TURNER — The stars of “North Woods Law” came to town Saturday and were greeted by fans eager to bag autographs.
The Turner Public Library invited Maine Game Warden Dave Chabot and others to talk about their work, hunting laws and the upcoming bear referendum.
Wardens who spoke included Kris MacCabe and Troy Thibodeau, who appear on the Animal Planet’s hit show about game wardens on the job in Maine. The show begins its fourth season at 8 p.m. Sunday (tonight).
The cable show, which has featured 12 Maine wardens, has increased awareness of what wardens do, MacCabe told a standing-room-only audience.
People in northern and western Maine have long been familiar with wardens. But it used to be if a warden showed up at a store in York County, “people would think he’s the UPS man,” MacCabe said to laughter.
That’s changed, after three seasons of “North Woods Law.” The reality show illustrates how wardens conduct search and rescues. “We have planes, boats,” MacCabe said. “We enforce hunting and fishing law. Now they know what a game warden is.”
MacCabe, who grew up in Monmouth and lives in Wilton, said he never thought “in a million years the show would be as popular as it is. It’ll come to an end someday. But now we’re riding high.”
Thibodeau lives in Greene, grew up in Augusta and worked as a biologist after college before becoming a warden. It took him several years to get into the service, he said. “It’s not the easiest job to get into.”
Thibodeau was working with MacCabe in the early days of the show. Producers liked how MacCabe looked and sounded. Because he worked with MacCabe, that made Thibodeau’s appearance on “North Woods Law” inevitable, he said.
“I was fresh out of the academy,” he said, joking about making his first mistakes on national television.
When a film crew came to Maine to tape, “I happened to get a call for a baby moose in Industry,” MacCabe said. “They heard me on the radio.” They liked what they heard. “They drove around with me for an hour and said they wanted me on the show.”
MacCabe gives the reality show praise for being “very real.” Film crews ride around with wardens for hours, and only film when something happens.
“If nothing happens, they don’t get anything,” MacCabe said. “They may ride around with me for a week and they get one or two stories.”
Both Thibodeau and MacCabe are married. MacCabe’s wife, Emily, works for the same state department, Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which oversees wardens. Their home has a lot of framed Maine woods posters. “We live the lifestyle of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife,” he said.
Thibodeau and MacCabe both are K-9 handlers. Their dogs are trained to track children, hikers and the elderly lost in the woods. Dogs also help them find evidence and catch illegal night hunters.
Being on the show hasn’t changed life too much, MacCabe said Saturday. He does more public speaking — five talks this week alone — and enforces hunting laws in the Farmington area.
People recognize him out of uniform, even out of state. Then there are requests for autographs.
Before and after Thibodeau and MacCabe spoke at the Turner library, fans lined up. Some were boys in their teens, some were women in their 20s and 30s.
Bethany McGarr of Manchester said her sons, Dylan, 10, and Collin, 13, watch the show, and were “excited to meet them and learn some things.”
Brittany Willard of Lewiston brought her 3-year-old daughter, Aubrey Briggs, to meet the wardens. She took a photo of her little girl with MacCabe. “I love the show,” Willard said.
She used to live in Aroostook County where people didn’t take wardens too seriously, she said. “After watching the show, you do take them more seriously.”
Turner library board member Stephanie Pratt, who organized the event, said Saturday’s program came together after she called Chabot, a local game warden, who recruited the others.
Pratt was pleased with the turnout. “North Woods Law” was a big draw, she said. “It sheds light on what they do. They are the patrolmen of the woods.”
North Woods Law begins its fourth season at 8 tonight: www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/north-woods-law/tv-schedule.htm