BOZEMAN, Mont. -

A big state wildlife investigation in southwest Montana ended with more than $72,000 in fines and restitution from 26 people who illegally took game animals.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region Three Warden Captain Sam Sheppard showed us a breakdown of everyone who was fined, what they took and how much they'll have to pay in restitution.

From Nevada to New York, Sheppard says for the last 10 to 15 years, Edward and Sharon Wachs invited select people from across the country to hunt and issued them ranch tags. Only there's no such thing as ranch tags and visitors often took more than the law allowed.

"Rich people basically that owned a couple very large ranches that thought the game on there was theirs to do with what they want," says Sheppard.

In all, Sheppard tells us 14 mule deer, 11 whitetail deer and five bull elk were taken illegally, but says there could be many more and wardens will continue to work on leads as they come in.

Sheppard explains the visitors were hunting and fishing without proper licenses and tags but some ranch workers were also involved and consequently fined. He says six people also used ranch addresses to unlawfully buy resident licenses.  

"Basically, shooting whatever they felt like and using tags of people from other people that did have tags and shuffling them back and forth," says Sheppard.

He tells us wardens were tipped off when they noticed a discrepancy with doe tags.

"Seeing a trend of people that came out every year, but the only thing they would buy is doe tags and then starting to hear some rumors they were actually shooting bucks," explains Sheppard.

It took a number of years to figure out who was buying licenses, hours of surveillance from the area outside the ranch and even out-of-state interviews to complete the investigation.

"You can run but you can't hide from justice on wildlife crime these days," Sheppard says.

As hunting season begins, he says it's a reminder to folks to keep an eye out for poaching.

"You don't come and steal what belongs to all the people of Montana," says Sheppard.

We traveled to Pony to get reaction from residents. We found this is a sensitive subject and a number of the folks we ran into even have ties to the Wachs' ranches. No one wanted to talk to us on camera but some locals say they're not surprised and tell us they're glad those responsible for hunting illegally were finally caught. One person even told us the 72,000 in fines and restitution wasn't enough.

Our research indicates the Wachs are from Illinois and made their money from pipe products.