Even in official Sasquatch territory like Del Norte County, where the most famous Bigfootage was shot, any mention of believing the creature actually exists runs the risk of the speaker being called crazy.
Tell people that you are going on a “squatching” expedition to spend multiple days camped in the woods with thermal imaging equipment, and they are even more likely to laugh.
But despite the lack of concrete evidence, Sasquatch-hunting is as popular as ever, in part due to TV shows like Animal Planet’s hit series, “Finding Bigfoot.” Today, high-tech, expensive gear is employed by serious searchers.
Last week, seven self-described “squatchers” took to local stretches of Redwood National and State Parks, spending multiple nights in the woods scanning forests for signs of the infamous bipedal primate.
They didn’t find one.
But they had a great time looking, using thermal imaging cameras, night vision and other gear worth more than $50,000, according to Robert Leiterman, a ranger at Humboldt Redwoods State Park who organized the trip.
“I’m open-minded on the subject, but I think there’s something out there,” he said.
The group also used Vietnam War-era ground sensors that detect movement with wires and then relay static to portable radios.
Some handheld thermal imaging cameras worth about $9,000 each were purchased by the hunters, but some of the gear was provided by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), the organization whose investigations are documented in the “Finding Bigfoot” series. Leiterman is a friend of the series’ stars, BFRO director Matt Moneymaker and James “Bobo” Fay.
“We are the serious investigative arm of BFRO, while they are the showmen,” said Leiterman in a friendly jab at his now-famous partners.
BFRO is sponsored by a Nevada multi-millionaire, Wally Hersom, who made his fortune as owner of a company that designed electrical power conversion equipment. The group of “squatchers” in the Del Norte redwoods used a Hersom-bought thermal imaging camera that is mounted atop a vehicle and can rotate and tilt in all directions with a joystick inside the cab, recording every image seen. They call it “R2D2,” Leiterman said.
Leiterman, who organized the first expedition for BFRO, has been interested in Bigfoot since he was about 7 and the 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film became public. That famous footage of a hairy creature strolling past a creek bed was filmed in the southeast corner of Del Norte on Bluff Creek near Weitchpec.
His interest simmered “on the back-burner” for most of his adult life until his work as a park ranger drew him to a supposed sighting within the park by a father and son in 1999. Leiterman wrote and submitted a report to a website about markings on tree bark that matched the location referenced by the father and son.
BFRO members came to the scene with intentions to blast Sasquatch calls from large speakers lashed to the top of their vehicle, hoping to hear a response, a technique known as call-blasting. Leiterman told them loud noises are prohibited due to endangered species, especially during a holiday weekend. They, in turn, asked if he’d like to be an official curator/ investigator for the organization.
Since then, Leiterman has organized several expeditions across the Pacific Northwest. He also used photograph and tree analysis to determine the exact location of the Patterson-Gimlin film. Many people know the general mile-long stretch of Bluff Creek where the footage was shot, but Leiterman’s team established the exact spot, he said.
Game cameras have now been set up at the site, and Leiterman and others are working with the Six River National Forest staff to install a marker where Bigfoot was supposedly filmed.
The “Finding Bigfoot” series is generating new interest in the topic, just like the Patterson-Gimlin film did 40 years ago, Leiterman said.
And what about the folks who scoff at his pursuits?
“They’re entitled to their opinion,” he said. “How am I going to convince them about a bipedal primate running around in the forest when I don’t have pictures of them?”
A skeptical man himself, Leiterman does not 100 percent believe in Sasquatch, either. He’s more like 85 percent, he said.
“There are a lot of people that believe it 100 percent — I’m not one of those guys. I’m one of the guys that wants more facts,” he said. “I think there’s something out there, but I’ve yet to be completely convinced.”
Leiterman encourages anyone with an interest, even skeptics with a healthy curiosity, to join a BFRO expedition.
“The fact that you’re bonding with family, camping, seeing sunsets, spending time in the outdoors, that makes it all worth it,” he said.
For information about BFRO expeditions open to non-members in 2013, visit www.bfro.net.