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Reality TV goes Western

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There were a few moments last fall when Steve Puppe felt the filming of his new show, "Wardens," might land him in a sketchy situation. Mostly they came while he was tagging along with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) game wardens—the stars of his new 13-episode Outdoor Channel series—as they set up wildlife decoys for illegal hunters.

"When you get a shooter on one of those, that's when it really could go Western," says Puppe, whose 15-year television career has included stints with the Outdoor Channel, Versus and ESPN. "You know they have guns; they just fired their guns. And you don't know what could happen at the point you approach them."

But true to the reality of the warden experience, those situations ended in little more than a handshake and a citation. It proved a far cry from Puppe's original intention—a "Cops"-styled program about wildland enforcement—and the Hamilton-based producer welcomed the shift as an opportunity to educate the public on everything Montana's wardens do to protect natural resources.

"I think it will show that they aren't bad guys," Puppe says. "They're just average guys doing their job, and they're very polite. I think it'll also show that not every outdoors guy is a lawbreaker."

The second episode of "Wardens" airs Jan. 6, and Puppe is currently wrapping up production on episode seven. Region 2 Warden Captain Jeff Darrah has had the opportunity to preview each episode and believes the series as a whole could go a long way in strengthening the trust between sportsmen and FWP law enforcement.

"We're not trying to put a show out that makes it look like we're kicking in doors and arresting everybody we talk to," Darrah says, "because that's not reality."

The sixth episode in the series will focus partly on an elk-hunting violation along the Blackfoot River. Puppe tagged along with Region 2 Warden Aaron Berg for the segment. Berg says that like the decoy outings, the situation on the Blackfoot—a report of hunters shooting too many elk—had the potential to get hairy. The bad-boys theme, however, just didn't pan out.

"It was an honest mistake," Berg says. "We ended up citing him and stuff, but we didn't hammer him. I think it shows hunters are more honest than people think."

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