Fans of the cable TV show “North Woods Law” love to talk about the time Maine Game Warden Kris MacCabe caught a loon in a box.
MacCabe found it in a frozen stream in Weld, swimming in a pocket of open water that had been iced and snowed over.
While cameras rolled, he chuckled and declared it feisty — “that’s a good sign, because it’s obviously pretty healthy” — then crept up and pounced with a big blue plastic tote.
It’s one of the more popular clips from the reality show broadcast on the Animal Planet channel.
“I’ve always wanted to be a game warden, but I didn’t want to be a reality TV star,” said MacCabe, 31, who grew up in Monmouth and patrols the Farmington area. “A lot of people are coming up to me, ‘I just have to ask, are you that guy?’”
Season two of “North Woods Law,” filmed around Maine from April to August, kicks off at 10 p.m. Oct. 3.
This Saturday, MacCabe will be one of eight game warden stars meeting and greeting fans at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray.
Maine Warden Service Cpl. John MacDonald’s first reaction two years ago when several production companies expressed an interest in tagging along behind his wardens in the woods: “Very cautious.”
He researched and liked Engel Entertainment out of New York, eventually filming six episodes that would become the start of season one in the fall of 2011.
“We struck a good balance between what we needed to get out there for a message and to be sure we were portrayed in the light we needed to be,” MacDonald said. “I think it’s become better and better. The reality of it is spot-on; there’s no re-enactments.”
Not every warden wanted to be on TV, but the dozen who are enjoy it, he said.
Neither the Warden Service nor the wardens are paid for appearing. As a state law enforcement agency, that’s prohibited. MacDonald’s goals instead were raising public awareness and support for the service, and using “North Woods Law” as an unofficial recruiting tool. That last part in particular worked: In an average recruiting season before the show, he’d hear from 100 to 150 would-be candidates.
This year, “I talked with personally 500 that are interested in being a game warden,” MacDonald said.
Sgt. Scott Thrasher supervises seven district wardens in Franklin and northern Oxford County, including MacCabe, and frequently gave TV crews a heads-up about who was working on something of possible interest.
“You always have that wonder at the beginning of the filming season, ‘Is anything going to happen? Is this going to be the three weeks that we get into absolutely nothing?’” Thrasher said.
“As it has turned out, just my section alone has been involved in some interesting cases between injured wildlife, illegal fishing cases, illegal hunting cases; we’ve covered pretty much the variety of what Maine game wardens deal with on a daily basis.”
Executive Producer Devon Platte said more than a million viewers a week tuned in at the end of last season. Whether there’s a Season 3 will ride on how many people watch this time around.
This new 10-episode run made a point of heading to Aroostook County and hitting more of the state to the east and west.
“You can’t beat good characters, no matter who you’re filming, whether it’s game wardens or the ‘Amazing Race’ contestants,” Platte said. “We’ve just lucked out to meet some very interesting folks that not only do we like filming but the audience has responded to as well.”
Part of that audience: Women who might just do a little bit of fawning, and not the deer kind.
“Warden MacCabe is easy on the eyes, in addition to being a great guy,” Platte said. “I would venture a few of the other guys are not bad looking themselves — there’s a lot of good-looking wardens.”
MacCabe, a warden for six years, had no reservations about joining the cast two years ago.
“I thought a few people would watch it, my friends, my family,” he said.
The Engel crew took some getting used to. During filming, MacCabe is joined by one cameraman in his vehicle. GoPro cameras are trained on him from his visor and dash, and a second vehicle follows behind with at least two more crew members.
“They have a job to do, so they’re like, ‘Well, what’s next?’ I’m like, ‘Well, I don’t know, I’m just waiting for the next thing to happen,’” MacCabe said. “I was pretty self-conscious at first about it. There’s a lot that goes into this and you want to make good TV. ”
Fan reaction has been great, he said. The wardens met more than 1,000 people at a Maine Wildlife Park visit last year, and MacCabe has heard positive reviews from game wardens around the world.
“That makes me feel good, because the biggest critics are your peers,” he said. “(One warden in Spain) just wanted to say that he really enjoyed the show, and keep up the good work and stay safe.”
That scene with the loon started as a call to help an injured animal. Despite blood in the snow when he arrived, it turned out not to be hurt. The loon had just, apparently, forgotten to fly south for the winter.
“I ended up catching it in a Tupperware box. It’s probably not a loon-approved box, but it worked for the time being to get it to a rescue facility,” MacCabe said.
Meet the wardens
Meet the game wardens of “North Woods Law” on Saturday, Sept. 28 at Maine Wildlife Park, Route 26, in Gray.
Wardens Tim Spahr, Jonathan Parker, Dan Carroll, Scott Thrasher, Kris MacCabe with K9 Morgan, and Pete Herring will be there from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wardens Rick LaFlamme, Alan Curtis with K9 Cruizer, Dan Carroll and Kris MacCabe are scheduled for 1 to 3 p.m.
The Operation Game Thief “Wall of Shame,” an airboat and other equipment will also be on display. Children under age 3 get in free; ages 4 to 12, $5; ages 13 to 60, $7; ages 61+, $5.
For more information, call 657-4977.