The Secret Lives of Bigfoot Hunters

A scientist turned reality TV star and a true believer turned analyst are both on a quest for one of the Northwest’s most elusive mysteries.

By Allison Williams March 28, 2016 Published in the April 2016 issue of Seattle Met

Lit only by moonlight in the Tennessee woods, Ranae Holland cups her hands around her mouth and emits a guttural, horrifying shriek, something halfway between the scream of a cougar and the scream of a person being disemboweled by a cougar. 

Then she falls silent and reclines on a fallen cedar, the tentacles of exposed roots her backrest, her long legs bracing her into total stillness. She knows how not to scare an animal, a skill earned doing veterinary care on snow leopards and counting fish in bear country. She sits still and she waits for sasquatch to answer.

More than 2,000 miles away, a week later and in broad daylight, Derek Randles forces open a motion-activated game camera, a paperback-size camo box that hunters use to spot game. He retrieves an SD card encoded with half a year of recordings and descends through the waxy salal ground cover that blankets the Olympic Peninsula. 

At 50, his stocky frame moves back to civilization through the underbrush with the grace of a teenager. Somewhere on this card, he hopes, is the world’s first undisputed image of a bigfoot.

Holland, a field biologist by training, is a professional sasquatch researcher, dutifully undergoing a cross-country hunt on one of Animal Planet’s highest-rated TV shows. Randles is an amateur who leads a small volunteer army of data-hungry autodidacts.

Holland is a skeptic. Randles is a believer. Finding bigfoot defines both of their lives.

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Ranae Holland has traveled as far as -Sumatra and Nepal to film episodes of Finding Bigfoot. “We’re never going to prove bigfoot is real, okay,” she says. “But with that said, you also can’t prove bigfoot is not real.”

Defining bigfoot
be as hard as finding one. It’s a myth, a mystery, a bogeyman, and a punch line. He’s Harry and the Hendersons, but also, if the believers are right, the last great natural discovery to be made in human history.

Folklore surrounding an elusive man-shaped creature dates back long before Europeans came to North America, from the Algonquin wendigo to the Pacific Northwest skookum. Tales describe giant hairy beings that kidnapped children, ate people, and communicated in bone-shaking howls. The name sasquatch comes from a British Columbian tribe, but it’s also been called the skunk ape and the Boggy Creek monster. Internationally there’s the Himalayan yeti and orang pendek in Sumatra. They’re cryptids, organisms not recognized by science. 

The goofy bigfoot moniker dates back only to the 1950s but appears to have stuck. Footprints, it seems, are about all he leaves behind. Today enthusiasts mingle and bicker online with ghost hunters and UFO truthers and spiritualists; there are those who believe bigfoot is an alien, or telekinetic, a shape shifter, or exists in a parallel dimension. Name a fringe phenomenon, and there’s a faction that believes bigfoot has something to do with it.

For Ranae Holland and Derek Randles, bigfoot—or the mere possibility of bigfoot—is a biological construct. He is a they, a species of undiscovered North American apes that could (or will) be slotted into a forgotten twig of the hominid evolutionary tree. They’re out there right now, some say, weaving through Douglas fir and cedar trunks in the Pacific Northwest forest, as real as black bears or trash-robbing raccoons.

A secret species in America—who would believe that? Plenty of people, as it turns out, and not merely the 45,000 who’ve submitted reports of encounters to the Internet’s biggest sasquatch clearing house, the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization

The late Grover Krantz, a Washington State University professor of anthropology, was one of the first PhDs to risk censure and ridicule to study mysterious footprints found throughout the Northwest. (He was a notable eccentric: When he died, Krantz donated his bones to the Smithsonian with the caveat that they remain near those of his Irish wolfhound Clyde. The museum complied.) 

There’s Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, an Idaho State University anatomy and anthropology professor who founded a “relict hominoid” scientific journal. There’s Dr. Jane Goodall, chimpanzee champion and perhaps the most famous biologist in the world, who’s appeared at bigfoot conferences and once told NPR, “I’m sure that they exist.” 

Researchers, mostly amateurs, make casts of unexplained tracks found in Washington’s Blue Mountains and California’s Humboldt County. They point out dermal ridges, or the whirls on the feet that are just like fingerprints, that derive neither from man nor known beast. They trade evidence online and hold tight to audio and DNA studies that come back inconclusive. 

In fact, it might be harder to find a biologist who’ll claim categorically that bigfoot don’t exist. Between not wanting to provoke the online faithful and the general scientific aversion to proving a negative (could you prove that fairies aren’t real?), most back away warily.

Species verification is the holy grail of bigfooting—some sort of unassailable evidence, a combo of hair, photo, or DNA accepted by the scientific community. As Derek Randles marches out of the forest, SD card in tow, he knows the chance that his camera captured a sasquatch living in North America is slim. But what if? 

The giant squid wasn’t photographed by scientists until 2004, after all; images of a wild American jaguar were captured near Tucson earlier this year after no verified detections since 1963. Just because we don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.


It was the late 1970s, and bigfoot was in the air. Leonard Nimoy was hosting the monsters and mysteries TV show In Search Of…, and Andre the Giant as sasquatch body-slammed Steve Austin in The Six Million Dollar Man. 

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a young Ranae Holland never knew when her divorced father would be around. When he did show up he was a rule breaker—snacking his way through the grocery store, jumping the fence to visit the zoo. The pair was glued to the shaggy TV stories of unexplained phenomena.

Six foot six with a bushy approximation of a Burt Reynolds ’do, John Holland was an iconoclast to the bone. He questioned everything, asking his rapt daughter what she thought of the bigfoot stories, the Loch Ness monster, aliens on Easter Island. “He’d say, ‘What do you think? If it’s not real, how did they fake it?’” Holland remembers. “Instead of telling me what it was, he would very much promote me to think for myself.”

John Holland didn’t abide by any authority, least of all gravity. He built hot rods and motorcycles, performed bike stunts and appeared on That’s Incredible, a whiz-bang feats-and-oddities show not unlike the programs he watched with Ranae.

And then, on the Fourth of July in 1984, as Jumpin’ Jack Flash, John Holland prepared for his ultimate feat: soaring over a line of 50 off-the-lot Chevy Chevettes on a motorcycle. He lit a cigarette at the Sioux Falls fairgrounds before mounting his bike, its back end held together with a blanket of duct tape. Before a crowd of feathered hair and shirtless South Dakotans, he sped off the approach ramp and into the air, where his parachute opened prematurely. His body rag-dolled over the Chevettes, its impact crinkling car roofs like aluminum foil. 

Ranae, 14 and watching television at her grandmother’s house, saw the gruesome replay over and over again. John Holland lived, astonishingly, but his life soon spiraled into chaos. He began selling methamphetamine, even got involved with those making it. He was arrested with 16 others who all planned to take a plea deal but four days before trial Holland, contrary as ever, decided to face a jury. As Ranae remembers, he refused to “snitch.” A guilty verdict led to a 17-year sentence in federal prison.

Ranae Holland left South Dakota behind, moving to Seattle to work as a vet tech on llamas and exotic big cats, finally able to work through various threads of a turbulent family life and her own lesbian identity. Eventually she earned a degree in the ecology of freshwater systems from University of Washington, doing fine-tooth surveys of wild Alaskan river fisheries and landing NOAA field biologist gigs. Her father died shortly after being released from prison in 2003, and she threw herself into work, counting and tagging fish. 

Searching for a film she half remembered from her dad’s visits, Holland stumbled on the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization website. A cautious friendship with organizers brought her to the attention of television execs casting a bigfoot reality show in 2010. Holland, who’d inherited her father’s striking height and fierce unconventionality, agreed to go on the show as the resident skeptic, the Scully to a trio of want-to-believe Mulders.

Filming the first season was a three-ring circus of reality television. Holland and the crew eventually traveled to Prince of Wales Island, back to the same rural Southeast Alaska community where she’d mourned her father’s final disappearance. Escaping the long production days of rappelling down cliffs and debunking bigfoot claims on screen, Holland wrangled an invitation to a Haida community gathering where she wedged her lanky frame into a corner.

But Holland, like her father, never flew under the radar. A Haida elder turned to Holland, a stranger, and out of nowhere began reassuring her. “He said, The last time you were here your heart was so heavy. You know you are a pure heart and a good soul, and you fight the good fight,” she recalls. The elder told her she was welcome with them anytime. “I choked up and I looked up and could feel my dad laughing.” 

From then on the show was something her dad had left for her. Months later Finding Bigfoot had the highest-rated premiere in Animal Planet history.


There were no TV cameras, no elders, no real grown-ups around when Derek Randles says he saw his first bigfoot. Just a trio of young men venturing off trail in the Olympics in the sweaty summer of 1985. 

“I think they frown on off trail a little bit,” says Randles, but as the son of an outdoorsman, the woods were his playground. By 20 he thought nothing of ditching the main route. Temperatures were soaring into the 80s in the usually mild southeast corner of the peninsula, so one August day he and two pals veered up a side ridge, above the heat in the Olympic forest. Their eventual destination was a meadow called Home Sweet Home.

Close to sunset, the boys used pruning shears to cut evergreen boughs to put under their tent, willing to sacrifice the easy going of a trail but not the comfort of a cushy bed. But before camp was fully set, the boys heard a sudden crash in the trees. A stone the size of a coffee cup arced up from the trees and landed 10 feet from where they stood.

“We’re in virgin woods, far from roads, out in the wilderness, and something with an opposable thumb is throwing a rock,” remembers Randles. “Just as we began to think maybe this is scary, another one lands very close to the first one: boom.” 

 No one was hit, but instinct set in. They grabbed their backpacks and flew down the mountain. While his buddies sped ahead, only Randles paused, drawing a .357 snub-nosed revolver from his pack. 

“And there it was. There was this thing standing there. It freaked me out bad enough to where I forgot I was holding a gun.”

In the low light of dusk he couldn’t make out much more than the shape, but it wasn’t the animals he knew by instinct: black bear, Roosevelt elk, blacktail deer. It was man shaped, with a head and shoulders, huge, and it was no stump—it swayed just a little bit, just like a living thing. 

Randles didn’t tell his friends what he saw for 10 years, but he had no doubt. “The next day I dove into research, hook, line, and sinker, and I’ve never looked back.”

After three decades, Randles has come to the conclusion that there aren’t many bigfoot in the Olympics; 20, 30, maybe 50 individuals. They’re so rarely sighted for good reason: “They move more like a militaristic operation, and they know—this is the crazy part—they know they have to stay hidden.” He’s positive that he’s been near them in the past 31 years, but he hasn’t seen one so clearly since.

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Derek Randles and the Olympic Project invite outsiders to join the research team for a few expeditions per year, teaching workshops on audio recording, evidence documentation, and track casting.

Searching for bigfoot is an odd mix of tricks and patience. When Holland hits the woods for solo squatching on Finding Bigfoot, she works her way through a series of calls before culminating in the horror-ingenue scream.

The Tennessee woods where she’s filming the latest season are nothing like the Washington wilds back home; the mostly deciduous trees have bleak, empty branches, and hickory bark curls off tree trunks like old paint. We’re in a state forest with only a single cameraman who films in night-vision mode, stepping over piles of illegally dumped trash to access the brown-on-brown landscape.

Once the sun sets, Holland begins inching near blind over the forest floor of dried leaves, obeying long-held bigfoot lore that says they’re repelled by light. In her hand is a custom-made wooden club, like a fat, half-length Louisville Slugger with a black-wrapped handle and engraved with her name. With her eyes adjusted to the moonlight, she finds trees with smooth, barkless trunks and wallops them. When she does it correctly her whole arm vibrates for longer than the crisp, loud crack echoes through the dark. 

Her fellow cast members believe sasquatches knock back; if that’s true, the local squatches are silent today. (Other popular behavior theories: They throw rocks and bluff-charge humans to intimidate them, but they don’t attack.)

Then come the yips, quick “whoop whoop!” howls, a long sustained “waaaaahh,” when Holland resembles a theater kid with big lungs doing an impression of a police siren. “Sounds too much like a person!” she says, frustrated. “Because I am a person.” 

Fellow Finding Bigfoot cast member James “Bobo” Fay has developed a call that sounds more like Chewbacca; he’s known for his trucker hats, a squatching dog named Monkey, and a tall stature that the cast uses to help witnesses clarify what they saw. (“Bigger than Bobo” is the mark of a promising report.) Fay, like many other believers, thinks the sasquatches use the calls to identify one another over long distances. 

“Step up, shout out, just show yourself,” Holland whispers to her unseen quarry. “A little Southern charm, please?”

We hear nothing but coyotes, then a barred owl in the distance. Holland enthusiastically hoots back, a hoo-hoo-ha-hooo call that the owl returns. We stop, silent, trying to will bigfoot into making a noise, or at least willing ourselves to believe for a moment that a giant ape could be lurking somewhere on the same plane.

After uninterrupted minutes of silence, when we’re so silent it’s practically a fugue state, it seems a little closer to possible. But then we hear the guttural snort of wild pigs nearby and we rush back into awareness. We circle around, banging branches against logs, trying to flush them out—a familiar technique. 

Holland’s face goes serious as she asks, “Do you know what to do with wild pigs? Get the hell out of the way. They have tusks.” They’re probably the most dangerous thing in the Tennessee woods not carrying a firearm. The mere idea of bigfoot evaporates in a moment.


Randles’s first bigfoot was the first taste of something he still craves. “Like I had just opened the bag of Doritos, and I was starving, and I just can’t put them down.”

First he researched in private, then gradually let his friends and family know what he’d seen near Home Sweet Home. He built a landscaping business in Belfair, started a family, and listened to every bigfoot sighting story that came out of the woodwork.

“I already know that bigfoot are real, there’s no gray area in my mind whatsoever,” he says. So, naturally, when he hears a bigfoot story—and he’s heard hundreds—his first instinct is to disbelieve it. “If you’re gonna sit here and tell me a sighting, there’s a 90 percent chance I’m gonna think you’re full of shit,” he says. “Most reports are either misinterpretation, misidentification, or bullshit. People lie.” 

The fortune hunters, the attention seekers; all are easy for Randles to dismiss. But every few weeks he’ll get a phone call from someone who only needs to unburden himself. It’s the people who work in the woods, Randles says, who come to him not with dollar signs in their eyes but pissed off. 

“I finally figured out why,” he says. “Loggers, forest rangers, they’re macho people. They don’t want to think or reconcile that there’s something bigger and badder than them in the woods. So when I do interview a logger, and if he’s upset, doesn’t want me to retell a story? That man had a sighting. It happened.”

Convinced there were sasquatch in the woods around him, Randles and a Mason County deputy sheriff launched the Olympic Project in 2008, a research initiative funded by a Nevada half billionaire named Wallace Hersom. The group owns property near Lake Crescent on the Olympic Peninsula, a kind of clubhouse from which Randles’s hand-selected team sets game cameras in the woods, records suspicious sounds in the Olympic night, and analyzes only the report data that passes the group’s rigorous protocol.

Bigfoot might be an evolutionary relic, but hunting him takes technology. The group has more than 50 cameras in its arsenal; the Bushnell high-defs retail for $160, and Reconyx RC60 cameras cost more than $500 each. The project also has a $20,000 thermal imagery unit, all happily provided by patron Hersom. With parabolic dishes and shotgun microphones, they’ve recorded unexplained sounds that resemble an unholy mix of whale song, dog wail, and unhappy cow.

Last summer Randles led a group up this North Olympics slope with a Bushnell Trophy Cam HD, a middle-of-the-line game camera, and pulled the nylon straps tight around a Douglas fir. He faced it toward a clearing, one suited for animal traffic. 

Now it’s full of six months of forest secrets, six months of wildlife passing by. For Randles, it could be the camera that finally catches the long, galloping gait of a bigfoot. Again, or maybe for the first time.

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The 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film is still hotly debated, frame by frame, by enthusiasts today.

Holland remembers
the Patterson-Gimlin film from her youth; everyone does. Made in 1967, it’s the quintessential strip of bigfoot footage, 53 seconds filmed on Bluff Creek, California, in the middle of Humboldt County. The camera shakes as a giant dark brown figure paces from left to right across the frame, arms swinging purposefully. It looks like a gorilla, but bigger and much more upright. Midstride she—the visible breasts make it a she, by consensus—turns to look at the camera. In the bigfoot world, the PG film is more famous than the Zapruder film of the JFK assassination.

Roger Patterson, the cameraman, died in 1972 after touring with the film and maintaining it wasn’t a hoax. His partner and guide that day, a cowboy named Bob Gimlin, now lives on a Yakima ranch, where he only recently gave up breaking horses.

When Holland and the Finding Bigfoot crew arrived in California to film with Gimlin, she immediately recognized a kindred spirit. Gimlin talked of riding “motorsickles” with his buddy Bob Knievel back before he became Evel the stuntman; it was easy to see echoes of Jumpin’ Jack Flash.

Gimlin led their whole team to the site along Bluff Creek, only the second time he’d ever returned. In 1967, he says, he’d marveled at the bigfoot from horseback, wondering, “How could anything that big be that agile?” This time he was the spry one, pushing 80 but still hopping logs to the “crick.” The day was so hot the cast splashed creek water on themselves, annoying producers who saw water stains as continuity errors. 

It was hallowed ground for the bigfoot faithful, Roswell and Graceland wrapped up in one. The believers on the Finding Bigfoot team started pointing out landmarks. Patty—as she’s been dubbed—had to be so tall, based on the trees she’d passed. Her stride had to be inhumanly wide, based on the rocks she stepped over. 

Only Holland, designated skeptic, wasn’t even convinced their creekside outing was even in the same spot. 

“They filmed that one year, and the next? There were catastrophic floods here, they were helicoptering food in, homes were destroyed,” she says. Of the famous background boulders in the PG film from 1967, by now “all of that rock is in the Pacific.” Having walked the same rivers in Alaska year after year, tagging salmon and tracking the eco-system, Holland knew how changeable the natural world is, how impossible it was to even find the same spot again. “It just shows how much people want
to believe.”

For the most part, Holland doesn’t see malice in the thousands of bigfoot reports. A few hoaxes, sure, but mostly pareidolia, or the tendency to see familiar shapes in the world around us: Mickey Mouse in the clouds, a face on Mars, a bear in a ragged black stump. Or a bigfoot. 

It’s the night before an Olympic Project outing and the inner circle of researchers is prepping. That means setting up a frying-pan-size microphone outside and talking through the next day’s plan: a damp February hike. Plus it’s drinking Crown Royal and Coke around a wooden bar shaped like a giant foot, next to shelves of footprint casts and a large fishing boat called the Pole Dancer

Tom Baker is a senior manager at Amazon by day. He’s a data man to the bone, as committed to hard logic as Randles—maybe even more. He does statistical analysis to find meaningful patterns in the times, places, and dates of bigfoot sightings, even the phases of the moon. As a commander in the Navy he landed F-14 Tomcats on aircraft carriers: He’s hardly naive. Yet as he stokes the wood fire in the unheated clubhouse, Baker still has room for just a whiff of dreaminess, an appreciation for the romance of chasing the unknown.

“There’s the Holy Grail,” Baker says. “The Ark of the Covenant, the Atocha”—a near-mythic shipwreck of a Spanish galleon. Bigfoot is in that rarefied company of history’s coolest enigmas. “This is one of the great mysteries we face. If we solve it, the repercussions are huge,” Baker smiles. “Man was meant to be an explorer.”

They are, individually and collectively, not crazy. There are no tinfoil hats in sight. Baker doesn’t hide his Olympic Project affiliation at work; there’s a bigfoot sticker on the laptop he uses every day at Amazon. 

 Bigfoot groups are legion, in Washington and beyond, says Randles. His is one of the few to rely so thoroughly on the scientific method. He claims he has nothing to prove, that he’s only out to learn more about a creature he knows exists. The Olympic Project is dedicated to the kind of evidence the public understands: clear photos, video, sound. 

But even if you disregard the smudgy shapes on the thermal cameras and casts of 18-inch footprints, Randles can’t dismiss the word of eyewitnesses. “People go to prison, convicted with life sentences and the death penalty, over human testimony. Same humans, same educated humans, telling you, Yes, this sasquatch was standing there. But because it’s a sasquatch, no one wants to believe them.”

The next morning we start the steep climb to some Olympic Project cameras; the three researchers are each wearing some form of camouflage and a gun. Baker wears tan fatigues better suited to the desert, while Randles has a green-camouflage backpack and khaki shorts. He’s worn long pants only three times in the past decade, he jokes, and it doesn’t take long for the snags of underbrush to leave bloody streaks on his shins.

There are no trails here, in the thick unlogged forest west of Port Angeles, just a muddy slope that tilts up at almost 40 degrees. Randles heads to a bench, a flat break in the hill, because his tracker’s sense tells him that’s where large animals would live and loiter. Only a particularly dumb large animal would climb straight up the hill like we did.

One need only get a few dozen yards away from the group before voices are absorbed into trees and moss. Randles never second-guesses a step, walking dead-on for more than two miles to the camouflaged trail cameras. Anticipation builds as he tucks each camera into his backpack, each full memory card a still-wrapped Christmas present.

Pausing to let everyone catch their breath, Randles shakes his head, looking at the forest around him. “The thing I can’t wrap my mind around: How do they know so keenly to stay hidden from us?”

“How does the cougar know that?” asks another Olympic Project member pointedly.

“It’s almost like it’s handed down through their generations, to avoid humans at all costs,” Randles says, then smiles. “I know this sounds crazy.”

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The Finding Bigfoot cast: Cliff Barackman, James “Bobo” Fay, Ranae Holland, and Matt Moneymaker, president of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.


Finding Bigfoot was a hit in 2011, and Holland found herself on what she calls the Z-list of celebrity—suddenly she had to take selfies with fans and explain that no, she wasn’t a cynic, just a skeptic. 

And then at a town hall meeting in southwestern Virginia, an event thrown by the show to gather people with bigfoot stories, she spotted a man in the front row. He had two little girls, all wearing homemade T-shirts that said “Virginia Is for Bigfoot Lovers.” He made a beeline for Holland with one daughter in his arms and pushing the other with his free hand. “We love the show,” he said, gesturing to the younger daughter he held. “Especially me and this one.” Instantly Holland was five years old again. 

“It’s not like I expect to find bigfoot,” she says. “I don’t expect to put it in a cage, or trap something. I would’ve gone crazy by now, as a scientist, if I didn’t have something to bite into. If it didn’t make a difference with kids.”

Since then it’s become a ritual at every town hall, every meet-and-greet. She sees a kid and lowers herself to her knees, often still towering over them.

“Have you seen bigfoot?” she’ll ask. Then, whether the kid blurts out an excited story or a shy nod, she rattles off the next part in a single breath, so fast most kids don’t really catch it: “I-don’t-believe-it’s-an-extant-and-undiscovered-biological-species.” Then she slows. “But the important thing is, what do you think?”

What she doesn’t tell them is that while she doesn’t believe in bigfoot, she’s spiritual, she believes in a higher power. That she takes special care when the show takes her to graveyards in the northeast or sacred native lands in the southwest. That after one Haida elder gave her comfort about her father, another pointed to a totem pole and spoke to her of how wolf, bear, and people are tied to their spirits in this world, but free of them in the next, and maybe bigfoot is tied to that.

Back in the dark woods of Tennessee, Holland doesn’t get a response to her bone-shattering scream. Lying on the fallen cedar, her cameraman waiting patiently with his night-vision camera below, she jokes about the job that’s consumed her life for six years. 

“Bigfoot’s my sugar daddy. Financially he shows up for me, but emotionally, physically he abandons me.” She waves a hand at the darkness melodramatically. “I call him, I wait for him. But I just get a check in the mail.”

Before we fold up camp, though, she goes quiet for minutes at a time, listening. It’s her job to follow the squatching protocol, after all, and she can’t abandon her own curiosity out of cynicism. She won’t take shortcuts, she says, and contradicts what she’s said a dozen times before: “I really am trying to find bigfoot.”


Back at the Olympic Project, under the elk antlers and foot casts, shivering as the woodstove gets started again, bigfoot seems strangely more possible than he did in the woods. Randles fires up a laptop and inserts one of the memory cards he just retrieved.

“It’s like Christmas morning,” he says. In this case Santa brought a folder with hundreds of 10-second video files, one for every time in six months that movement triggered the camera. It’ll take hours to review them all, and Randles can’t wait to start. Hard answers to the Northwest’s greatest mystery might be staring at us in the form of wav files. 

“I can grab it if I work hard enough,” he says. “You can’t prove God. But you might be able to prove bigfoot’s real.”

Video after video: A deer. A bird. A deer. A buck with branching antlers that elicits an approving “hrmph” from the men, all hunters. A black bear, looking menacing as it pauses in the center of the screen, until it breaks into a giant yawn. “Hey Boo Boo!” says Randles. He calls every bear Boo Boo, greets every animal sighting with delight—even the unremarkable squirrel with beady white eyes in night vision.

Then a video begins, about the 70th we’ve seen, the clearing we now know by heart visible but abandoned. The screen is suddenly black, covered by something hairy from the right. Just as quickly, the shape retreats, trailing something at its edges. The sound is a harsh scrape.

“Claws!” erupts from several people at the same time, in agreement even though the movement lasted less than a second. After a beat, cautious theories: The paw of the yawning bear? A buck swiping the tree with his antlers? The flutter of a bird’s wing?

We replay the second and a half of film, and the sense of fingers, big fingers tipped with nails, becomes more concrete. The movement is somehow awkward and deliberate at the same time. This unexplainable film is the closest to something concrete I’ve seen while squatching, but no one else is going there. 

Finally I bring it up, with a crew of researchers who swear to have felt the presence of a sasquatch many times. Could it be…? The overwhelming response: Nah. There are too many other possible explanations here. But the what if hangs in the air a moment. 

“I think the word belief is thrown around too much,” says Randles. “Belief is one of the strongest things, stronger than a diamond if it’s a true belief.” And what he understands about sasquatch after 30 years is not dogma, not really belief. It’s knowledge that comes from seeing something with your own eyes, from trusting what other people say they’ve seen.

“You know, when you see something step from myth into reality, it’ll rock your world.”


Want to go hunting for Bigfoot yourself? These six destinations in the Pacific Northwest are great places to start.

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