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 Post subject: Gone ‘squatchin’: How to hunt for Bigfoot
PostPosted: Sat Jun 09, 2018 7:13 am 
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Gone ‘squatchin’: How to hunt for Bigfoot
By Leah Sottile June 8, 2018 Updated: June 8, 2018 10:21 a.m.

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File comment: Some essential tools of the Bigfoot trade. Bobo uses a "Squatch Stik" to making echoing knocks against trees which he says are sometimes get responses from local Bigfoots. And a Flir Scout thermal imaging ...Photo: Leah Sottile
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In the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant in Willow Creek, in inland Humboldt County, around sunset on an evening in late May, my husband, Joe, and I hold out our palms.I’d been told that before we embarked on a three-day expedition into the Northern California backcountry to hunt for the elusive creature known as Sasquatch, we should get a blessing from Marion McCovey, a 62-year-old Hupa tribal member from the nearby town of Hoopa whose ancestors have been telling stories of the mythical beast for centuries.

My husband and I meet McCovey, who goes by Inker, via our mutual acquaintance with James Fay, a.k.a. Bobo. The 52-year-old California native is as much of a field expert as one can be an expert on a mythical species. Fay co-hosted the Animal Planet television show “Finding Bigfoot” for nine seasons and even appeared on Conan O’Brien’s talk show in 2012 wearing a baseball cap that read “Keep It Squatchy.”



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File comment: James "Bobo" Fay, pictured here in Fern Canyon, a lush green area that was featured in “Jurassic Park: The Lost World."
Photo: Leah Sottile

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“Belief is for stuff you can’t see. I know they exist,” Fay told O’Brien.

“You know he exists?” O’Brien replied.

“They,” Fay interjected.


“They? There’s more than one Bigfoot?” O’Brien asked.

“They’re a species. They’re like a primate — probably in the homo genus.”

And so on.

Standing between a Jeep and a silver pickup, Joe, Fay and I face McCovey, who drops a brown bulb — a knob the size of a ping-pong ball — into each of our upturned palms. He calls these mixach’e’xolen — little hunks of angelica root traditionally used for medicine and spiritual fires by American Indians in this region. They smell like celery.

“You’re going into some places that you’ve probably never been, so there’s spirits out there that don’t know you,” says McCovey, who claims to have had several (non-threatening) encounters with Bigfoot. He is able to see the creature because he’s spiritually open to it, he explains. “You have to ask permission to these places and to seek a vision within yourself.”

Willow Creek is the heart of what you might consider Bigfoot Country. The famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin Film — the grainy footage of an ape-like creature walking in a forest, which serves as a sort of religious tablet to Bigfoot believers — was recorded nearby, at Bluff Creek. Today, more than 50 years later, people from all over the world visit this part of Northern California in hopes of glimpsing the beast — or at least its tracks, hairs or scat.


“There’s constant activity in this area,” says Penny Chastain, a volunteer at the Willow Creek-China Flat Museum, which receives around 7,000 visitors each year. On a recent weekend, the logbook showed entries from Oklahoma, Texas, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands. For Bigfooters, coming to this area is “a rite of passage,” Chastain says. “It’s not someplace you get to easily. And it is a perfect place to see Bigfoot.”

Now that “Finding Bigfoot” is off the air, Fay is eyeing his next project: Bobo’s Bigfoot Tours. The plan is to take people on guided camping trips to hunt for Bigfoot — to “squatch,” as they say. Guided Bigfoot hunts isn’t a new concept, but none of the self-proclaimed guides in Northern California are considered authorities on the topic. Fay is hoping to launch this service in earnest this summer, and we are his first clients.

The plan our first night is to make camp with Fay somewhere deep in Six Rivers National Forest. McCovey instructs us to drop the roots he gave us into the campfire, let the smoke drift over us and open our minds to the possibility that something supernatural could be out there in the woods.

“It will show you the way,” McCovey says. “Do you believe? If you don’t believe, it’s not going to help you.”

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File comment: On every Bigfoot expedition, Bobo wears an amulet given to him by a native medicine woman, and an necklace with a Bigfoot charm made out of abalone.
Photo: Leah Sottile

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Even though Fay has searched for Bigfoot across five continents, nowhere has he focused so intently as right here in the woods of Humboldt County. From the Sierra Nevada to Mount Shasta to the lush redwood forests, he has explored it all.

As a kid in Southern California, Fay says he read everything he could find about Bigfoot. In his 20s, after spending some time as a roadie for rock-punk bands like Sublime, he started searching around Six Rivers National Forest.


His first encounter happened the night of May 21, 2001, near Bluff Creek — Bigfoot ground zero — while investigating reports of sightings in the area. Fay sat in the dark in a camp chair, roaring into the woods. “I’m thinking I’m going to sit out there until 2, 3 in the morning and then go to sleep in my truck,” Fay says.

Then he heard something.

“I was like, that’s a strange-sounding wolf,” Fay says. “I can’t even describe it. It went from a howl into this cackling, gurgling, shrieking scream, and every hair on my body went up. There was no doubt in my mind I heard a Sasquatch, and it was headed my way.”

Trees snapped. The roaring drew near. Then suddenly, the sound emerged right behind him. “I start to turn my head,” Fay says. “Then I hear the full-on, gnarliest, deepest-throated growl I’ve ever heard. … I just had this sudden huge fear.”

Fay ran to his truck, where his dog cowered on the floor, and took off. Despite his fear that night, he has continued to seek Bigfoot’s company. Why? “To film one!” he replies.

Fay has changed quite a bit in the last few years. On the show, which ended in May, he was a husky, long-haired guy with a goofy smile. But he’s since gone vegan and dropped over 100 pounds after struggling with an illness he’s vague about. He rattles off more concussions from surfing than I can even fathom, and has a fractured vertebrae in his neck — an old injury he never checked out until recently.

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File comment: A bigfoot crossing sign in Willow Creek, California, in 2016.
Photo: Max Whittaker / Special to The Chronicle

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Despite his quirks, he’s highly regarded in this particular field.

“Don’t let his easygoing demeanor fool you,” says David Ellis, from Washington’s Olympic Project, a Bigfoot research organization. “He is very smart and knowledgeable on the subject.”

“He’s very well-respected. … He was just always in the field,” says Kathy Strain, program manager for the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Heritage Resource and Tribal Relations in the nearby Stanislaus National Forest, who studies the presence of Bigfoot in American Indian cultures. “You always gotta respect people who go out in the field and (search for) Bigfoot.”

I’ve always been fascinated by people who are serious Bigfoot researchers. A couple years ago, I interviewed Bigfoot seekers in the West for an article about Bob Gimlin, who helped shoot the Patterson-Gimlin Film and who is viewed today as something of a prophet among the Bigfoot community. I couldn’t believe that after 50 years, in the age of video hoaxes, everyone from special effects experts to primate researchers has been unable to debunk the film.

But I’ve never actually squatched. So this spring, I called some of the people I spoke to a couple of years back and asked who might show me the ropes. Everyone recommended Fay.

On our first night, before we set out to our campsite, Joe and I follow Fay to a local pizza joint for a slice. He’s wearing a shirt inspired by the Clash, and soon we get to talking about old punk bands like the Minutemen and Black Flag. It’s nice to know we’d be venturing into the woods with someone who comes from a scene Joe and I understand.

I’m about to dump my food when Fay points to a chewed-up half-slice of cheese pizza on my plate: “Do you want that?” I insist he let me throw it away.

“It’s not for me,” he says. “That’s squatch bait.” He explains that he’s baited bigfoots with organic produce and junk food. I give him the slice.

We drive an hour into the national forest to a spot Fay had picked out earlier that day. By the time we set up camp, it’s almost midnight. Fay says we should walk into the dark woods to see if we’ll get any “knocks.” People who search for Sasquatch listen as much as they look, waiting for bird-like chirps, low growls, hoots, snapping branches and, occasionally, a hard knock on a tree trunk. It’s telltale Bigfoot behavior, Fay tells us.

Joe and I peel pieces off the roots McCovey gave us, toss them into our campfire and let the smoke waft toward us, as instructed. Fay pulls out a “Squatch Stik” — a small green baseball bat used for knocking on trees — and hands us thermal imaging cameras. I look through the lens, and the pitch-black woods pop into view as if cast in afternoon daylight.

In the red light of my headlamp, I follow Joe and Fay’s shapes down the dirt road we drove in on — too busy asking questions and peering through the camera screen to realize the grave hiking offense I’ve just committed: Don’t lose sight of your campsite.

We walk far enough that we can’t see our lanterns glowing back at camp. Fay winds up with the Squatch Stik and takes a home-run swing at a tall tree, sending a loud thwack echoing through the forest. We flick off our headlamps and listen for a reply, scanning with cameras. Nothing happens.

We don’t wait around long. It’s cold, and we’re eager to get back to the fire.

Fay asks if we’d like to walk back to camp by the light of the moon, Joe and I agree. Our eyes have adjusted to the dark. Plus, it’s just down the road. But after a few minutes, Fay stops suddenly. Somehow we must have walked down a hill or an offshoot of the dirt road we were on. We aren’t where we’re supposed to be.

My stomach lurches.

We begin on a route I feel certain is wrong, and I begin scolding myself. Why would you walk in the dark with a man named Bobo without your gear? Bigfoot is the last thing on my mind. I’m worried about bears and mountain lions, about freezing to death. I wonder how long we can wander until the sun comes up.

But then, up ahead, after wandering for what feels like forever, we spot the glow of our fire. Joe and I climb into our tent, grateful to have made it back. “You guys gonna go to bed?” Fay asks.

Over the next two days we do very little Bigfoot searching.

We sit in camp chairs, listening to Fay recall his Bigfoot encounters, a steady soundtrack of the Flaming Lips in the background. It’s clear there’s not much of a set itinerary.

Fay’s got a million stories. There’s the time something spooked him in the woods so badly he sprinted away and left all of his gear. The time he got an infection in his leg in Africa. Encounters with fans of “Finding Bigfoot.” We hear about his dog, his co-hosts. It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s not. We tell him about our lives, too: our dogs, our jobs. We talk about music constantly.

We decide to move camp. Scouring a topo map of the area, Fay points out that some great squatching places butt up against marijuana farms in this area. We don’t want to stumble into the wrong place and end up with guns in our faces.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been warned about this. “If you want to go wandering through the mountains hunting or Bigfoot hunting you have to be really careful now,” Steven Streufert, the owner of Bigfoot Books in Willow Creek, cautioned me before our trip. “You’re potentially crossing a private property line and you could be walking into an armed pot grow with people with machine guns. Those people will kill you.”

We give up most of the day to driving around looking for a good spot. By the time the sun sets, I start to realize that the hard part about finding Bigfoot is actually finding a place to find Bigfoot.

It’s nearing dinnertime when Fay gives up on Six Rivers and takes us to a cattle ranch near Orick, on the coast, where he says he’s had several up-close encounters. I’m not excited to be setting up camp in the dark again, but at this point I can tell Fay really wants to impress us, so I go along.

As we pull up to the ranch in the middle of the night, a couple of 20-something-year-olds greet us to open the gate. “My sister is a huge fan of yours,” one of them tells Fay. “She got your autograph once.”

In this part of the world, Fay is a celebrity.

On our third and last day, we drive toward an elk meadow north of Orick that Fay wants to show us. Baby elk, he says, are definitely squatch bait. On the way, he calls a woman from the Klamath tribes in Southern Oregon who’s just texted him photos of footprints she spotted on a road there. He asks her if they were deep enough to make plaster casts.

“It had rained out there,” she replies.

“God damn it,” Fay to says over the speakerphone. “You can find tracks in the middle of July, and it hasn’t rained in two months. And it’s going to rain that night.” She laughs. He’ll be the first person she calls the next time it happens. They make plans to camp later this summer.

Fay points out a massive elk herd grazing lazily along the side of the road before driving us to Fern Canyon, where scenes in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” were filmed. He tells me about Bigfoot activity there, but I’m too smitten by the velvet of green climbing the canyon’s walls to remember to take notes. Next we hike toward redwoods that are some 1,500 years old. No Bigfoot in sight, but a beautiful day of hiking nonetheless.

At night on the cattle ranch, we load up for one last squatch attempt.

This time Joe and I bring our backpacks. We have our Flir cameras; my recorder is tucked into my pocket. Fay’s got his Squatch Stik and the pizza leftovers from a couple of nights ago, plus a bag of apples.

It’s nearly 1 a.m. when we pull up to a trailhead off the Redwood Highway. Before we set out, we open the skylight of Fay’s truck. He’s hooked up a laser projector — the kind of thing a techno DJ would have onstage.

He hands it to me and I point it out the roof of his truck, toward the pitch-black tree canopy, and watch the hundreds of red and green points of light dance in the leaves. Fay says these sometimes lure Sasquatches out of hiding.

We put the lasers away and begin hiking. Every now and then we stop so Fay can roar into the woods or knock on trees.

A mile or so in, Fay tells us that we should sit silently and just listen. We take a seat on an overgrown log and click off our headlamps. Sitting there in the dark, in the still, quiet night, I’m so much calmer than that first night. I think back to what McCovey told us in the parking lot our first night: “Open your eyes. Don’t look so hard.” My eyes are wide open, and I wonder when I’ll next allow myself to let my imagination guide me like it has these past couple of days.

When none of Fay’s calls or whistles gets a response, we tromp through the woods back to the truck. Fay tells me to grab the laser projector again, and I do, pointing it into the trees, adjusting the lasers to speed up and slow down. As I do it, Fay starts hurling apples into the forest.

“These are for you, if you’re out there, friends!” he calls to either a forest filled with listening ears or nothing at all. “Good night!”


Leah Sottile is a freelance writer in Portland, Ore.



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This forum will sometimes contain copyrighted information, however, it is placed here under Title 17

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