North Dakota Game Wardens

Posted 6/12/23 (Mon)

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

The first game and fish laws in what would become the state of North Dakota were enacted in 1861. In 1875, the Territorial Legislature placed limits on hunting quail and some water birds.

In 1893, a State Game and Fish Commissioner was appointed. The Commissioner nominated two people from each county to be Game and Fish Protectors. In 1897, the office of the State Game Warden was established. The Game Warden enforced the game laws and appointed deputy game wardens. In 1909, the State Game and Fish Board of control was created to protect the state’s wildlife. In 1915 this was replaced by the North Dakota Game and Fish Board.

Starting in 1913, Game and Fish published pocket-sized booklets containing the most current hunting and fishing regulations. No one could claim that they didn’t know the rules.

Not everyone was happy about the restrictions. Poaching was common. Game wardens frequently came under fire, and in 1897, two wardens were killed in a fight with Ute Indians. Besides being in physical danger, wardens often had a variety of accusations made against them. In 1910, game wardens were accused of spending their time working for Governor Burke instead of protecting wildlife.

The game commission concluded that something had to be done to protect the wardens. On this date in 1917, the secretary of the commission announced that the names of the new game wardens would not be made public. In addition to protecting the wardens, the secrecy would theoretically cause poachers to have second thoughts. The secretary noted, “Now no one needs to know who the deputy is until … it is necessary for him to appear as a witness." The Bismarck Tribune agreed, observing that “the very doubt as to the identity of the warden will cause prospective game violators to hesitate for fear that one of their party might be the deputy."

Today, North Dakota has the only museum dedicated to game wardens. Located in the International Peace Garden, the museum educates the public about conservation and the important role game wardens play in protecting wildlife.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher