For Paul Kuske, the recently retired Department of Natural Resources (DNR) game warden for Eastern Morrison County, a 28-year career in the great outdoors began in the pages of a book.
“When I was in seventh grade I read a book about a game warden and I was just like, ‘Oh my goodness I want to do that,’” Kuske said.
He said while he had made up his mind up about his career, a high school counselor spent Kuske’s high school and even college years trying to convince him to go into a different field. The counselor tried to convince Kuske it was very difficult to become a DNR conservation officer.
To become a DNR conservation officer, Kuske said, an applicant needs to compete with up to 1,000 people for 10 openings, Kuske said.
There is also a lack of attrition, Kuske said, with people only leaving the field due to retirement and the agency having to fight the Legislature to get a budget that can cover the positions it wants to open.
For education, Kuske said, someone looking to get into the field must have education in both law enforcement and natural resources.
“Here you’re in double duty, you have to know both aspects of the job,” Kuske said.
While there are now options like having a four-year degree in either law enforcement or natural resources with a minor in the other, when Kuske was in school, the only option was to do a two-year degree in natural resources and another in law enforcement.
For candidates at the academy, Kuske said there is information overload as they cover 52 subjects in 12 weeks.
Kuske said his true love was with the natural resources aspect. He said people looking to get into the job have to have a love for natural resources in order to be successful at it.
“If you don’t care about fishing, why are you going to go and check fishermen. There has to be something in you that really cares about the resource,” Kuske said.
There were changes he saw as the years went by, Kuske said. ATVs and bigger boats have become more commonplace, while the number of people participating in outdoor activities in general has declined.
Kuske said for deer hunting season, many people have gone from taking the entire week to hunt, to switching to just the weekends. He said this means his weeks were quieter in deer hunting season, but the weekends were more difficult as a bunch of people were all out hunting at the same time.
Kuske said during his career, he’s seen that the DNR isn’t the most popular agency, especially when dealing with people on their leisure time.
“The DNR is the state agency that everyone loves to hate,” Kuske said.
He said over the years, he tried to give out more warnings than tickets to people, and sought to educate them on what the rules are and why they are in place.
Kuske said the thing he had to write the most tickets for was when people burned their garbage.
Kuske said after Christmas one year, a man said he was burning his tree. In Kuske’s mind there was a little too much foul smelling smoke for that to be the end of it and asked to see the burn pile.
Outside Kuske found the tree — and a massive pile of garbage underneath it, he said.
In retirement, Kuske said he plans to make up for lost time with his kids, who over the years dealt with both parents being conservation officers with the DNR and having them get calls on any day of the year, including Christmas.
Kuske’s time as game warden ended at the beginning of March.