A Place for Amateurs
Amateur scientists have long been making positive contributions to the body of knowledge of their fields of study. These amateurs can be young, old, or somewhere in between, often chasing their own interests until their knowledge in some ways rivals or approaches that of the professional scientists they emulate. Certainly, most professional scientists were once amateurs themselves and just took the plunge into academia.
Looking back in time, amateur researchers have made considerable contributions to astronomy, orinthology, geology, and most of the other sciences. In fact, professional astronomers still rely heavily on amateurs to find transitory objects such as comets and asteroids. Professional astronomers often wait years for their allotted time behind the lens of a telescope at an observatory. With the relatively low cost of powerful backyard telescopes, it is no wonder that many recent discoveries were made by citizen scientists with their own gear. Besides, the sheer numbers of amateurs verses professionals puts the odds squarely in favor of the people with no letters behind their names to make such discoveries.
Bigfoot research, though not usually thought of as a science by the mainstream, shares many of the same qualities as these other professional-amateur fields such as astronomy (though at present there are few (if any) professional bigfoot scientists). Like professional scientists in other fields, biologists, and anthropologists are often too absorbed in their own research to take time and resources to look for evidence of something that isn’t even sure to exist. The few scientists that do spend any time doing so are often putting their careers at considerable risk, but will someday be applauded for their foresight. This leaves a very prominent niche for amateurs to step in and make some real contributions.
What I am proposing is not as simple as what an amateur astronomer faces. The amateur bigfoot researcher faces some of the same challenges as their astronomical comrades, but faces several unique problems inherent to “bigfooting” itself. The following are some suggestions for those who might consider themselves as an amateur scientist in pursuit of the sasquatch.
Like amateurs from other disciplines, the amateur bigfoot researcher should learn as much as possible about the current thoughts of the professionals. This knowledge includes primate evolution, anatomy, behavior, and communication. Since there is little or no evidence (data) of bigfoot culture in the human sense of the word, most beneficial education will be in the field of primatology. Primatology is a diverse field, incorporating biology, anthropology, and psychology. If any of these fields tickles your fancy more than others, feel free to explore that realm as it relates to the sasquatch. There’s more than enough room for everybody, but just be sure to do your homework and learn as much as you can about your field of interest.
Amateur bigfoot researchers should do their best to follow the scientific method. In a simple form, the scientific method is as follows:
1. Ask a question.
2. Observe (look for things that could point to an answer).
3. Take a guess at an answer. This answer is called a hypothesis.
4. Design and execute an experiment to see if your hypothesis could be right.
5. See if you’re right. If you are, do it again to see if you’re still right. If you’re not, change your hypothesis and go back to step number 4.
6. Write and publish your results.
7. Other researchers see if they get the same result as you.
The vast majority of amateur bigfoot researchers do almost none of the previous steps. Some go in the woods, hear noises, and report that bigfoots were all around them throughout the night. While this may make for exciting stories for friends and family, it does little to further the knowledge of the animal.
I would like to encourage all prospective bigfoot researchers to design experiments and execute them in the field. It’s not as hard as one might think to design an experiment, but it is extremely difficult to get meaningful positive results. What I mean by a positive result is you being sure, or at least reasonably sure through some supporting evidence, that bigfoots were involved. There are many animals in the woods, and most of them are not bigfoots.
For example, if one thinks that bigfoots like peanut butter and leaves an open jar on a stump all night only to find the jar went missing sometime before dawn, that is not a positive result. A consideration in such an experiment would be the presence of bears, raccoons, or other hungry mammals. Perhaps there were no bigfoots around last night. (Then again, perhaps there were.) You, the researcher, should take considerable time to find clues as to the identity of the thief. Footprints, clear or otherwise, would be a good indicator. Perhaps noises were recorded on your recording device (you do have one and leave it running all night, don’t you?) that might help you identify the visitor. Your task is to find supporting evidence that there was a bigfoot around, or your peanut butter experiment could have proven that bears like Skippy. Stories will no longer suffice if you call yourself a researcher. Support your claims. This supporting evidence could take years to encounter.
I have a study site in Northern California that has produced some very intense nights over a period of three years. Native Americans have told me that bigfoots leave their juveniles at places where food is easy to find while the adults go off and do whatever it is that they do. Due to the seemingly brazen behavior of the large animals at this study site, I hypothesized that my partner and I were dealing with more than one juvenile sasquatch. It has been noted that whatever large animals there are in the area are not around as often when the frog population drops off in middle/late summer. I believe there are bigfoots here due to two footprint finds over the three years of study at this site. The first footprint was 10 inches long (found in 2005), and the most recent (2007) was 11 inches. While I cannot be sure that the animals that surrounded us were bigfoots, there is supporting evidence that bigfoots were around, and furthermore, the possible footprints were of the size that suggest juveniles of the species. This is some positive data that would support the hypothesis of the local Natives, as well as my hunch that this could be one of those safe locations.
Footprint casts, sound recordings, photographs and videos are not the only form of potential data gathered by researchers. Field observations are an important form of data that anyone can collect. The notes can be in the form of a casual diary, or a specialized data field developed for your outings. Some important information that should be noted include date, time, location (GPS coordinates whenever possible), temperature, weather conditions, and the names of everyone present. If you get lucky and have something happen such as a vocalization, wood knocks, camp visitation, or even a sighting, even more information should be gathered. While this article does not attempt to detail the data gathering methods and details, suffice it to say that the more important the data you bring home, the more information you should have collected to support it.
A final thought on field notes: if nothing happens, which is called “negative data”, that is still data, and could be important depending on how complete your data set is after many years. This is a long process, and not for the impatient. It may be boring, but “that’s squatching.”
Be familiar with your area
The best study area is the one near where you live. Most people who fancy themselves amateur bigfoot investigators live near a place that has produced sightings at one time or another. It is more fruitful to visit an area often than to spend a week at a location once a year, though this has its merits too. By often visiting the same location, one becomes familiar with the yearly cycles of that area. Animals, including bigfoots, will be in the area when there’s a reason for them to be there, and the number one reason any animal is anywhere is the presence of food. Being familiar with an area means knowing when the berries are ripe, when the abandoned apple orchard is bearing fruit, when the salmon are running, and when the deer herds are present. Basically, when and where is there food in the area, and how do the inhabitants exploit the resource?
By frequent visits to an area, one starts to get a feel for the topography as well. How do animals make their way from one river bottom to the next? Where are the saddles which provide the easiest travel routes. Where are there lakes, springs, or ponds near these saddles where an animal can get refreshed after a long upward climb? Where are there pockets of cover with no road access? There are hundreds of questions to answer if one starts becoming familiar with an area.
John Green, a founding father of bigfoot research, once said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that bigfoot researchers tend to be a pig-headed bunch of folks. We have to be pretty stubborn to insist on looking for something that everyone says doesn’t exist.
Over my years of bigfooting, I have found that one of the biggest obstacles to good research is the political climate found among amateur bigfooters. Many supposed enthusiasts try to look scientific by shooting down others’ efforts at bringing in data. They do this under the guise of peer review (remember step 7 from the scientific method above?), but they do little to recreate the experiment, preferring to remain safely behind their computer throwing stones. Other researchers jealously guard their information, thinking it has value beyond a blip in the data set.
I take the position that having data that isn’t shared is functionally the same as not having any data at all. Of course, witness information should be protected, and certainly locations you are currently working seem fair enough to keep off of everyone’s radars, but what happens there might be of use in other areas. One can publish information without compromising locations or the people involved, and this is generally respected by the community. I would suggest that your data should be shared with friends in the bigfoot community, and if you find something really good (this would probably only include footprint photographs or casts, sound recordings, hair or tissue samples, and photographic or video evidence), contact a scientist through one of the several excellent researchers, groups, or organizations, and share the data with him/her.
The gossip and cult of personalities that has permeated the bigfoot community has effectively driven off (or at least driven underground) several experienced researchers over the last 50 years. I would encourage would-be amateur bigfoot researchers to keep a low profile. I have been relatively unscathed for the years I have been actively pursuing my own field research. Most folks have never heard of me still, though that seems to be changing with the publication of the website, blog, and other work I’m involved in.
Don’t be afraid to be wrong
Being wrong is OK. That’s right. It’s OK. Just be sure to support your claims with some evidence through the scientific process. By designing and executing field experiments, one is growing closer to the truth all the time, and there will certainly be missteps and bungles along the way. One thing that has helped me and my ego over the years is by not proclaiming that I “know” much in regards to bigfoots. I try to say statements like “it seems that…” or “they might…” when speaking about bigfoots, though I don’t always remember to do so. By adopting a more humble manner of speaking about this mystery, my thought process has subtly changed to fall in line. When it comes down to it, nobody knows much of anything about these critters, though we’re bringing more information to the table all the time. Declaring their suspected habits as gospel is akin to hubris, and should be avoided. This is true for data as well. Data (evidence) can be interpreted in many ways, and one should let others come to their own conclusions. Just document and support your data as well as you can.
Amateur bigfoot research is a daunting task. At this writing, I am entering my 16th year of field work. This is after spending a considerable amount of time learning about the subject through books and other resources. I have spent literally hundreds of nights in the woods, many of them alone without a fire, listening to the sounds of the night. To this day, I have relatively little to show for it. I have a few footprint photographs, some sound recordings, and some good stories. Some of my friends think I’m weird, my family thinks I’m eccentric (but love me anyway), and though they largely love the ‘squatch, most of my casual acquaintances think I’m crazy or stupid for wasting my time. Luckily, I love what I do, and their opinions don’t seem to matter much to me.
There is little difference between a camper and a bigfooter, except that a bigfooter is prepared for what might happen. Considering the army of camping enthusiasts in the United States, we could have a considerable number of amateur bigfoot researchers out every weekend if only people would take the effort to equip themselves with the gear and knowledge necessary to bring back data instead of stories. I want to encourage you to be one of them.
Don’t give up because you don’t find any evidence. Don’t give up because you don’t see one or record vocalizations the first dozen or more times you spend the night in a promising area. Don’t give up because you get frustrated.
Be pig-headed. Be stubborn. Be a bigfoot researcher. Persevere.
The next Patterson/Gimlin Film could be filmed tomorrow. It could have been filmed yesterday. Maybe you’ll be the one to film it. Don’t give up. We’re in this together, and by providing the best evidence to the right people, we’re turning heads and improving the academic climate through our amateur research. Since the real academics have tacitly dismissed themselves from this adventure, it’s up to us, the amateurs, to get this most important job done.