The Secret Life of a Game Warden
“I Get to Be Outside and Carry a Gun? That Sounds Like the Perfect Job.”
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
“Being a game warden is the only thing I’ve wanted to do since I was in seventh grade,” says Emily Long, who is only the fourth female game warden in Oklahoma history. The job can be dangerous, and days can stretch into nights when she’s investigating a wildlife crime. But Long, who’s been in her position for seven years, couldn’t love it more.
She spends her days patrolling Payne County’s back roads, making sure that hunters and anglers follow the rules from the driver’s seat of her 2016 Chevy 1500. Whether Long is setting up a new deer-decoy sting operation or signing lifetime license applications, she’s careful to keep everyone on their toes. “We’re not out there to make friends,” she says. “We’re out there to make sure that the resource is there for generations to come.”
Hometown: Stillwater, Oklahoma
Day Job: Oklahoma State Game Warden, Payne County
Credentials: Bachelor’s degree in natural resources, ecology, and management with an emphasis in wildlife ecology and management. Once she was hired as a game warden, Long completed a 17-week training program at the Council for Law Enforcement Education and Training.
Ground Covered: Payne County, Oklahoma, where Oklahoma State University is located.
Favorite Game to Hunt: Whitetail deer and turkey
Favorite Guns: Glock 19 for patrols; Mossberg 835 12-gauge shotgun for hunting turkeys; Savage .30-30 for hunting deer—“It was my first deer rifle.”
A Game Warden’s Best Friend: “I have a Presa Canario named Isa. She’s a massive dog and weighs about 120 pounds. I also have a silver Bengal cat named Charlie.”
The Path Toward Wildlife Enforcement: “I wanted to be a vet for a really long time, until we had a career day in middle school. One of the presenters was a game warden. I didn’t know what that was even though I’d hunted and fished with my dad as a kid. My teacher explained to me that game wardens are law enforcement officers who make sure people follow the wildlife laws and regulations. I thought, ‘I get to be outside, and I get to carry a gun? That sounds like the perfect job. Sign me up.’”
An Average Day: “I patrol all of Payne County, which means checking in at different fishing and hunting spots throughout the year and making sure people are following state wildlife regulations. My truck is my office. It’s an unorganized mess. Besides my radio system and citation book, I have extra food (almonds, beef jerky, and protein bars), water and energy drinks, a 12-gauge shotgun, an M4 .223, hunter orange, night-vision goggles, extra batteries, and a host of necessary paperwork (extra licenses, lifetime license applications, field interview paperwork, and hunting regulations). My day really depends on what season it is and if any wildlife crime reports have been called in. If one has been, I’ll either follow up with the person who phoned in the tip or investigate the area where the incident has been reported. When there’s no report to respond to, I like to drive along the back roads and stop in at different hunting or fishing spots to make sure everyone’s legal. I try not to be consistent; I like to keep people on their toes.”
What Kinds of Cases She Deals With: “In the summer, the majority of the people I write up are fishing without a fishing license or trespassing on land they don’t have permission to be on. I have to handle people drinking and using drugs while fishing, which can be a hassle. In the fall, it’s a bit different because of deer season. I’ll have to investigate reports of road hunting (illegally shooting from or across a public highway or driving around in a vehicle with a loaded weapon while trying to spot game) and spotlighting (using high-powered lights and off-road vehicles to locate nocturnal animals), though in the past few years there haven’t been as many. For the most part, turkey hunters aren’t that bad—I don’t usually write that many tickets during spring or fall turkey season.”
Dangers on Duty: “Every person we encounter in the field is armed because they’re hunting. Even fishermen carry knives—and 95 percent of the time we’re working by ourselves with backup quite a ways away. A lot of times, we’re so remote that we don’t have radio or cellphone service. If I go into a situation where I’m already on edge, I make sure county dispatch knows where I am, just in case. In those types of situations, I go with my instinct on how to proceed, relying on what I learned at the police academy and, even more so, what I’ve learned during my time on the job. For instance, if this person pulls a gun, where is my closest cover or concealment? I also learned to write tickets not standing in the crook of my door without enough space should they push me or try to flee.”
Partners in Life and Law Enforcement: Long’s husband, Ryan, is an Oklahoma State Trooper, so he’s one of the few people who understands how chaotic and dangerous her job can be. “It’s actually easier that we’re both in law enforcement, because we understand the day-to-day stuff and what each of us is going through. We can support each other—both at home and on the job. For example, the other day, there was a call for a domestic dispute that we both responded to. Because we work in the same county, I was able to help him out. I know a lot of people in our positions who have trouble explaining their work to their spouses, but we don’t, which makes work less stressful.”
Fitness Fanatics: “My husband and I really enjoy hunting and fishing. We are big into fitness: CrossFit, lifting competitions, obstacle courses—you name it. We actually got married at the end of a Tough Mudder.”
On Being in a Male-Dominated Field: “I’m in a very male-dominated profession. I’m the fourth female ever hired in Oklahoma. And I’m the youngest. But the fact that I’m a woman in this role doesn’t usually matter that much. The only time it ever plays out is if I’m working with a male game warden and we have to talk with someone who, rather than address me, talks primarily to the male game warden. But I don’t let it get to me. Sexism is part of our lives and part of this world. There’s no reason to get upset about it, because I chose this profession, I like this profession, and I’m comfortable and confident in this profession.”
Interested in Being a Game Warden? “Get in touch with your local game warden and ask to go on as many ride-alongs as they’ll let you.”