DRESSED in camouflage, the three officers from Idaho Department of Fish and Game were deep undercover in the rugged mountains, living on rations, camping rough and for nine days intently watching their quarry: A group of Australian hunters.
The game wardens were aware that Anton Kapeller, 58, from central Tasmania, had for 20 years been bringing other Australians and New Zealanders to Idaho to hunt elk, deer and wolves.
They had long suspected him of illegally hunting elk out of season. But what really motivated them was that Kapeller left his camps, high in the beautiful mountains, littered with rubbish.
There was also a suspicion he was committing the ultimate sin: Taking antlers and leaving the meat to rot.
This year game officers Marshall Haynes, Brian Flatter and Brian Marek were determined. With the help of various agencies, they knew Kapeller's travel movements well in advance.
He was travelling with his long-time friend and neighbour Darren Tubb, 43, and Tubb's nephew Samuel Henley, 18, both first-time guests on his hunt.
Tubb and Henley bought tags which allowed them each to shoot one elk, one deer and one wolf. But for Kapeller, the rules didn't really matter.
The place he was taking them to was so remote they could do as they pleased.
The officers positioned themselves in Kapeller's favourite spot - high in the Sawtooth National Forest. "We were dressed like hunters, in full camo, carrying rifles," Mr Flatter said.
"So, if we were seen, it wouldn't be too surprising. But we worked extra hard not to be detected. We were hiking in the dark, and by day we were watching them."
On October 26, the wardens watched as the party (which included another Tasmanian and a New Zealander, who were not convicted of any offence) set up base camp. Kapeller knew a spot where the elk liked to graze. He put Tubb and Henley in position and, on October 28 just before nightfall, a prized six-point bull elk appeared.
So did the game wardens.
Tubb and Henley were in radio contact with Kapeller, who told them: "Go for it," even though elk season had not opened. Henley took three shots but missed. Tubb took over and nailed the elk.
The officers did not make an immediate arrest.
"We're looking at guys in camouflage. We couldn't say for sure who did what. We saw the elk go down but we needed more," Mr Flatter said.
Over the following days, Tubb, Henley and Kapeller returned to the kill site. They took a small bit of meat but were only interested in the "rack" - the antlers.
MEANWHILE, the officers paid secret visits to the now bloated elk, taking DNA samples.
Tubb and Henley dragged the elk into a more open spot to attract bears and wolves.
Henley shot two wolves and later claimed on Facebook that he had done so in self defence.
That was not true, said Mr Marek.
"The wolf was just standing there," he said.
"I think he's trying to save face with his buddies.
"He is a good kid, he's not a monster, but he's starting to throw some stuff around that's not quite true."
Henley had a tag which allowed him to kill only one wolf, so Tubb transferred his to his nephew. Another illegal move. On November 3, as the group left the area on their horses, the undercover officers moved in.
"Everyone was very untruthful," Mr Marek said. "They said the elk was killed on November 1 and the wolves were killed by Henley and Tubb. None of that was true."Once we determined they weren't going to be co-operative, we showed them our eight-day beards and said: 'We know you wasted the elk'."The three were sent to Elmore County Jail, where they spent six days. They pleaded not guilty at an initial hearing and were ordered to post bail bonds up to$75,000. They eventually pleaded guilty.Everyone in Idaho understands hunting. It's not about dead animals or pitying wolves and elk. It's about doing the right thing.
The three were each fined up to $5000 and lost their bonds. Kapeller and Tubb lost their guns and will never be allowed to hunt or fish in Idaho again - a ban that also covers most US states.
And they will never again eat huckleberry cheesecake at Trudy's Kitchen, in Idaho City, where Kapeller was a loyal customer.
Owner Trudy Jackson said: "I sent (Kapeller) away with huckleberry cheesecake only two weeks ago. I'm just floored that they came to the States and took advantage of us. It's so disappointing. I can't believe they did that."