Using Thermal Imagers

 

I was first exposed to thermal imagers while working on a bigfoot expedition in Florida. Wally Hersom had generously provided a number of Thermal Eye X200XP thermal imagers to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO) for use, along with equipment on which to record images. When I first looked through one of these devices, I was blown away. I could see rabbits scurry off as I approached, deer were easily observed, and a group of wild pigs were seen from a distance near a water hole. I found that nearby animals were fairly easy to identify while animals at a distance were blobby in appearance, but could usually be discerned without much trouble. I really thought that the bigfoot mystery’s final chapter was being written, that these thermal imagers would soon produce excellent footage, and likely several clips.

There were some issues, however. The imager itself could not record, so a system of wires feeding into a recordable DVR was used. A huge drawback to this system was that when the imager was connected to a video out cable, the viewfinder shut off. The BFRO cleverly split the image signal to feed both the recordable DVR and some virtual reality glasses to enable one to see the image being recorded. This wasn’t the end of the hassle, however. After some experimentation, the imager was mounted on a helmet to enable the user to point it without using his hands, which were all too often needed to navigate. There were some other technological problems, but it was clearly a hassle. It was, however, a hassle I was happy to deal with because the prospects of seeing and possibly filming a sasquatch had just increased dramatically.

My next opportunity to work with thermal imagers came when I accompanied the BFRO and Mr. Hersom to Ohio. There was a recent encounter of multiple sasquatches where the researchers obtained audio recordings. These recordings are available on Stan Courtney’s excellent bigfoot sound research website (www.stancourtney.com). The thermal imager system had not been improved much in the intervening months since I used them last, but I had become more proficient. I ended up walking several miles using the system and saw deer, opossums, raccoons, and bats.

On the flight back from Ohio, I asked Mr. Hersom if he would mind lending me an unused thermal imager he had in storage, a Raytheon 250D. This imager had better resolution than the X200XP, but it was larger, being about the size of a video camera from the early 1990’s. I explained that I knew of two spots that I had had good luck getting sasquatches to approach camp very closely. Mr. Hersom was happy to lend me the gear. Less than two weeks later, I was notified that I would not only be lent the 250D, but I would also be lent a X200XP. I was, and still am to this day, overwhelmed by Mr. Hersom’s generosity and trust.

With two thermal imagers in hand, I made preparations to go to the two locations where I had been experiencing close approaches for the previous two years. The first location, which I will refer to as “the Water Spot” was not as fruitful as I had hoped. For the last two years, I was getting approached to within 50 feet, and at times the animals were jumping in the water and loudly splashing about, possibly in order to scare me away with the loud noises. This year, the only activity from this location was the sound of a tree being pushed over from a few hundred yards away.

I moved locations fifteen miles north to another good spot. This location yielded knocks from the distance, but no close approaches. It started occurring to me that this wouldn’t be as easy as I thought.

I have now had these thermal imager for over a year and a half. I still have not captured the images I seek, but I have learned many valuable lessons in the meantime, and I still feel like I am getting closer all the time. Several of my close friends have seen sasquatches through these imagers, though unfortunately no recorder was hooked up while the observations happened. I know of a few other researchers that have taken the plunge and bought imagers for themselves at the price tags of many thousands of dollars. As the price of this technology falls, even slightly, more bigfoot researchers will get their hands on thermal imagers, so I’d like to outline my use of them in hopes that one of us will get the prize we seek: clear, close-up, compelling video of a bigfoot.

I use the thermal imagers in four main fashions, each of which I will detail and give suggestions for. I will assume that in all cases the imager will be connected to a recording device. I still use the recordable DVR’s as a recorder in some situations, but for most scenarios I have switched to using a digital camcorder. I like the camcorder system better because I can use the eyepiece of the camcorder to eliminate as much light as possible. The DVR’s have a small screen which illuminates the surroundings, as well as me, too much to be useful in bigfoot research.

I started using thermal imagers while walking roads and trails, and I still do use them in this way. The system has been streamlined significantly, but at times it is still not easy. The 250D is superior for this application since it has a built in eyepiece that does not turn off when connected to an outside recording device. One simply carries it like a video camera, and points it at the surroundings. I have set up a fanny pack to hold a DVR on which to record, as well as the external battery packs to power the imager and the recorder. The pack is a little heavy, and the wires that connect to the imager can easily get caught on brush, so it is often better to stick to the roads. The smaller X200XP’s work well for this situation too, but I would recommend connecting them to camcorders and using the camcorder’s eyepiece to see what the imager is looking at. You still have a wire issue to deal with, but the battery issue is non-existent since the X200XP runs on two AA batteries, and the camcorder has a rechargeable battery.

Before retiring to bed for the night (or what’s left of it), I always set up both thermal imagers to record in what I call “stationary mode”. Whether I’m sleeping outside on a tarp, or inside a tent or vehicle, I use the 250D to monitor myself sleeping. The 250 has a 75 mm lens, and thus has a wider field of view than the x200xp. I have taken to mounting the 250D inside of a specially modified cooler for the purposes of both camouflaging it, as well as keeping it dry (the 250D makes no claims of being water proof, nor water resistant). I set it back many yards from where I sleep to capture as much of the background brush as possible, push record, and then forget about it until morning. I usually keep the x200xp close to me as I sleep in case of a visitation during the night, but sometimes I monitor a road, trail, or other obvious approach. I find that the camcorder can continuously record for over eight hours, but the x200xp can run up to about four hours on two AA’s.

In the morning, I collect the imagers and recorders, and find a comfortable spot for what comes next: reviewing the footage. Depending on how large the hard drives are, one has to review the previous night’s recordings almost daily to keep enough disk space free for the next night. If a bigfoot researcher is lucky enough to get four hours of sleep a night, that still amounts to eight hours of footage to review daily from the two cameras. I usually review the footage at 4x’s speed. I find that 2x’s is not fast enough, but 8x’s is way too fast, and animals can be easily missed as they walk through the field of view. Be aware that most digital devices indicate their fast forward speed by a number, 1, 2, 3, and in some cases 4. This number is an exponent, since digital devices think in binary languages. Thus, 1 is equivalent to 21 = 2x’s, while 2 is equivalent to 22 = 4x’s, and so on to 8x’s and 16x’s. This isn’t always the case, but one should check the owner’s manual to be sure.

A very promising way to use thermal imagers is to slowly drive roads while using them to look out the windows. I have spent many hours, and have driven literally hundreds of miles doing just this. This method has the advantage of being able to plug in the gear to the vehicle’s 12 volt outlets, so no battery packs are necessary. I find the optimum speed for this technique is between 5 and 8 miles per hour. I use the X200XP for this, and have found that my mounting the imager on a monopod I can safely manipulate both the therm and the vehicle. I often put the foot of the monopod in the inside door handle, and put the imager up and out the window, similar to a periscope. To give my left hand a rest, I change sides and put the imager through the sunroof in a similar fashion. Either way, I find I can swivel the imager nearly 360 degrees with almost no problem, even with the wires necessary to record. These wires come down the monopod and feed into a DVR that I have mounted to my dashboard so I can watch where I’m driving while quickly flicking my sight to the display screen on the DVR.

At such low speeds, I find this to be fairly safe, but extreme caution must be excersized. The danger of going off the road, or even being rear ended from behind at such slow speeds is very real, depending on where one is. I cannot emphasize safety enough in this case, so allow me to suggest that you practice this technique in a controlled environment before attempting it at night on public roads.
Often, my partner in this mobile therming is James “Bobo” Fay, who rides shotgun. He is there to not only scan the other side of the road, but to generally increase efficiency and to keep me awake. He has developed a system that doesn’t need a monopod. He attaches the imager to a glove by wrapping it in duct tape and sticks his arm out the window. It seems archaic and primitive, but this works well for him. His hand doesn’t get tired out by holding the imager for hours on end, and more importantly, there is no way he can drop the device. I have even watched him fall asleep with his hand out the window.

These methods were developed for mobile therming over many hours of experimentation. It can be very uncomfortable with the windows down in the dead of winter, but there is no other way. It is a little known fact that thermal imagers cannot see through glass. One must have the windows down, or nothing will be seen at all.

Another way of using thermal imagers in bigfoot research is to use them from a boat. This has several advantages over the other methods, but also has several weaknesses. Whether these are used on a lake, river, or the ocean, there are generally no trees blocking the view of the shoreline. If the boat is big enough, it likely has a 12 volt outlet thus eliminating the need for cumbersome battery packs. One can use a call blaster from a boat to draw a litte extra attention to oneself in hopes of a sasquatch coming to the shore to take a look. If one is lucky enough to draw a bigfoot to the shoreline, this greatly increases the chance of obtaining footprint evidence, since many shorelines are sandy and/or muddy.

The obvious disadvantage of therming from a boat is water. These are very expensive electronics, after all. The x200xp claims to be submersible up to three feet under water, but this is only when no wires are connected to it. When the back panel is opened for connecting to a recorder, this totally negates all water resistance. This knowledge does not come from the manual, but rather from a a hard lesson learned.

Another disadvantage to using these on the water is the inherent danger of boating at night. I strongly recommend that one goes with a highly experienced guide for the situation you are in. Real dangers exist in rivers, lakes, and the ocean in the forms of gravel bars, floating logs, snags, rapids, drowning, and hypothermia.

I believe thermal imagers will be an important tool in building a body of video evidence that supports the existence of sasquatches. Most clips will be inconclusive, especially since sasquatches basically look like people through imagers, and unless one is close to the subject, patterns of heat retention through the hair would not be visible. Still it is almost always obvious that the subject is or isn’t wearing clothing. The goal should be to obtain thermal video evidence that shows a possible sasquatch doing something totally inhuman, thus eliminating the possibility of the subject being a person. It is my hope that by collecting a body of video evidence, we can avoid the collection of a physical body of a bigfoot to prove their existence.

 

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