Outdoor Channel Follows Exploits of FWP Officers
BY PAT HILL
A talent for calling wild turkeys ultimately led to a dream career for Bitterroot Valley resident Steve Puppe, who produces the television series Wardens that airs on the Outdoor Channel.
Puppe tags along with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officers in the thirteen episodes of the series’ first season, which began airing on Dec. 30. He told the Pioneer an interest in “cop-type shows” led him and his Muddy Boot Productions company to pursue the project, which is thoroughly endorsed by Montana FWP.
“We started filming [the first season] in November of 2009,” Puppe told the Pioneer. “I’ve had the idea in my head for the past 10 or 15 years, but I’ve just never really had the time to do it. But in 2009 the opportunity was there, and I took it, and put the pilot together.” Puppe said that the Outdoor Channel liked the idea, signing on for one and possibly more seasons of Wardens.
Puppe said Muddy Boot Productions is a “fairly new company” that he owns with a partner in his home state of Minnesota. Puppe said that he grew up in a hunting family, and he’d always wanted to be a hunter. Wild turkey calling became his forte early on.
“I won several state championships, and got into the national level and started winning there,” he said. Puppe’s turkey-calling talents eventually led to his being hired by a company called Hunters Specialties out of Iowa, which put him on the screen calling in the big birds. But film and television were not in his sights at the beginning of his working career.
“I didn’t go to school for [film and television],” the 45-year-old Puppe said. “I went to school to be a firefighter-paramedic, and I did that for 10 years back in Minnesota. Then the opportunity came to work in the hunting industry [with Hunters Specialties], and I took that opportunity…it’s kinda every [outdoor] man’s dream job, and it just ran from there.” Puppe said that he was “basically in front of the camera at the start.”
“I realized that’s not always the best way to make a living…that there’s probably more money behind the camera,” he said. “So that’s where I went.” Puppe said that he is self-taught as far as the camera is concerned.
“My camera work…my editing skills…I’ve had some teachers along the way but I’ve had to learn it myself basically,” he said. “If a person has common sense, and you set your heart on it, you can do it.”
Puppe moved to Big Sky Country 11 years ago while still working with Hunters Specialties. He lives in the Bitterroot Valley, in Hamilton, Montana.
“I convinced them to let me work from home,” he said, “and I just had a love of Montana from the hunting thing. They accepted my proposal, and here I am…I never looked back.” Puppe said that he started on his own with a company called Adventures Wild in 2003.
“We’ve sold, and changed some partners along the way, and that’s how Muddy Boot Productions came about,” said Puppe. “We concentrate on hunting and fishing, and now this game warden show.” Puppe accompanies Montana game wardens as they perform duties ranging from busting poachers to helping floaters stay safe on the annual Yellowstone River Boat Float. Puppe told the Pioneer that “you never know what to really expect” in the field with the FWP officers.
“Working with the game wardens has been fun,” he enthused. “I’m learning new things and seeing things that I didn’t know were out there…overall the experience has been wonderful.”
Puppe said that most people just don’t realize all the duties that Montana’s game wardens have.
“You just don’t know what a typical day for a game warden is going to be,” he said. “They could have a plan, and 30 minutes later that plan is gone and they’re doing something completely different…they could come across a car accident and help out in that situation…they could be rescuing people on rivers…or they could be issuing small citations for game violations. You just never know what’s going to happen.”
In Wardens, anonymous calls from Montana’s TIPMONT anti-poaching program lead to trips in the mountains where the investigations begin with spent cartridges and dead elk, then end in arrests. Puppe accompanies wardens on the two-day trip from Livingston to Columbus on the annual summer float down the Yellowstone River, and joins them on the Tongue River Reservoir in southeast Montana over the Fourth of July. Wardens is there for spring paddle-fish-snagging season on the Yellowstone River north of Glendive, and Puppe tags along as wardens deal with a barrage of bear incidents in the Bitterroot last summer.
“I was going to venture down to the Bozeman area to do a piece on bears, but we had enough going on here,” he joked. But working with Montana’s game wardens is usually not a joking matter. Puppe described a sunny afternoon last September when “all of a sudden we were going a hundred miles an hour down the Interstate.”
“We were pulling a boat on a rescue mission,” said Puppe. “and somebody ended up losing their life on the Missouri River…now that’s a sad thing…but [the wardens] are out there trying to do their best…unfortunately it doesn’t always happen…” But Puppe said he’s impressed with the job the wardens do.
“Your days can be extremely long as a game warden,” said Puppe, “and being the film person, you gotta go. You don’t just start your day at eight and quit at five.”
Puppe and his camera crews were with game wardens as they brought down poachers in the Great Falls region during the second week of February. The story will be featured in episode twelve of this season’s series. Puppe said that after filming, he returned home and got to work right away, and finished editing the “take-down” episode on Feb. 24.
“It was about forty miles south of Great Falls…I don’t want to say a whole lot because it’s not went to trial yet,” said Puppe. “It was definitely an interesting thing…with multiple locations, and arrests, I had to bring a whole film crew with me. We were with the wardens as this whole thing took place…it was quite interesting. I’m very impressed with the Montana wardens and their investigation of the case. They had everything nailed down absolutely perfect, and the whole thing went down pretty much without a hitch. We thought it might last way into the night, but the whole thing was pretty much wrapped up by two in the afternoon…my hat’s off to the game wardens for having a plan and executing it to perfection.”