wildlife manager. He came to QDMA from the Georgia DNR Wildlife Resources Division, where he was a field operations supervisor, overseeing management of 15 Wildlife Management Areas. Brian currently lives in Thomaston, Georgia with his wife, Tina, and his two children, Dakota and Brooke.