Have you ever found yourself enjoying a hunting show or reading an article in your favorite outdoor magazine and thought, “How did that lucky guy land that job?” He must of known the right person, been born into it, or maybe he earned his way there. Then you say, “That’d be nice, but there’s no way could I ever land that job,” as you close the magazine or turn off the TV and go to work. Seems like we have all thought this at one point, but never pursued finding out how you could actually land “that” job. Not too long ago, I was deciding on what degree to pursue in college. My interests are right in line with any outdoorsmen; I love to hunt, I love to fish, and I love the outdoors. Never would I imagine that I would find a degree which entails my interests, but that would also serve as that path into various outdoor industry jobs. The wildlife degree was that path.
So what is a wildlife degree? I asked myself the same question not too long ago. The wildlife program prepares a student for employment in a government or private industry by educating them in wildlife conservation and management. For me, the wildlife degree is for those who have a passion for the outdoors and feel they are stewards of the land and wildlife that inhabits it. My curriculum at Purdue University entailed classes such as dendrology (the science of wooded plants), Fish and Mammal ID, and ecology classes, to the point that I could walk through any forest in the Midwest and identify and explain the role of a plant or animal species. The curriculum also demanded an understanding of natural resource use, policy, and the human dimensions involving the land and wildlife. The curriculum definitely prepared me for a career in the field; but my interests deviated from the standard wildlife or natural resource government job that seemed to be pressed on me as the only option.
The only jobs that seemed to be open were entry level positions in the local, state, and federal natural resource agencies (such as U.S. fish and wildlife service, local state parks, and states’ department of fish and game). My experience working in the local and state level agencies has not been extensive, but has burnt me enough to the point of saying, “No thank you” to most of these types of jobs. With my particular experience, the entry level positions were duties that seemed to be assigned randomly and had no focus. The workdays were slow, and while there were jobs needing to be done, it seemed there was always some restriction holding us back from completing them. While this might be my particular experience, it may not hold true for other related agencies, but it was enough for me. Those jobs are great for an individual seeking that type of career, but I wanted to more out of this degree. I focused on seeking a private industry job in which I could apply myself as an outdoorsmen and wildlife biologist. Combining these two applications seemed to fit perfectly with the outdoor industry, particularly the hunting sector. But getting a job in the outdoor industry through wildlife takes some work. Most of what you need to know is not taught in the typical wildlife program. You have to take the initiative to learn how to merge the land and wildlife management practices, with the outdoor industry marketplace.
The outdoor industry field is extremely competitive. You have to set yourself apart from your competition. In this field, you have to be involved, you need to have the experience, and you have to make yourself the best option for employers. I immediately looked for conservation organizations to be involved with such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF), and any others at my university or in the area. There wasn’t a deer-focused organization at Purdue, so being entrepreneurial, I started one. The launching of the Purdue University branch of the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) opened up the door to opportunities for getting into the outdoor industry, and while also teaching me the most valuable knowledge in this particular field. Connections made in the organization led me to internships with much respected individuals in the hunting industry such as Dr. Grant Woods, of GrowingDeer.TV (www.growingdeer.tv). I started building my resume with anything deer related. Any experience building opportunities look great on the resume, even if it’s as simple as helping graduate students with a research project for the weekend. Although I did not participate in undergraduate research, it is an outstanding way to get noticed by employers. I figured out fast that applicable knowledge, experience, and volunteer work with the right people speak louder than your grades for most positions.
I just finished up my junior year at Purdue University in the wildlife undergraduate program. As I get set to enter my final year, all the volunteer work, networking, and taking initiative to learn and be able to actually apply the land/wildlife management practices is coming together. After graduation I will have two choices: go to graduate school to pursue my Master’s, hopefully at a great deer-oriented school such as Mississippi State or Georgia; or take some time off school and get my feet wet in the outdoor industry.
Currently, I find myself searching the web for any deer-related job. I spend my time on the Texas A&M job board (http://wfscjobs.tamu.edu/job-board), emailing and calling connections (from graduate students to professional wildlife consultants), QDMA members, and even to friends on Facebook. Social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, are a lot more serious than what people seem to think. I have more professional friends on Facebook than high school friends. Keeping your profiles clean and professional can work to your advantage. I began to realize that the career I’m working towards is not just the typical wildlife career job search; it was much more detailed and needed more personal effort. The campus job fairs seemed like a waste of time, instead the QDMA national convention, outdoor industry events, or hunting and fishing expos seemed to be my job fairs. If you look in the right places and take the initiative, you will be rewarded!
I am confident that I have worked as hard as I can to put myself into a respectable career in wildlife management and the outdoor industry. I am currently looking and hoping to at least be in a position where I am a valuable and respectable part of the outdoor industry, like that guy writing the articles, or on that TV show. Although I am uncertain where I will be next year, what I do know is that I have put myself on a path that will lead to a rewarding and satisfying career in what I love to do! It may not make the money other careers like the medical or engineering field do, but for people like me it’s not about the money. Working in the field that I love, in the outdoors, in God’s country…is all rewarding enough for me. So if you’re a high school senior, current college student, or a working man with a family and that “boring” or “alright” job, I urge you to think about your dream job. What is it? If it’s that guy on the outdoor TV show, or in that magazine, picture yourself there. It can be done, and you can be that guy!