GRAY — Indiana, Vermont, Virginia, New York and Massachusetts. Those are only some of the states represented by fans of the television show about Maine game wardens, “North Woods Law,” now in its third season.

At Maine Wildlife Park on Sept. 27, the Warden Service held a meet-and-greet of the stars of this show that airs Sundays on Animal Planet. More than 1,000 fans lined up for hours to get autographs with their favorite game warden stars.

Gina and Roland Shuffleburg, who have a vacation home in Arundel, came from Ashburn, Virginia, for the event. They said their friends in Virginia watch the show, so they wanted to meet the stars.

“I think a lot of people who love the outdoors can relate to the show,” Gina said with a beaming smile after meeting four Maine wardens.

Andy Seestedt, supervising producer for Animal Planet, said it’s watched by viewers across the country and beyond, but he wouldn’t give the show’s ratings.

Warden Service Cpl. John MacDonald, who appears on the show, said he’s heard the most popular episodes included those where Warden Rick LaFlamme had to shoot a bear in Portland in 2011, and when Warden Kris MacCabe tracked an injured, bloody loon at Crystal Lake in Gray.

Yet saving injured wildlife is only part of the work done by wardens, who serve the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The original mandate of the Maine Warden Service outlined back in 1880 was to protect Maine’s deer and moose. Today wardens do much more: Chase down reckless drivers of snowmobiles, ATVs and boats; chase poachers; search Maine’s vast woodland for injured people; and enforce fish and game laws. But apparently for some viewers, a loon rescue makes for great TV.

“Kris was just responding to a call about the injured loon. It’s nothing for him to track a bloody animal trail,” MacDonald said. “But the camera crews ride with us, sometimes on really boring days. They get thousands of hours of footage. I guess they get enough stuff for a good show. We feel it’s a well-rounded view of us.”

MacDonald said the Warden Service has continued with the show through four years of being followed on the job because what is shown on TV seems genuine and honest. Several of Maine’s game wardens have ridden around with cameras in their trucks and with cameramen looking over their shoulders and following them through the woods on search and rescues. While the show’s dramatic music adds some Holllywood flare, all the footage is real, MacDonald said.

“None of it is staged. We’re in it for the historical and educational value,” he said.

Sisters Diane Vaughn and Carole Barbeau, both of Gray, came to wait in the autograph line at the wildlife park because they love the show.

“It was filmed in front of my house on Crystal Lake during an ice fishing derby. I saw it on TV. It was amazing,” Vaughn said. “I came here to tell them I love the show, and I wish them well and hope they stay safe.”

Dawson Norcross, 5, of Oxford was one of the younger fans, of which there were several hundred lined up at the wildlife park. He came with his mother, Nancy Norcross, because she said: “We play game warden at home.”

“We’re a very outdoorsy family. We track animals. We go camping. But his father wanted to be a game warden growing up, and now Dawson does,” Nancy said.

Peter Armstrong came from South Paris with his 3-year-old son, Christopher, who wore a tiny game warden uniform, suggesting he too wants to be a game warden. But Armstrong said that might not be the case.

“His mother made it. She watches the show,” Armstrong said.

For Maine’s game wardens all the sudden fame has been a funny turn of events.

“All of us (at IFW) have been flabbergasted by this,” said Lisa Kane, director of the Maine Wildlife Park. “Ten years ago people didn’t know what a game warden was. All law enforcement in the public eye melded together: marine patrol, forest rangers, park rangers, game wardens.”

MacDonald tells the story of how a man working in a pizzaria thought he was a UPS worker. That was several years ago, before “North Woods Law” was even an idea. That was how unrecognizable Maine game wardens were, he said.

“It’s helped gain public support. Before when we went out in public, the general public maybe didn’t know what a game warden was. And it’s also helped with recruitment,” said MacDonald, a game warden since 1998.

“Before we recruited about 150 candidates a year. Now it’s up to 500 to 750. And they’re all ages, from the military and law enforcement to people looking to change careers. I think a lot of that interest has been sparked by the show.”

 


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