Six things a new Bigfoot researcher should think about by Steve Hyde I want to state right up front that I don't consider myself a particularly smart person or a very experienced researcher. I do however try to learn from observation and the successes and failures of others. If you're new to the field of Bigfoot research it's vitally important that you learn to develop this ability. You can learn a lot from watching what other people in the so-called "Bigfoot community" do, from what brings them good results and also what gets them into trouble. What follows are a few of the things that I have observed and learned over the years, and that you need to consider if you are new to this field. I hope that you will find them helpful. 1. BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE, HAVE A CLEAR IDEA OF EXACTLY WHAT IT IS YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH. It may seem an odd question, but now is the time to ask it. Just why do you want to go look for Bigfoot? Your answer may be that you simply want to satisfy your own curiosity, that you want to see it for yourself. That's fine. Or you may want to prove that it exists. That's fine too. But you need to ask this of yourself, because your answer will greatly affect how you go about the quest. If you only want to satisfy yourself, then congratulations! You're the one that will probably have the most fun doing this. Only you know what your standard of proof is and it can be as high or as low as you want. If you're out in the woods and see a strange shadow or hear an odd noise or see that faint mark that just might be a track and it makes your hair stand on end, maybe that's all that needs to happen for you to be convinced. That's great and nobody should have a problem with that. But you need to realize that your experiences are not going to matter to anyone but yourself. If you're out to prove the existence of Bigfoot to someone other than yourself, I'm afraid you have a much tougher journey ahead of you. It's no longer your own standard of proof that must be met, you must now meet the standard of proof of whomever you're trying to convince. Even if that other person believes in Bigfoot's existence in the same manner as you, he or she may not interpret your evidence or experience the same way you do. If you're going to prove the existence of Bigfoot to the world at large, you'll have to meet the standards of proof of the world at large, and the world looks to the mainstream scientific community to set those standards. And science demands concrete physical proof. If you claim to have discovered a previously unknown species of animal, you will have to produce substantial physical proof sufficient to be able to describe and classify it with scientific rigor. The only proof that will accomplish this is a body or a substantial piece of a body. Mainstream science has always demanded this, and it always will. You might as well get used to that fact now because it won't change, no matter how badly you may wish it to be otherwise and no matter how frustrated you may get at not being able to find it. Your only available options are to kill or capture one or look for one that died of other causes. Nothing else will do; not pictures, not casts, not hair, not trace DNA, not tape recordings, not film and not stories. You will discover quite quickly that the Bigfoot "community" is sharply divided between those who convey a willingness to obtain a specimen by deadly force and those who object to harming the animals on moral grounds. Although both sides can present good arguments to support their viewpoint, when it comes to proving the animals exist the researchers willing to kill or capture a specimen are the only ones who will have a reasonable chance of accomplishing their goal. Those who object to this method are left with the option of chance discovery of remains, the possibility of which is extremely remote. 2. BE WARY OF PEOPLE. YOU WILL LEARN MORE ABOUT HUMAN NATURE THAN YOU EVER WILL ABOUT BIGFOOT. This occurs in a number of ways. As with any group of people who interact with each other, there are always the fusses, fights and squabbles, the making and breaking of friendships and alliances. One thing you will learn is that the Bigfoot community is indeed a microcosm of society in general. Human weaknesses abound in this field. You will encounter the typical variety of ordinary folks, intellectuals, nut cases, pricks and morons. But there are some individuals to whom you should be particularly wary. There exists in the world a large group of people who think that anyone who believes in and/or spends time researching Bigfoot (or UFOs or paranormal phenomena) is by definition an idiot. There are a number of people within that group who decide to try and take advantage of the "idiots" by jerking them around psychologically for their own amusement. Look at any of the numerous Internet message boards and you'll see this happening. The most common tactic used is to bait someone into an exchange of personal attacks. This will quickly draw others into the fray, and any ongoing civil discussion degenerates hopelessly. The instigators usually try to portray themselves as believers of some sort, but it becomes apparent pretty quickly that they have little or no real knowledge of the subject. You will also encounter "eyewitnesses" who do the same thing. They will contact you and report a sighting or experience just to mess with you. The best policy is to blatantly ignore them. When they don't succeed in baiting you they will disappear. There are also a number of people who try to take advantage of the "idiots" by making money off of them. These people generally take great pains to elevate themselves in stature among the believers by constantly extolling their own virtues, exploits and discoveries but never seem to have any evidence to back any of it up. When questioned they become extremely defensive, almost to the point of hysterics in some cases. And they always seem to be trying to sell you something, be it a book, a membership to their organization, equipment, knowledge, merchandise, whatever. And cases of this are becoming more prevalent. Again, ignoring them is the best policy. As for the cynics (I differentiate them from mere skeptics), know that you will always have the advantage over them. It's very easy to be cynical, especially about a subject as elusive and complex as Bigfoot. Cynics think there is very little risk involved in taking their position, but there is one great risk. It is impossible for them to prove that Bigfoot does NOT exist; there is no practical way for them to do that. It is entirely possible for you TO prove it if it DOES exist, if you find that elusive body. Then you can pull the toilet handle and make them all swirl down into the septic tank of irrelevance, and the last word would be all yours. 3. BE OBJECTIVE. THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A THEORY AND A BELIEF. People's ideas about Bigfoot are much like people's ideas about God. Each person has his or her own unique concept, and it will range from quite logical to seemingly drug-induced. I'm quite sure you have your own opinions about Bigfoot, but if you're going to be a good researcher you will need to consider your opinions in the light of theory and not of belief. The reason is simple; if you consider your opinions to be a working theory, then you can be flexible and modify or change your theory as necessary to fit the empirical evidence you gather and analyze. If your opinions constitute a heart-felt emotional belief, then you will tend to stick to that belief regardless of any evidence that would contradict it. At present my own working theory of Bigfoot is that it is a quite normal animal, a species of ape somewhat similar to the great apes we are familiar with. I call it a working theory simply because I conduct my research using assumptions I have made based on my theory. But I'm careful to keep an open mind and to try and be objective. If I were to come across good evidence that Bigfoot is a hominid more closely related to humans than the great apes or something else entirely, like the whole phenomenon is an extraordinary human hoax or some type of mass hysteria, then I wouldn't have much problem changing my working theory. But if I had a deep heart-felt emotional belief that Bigfoot was (for example) a humanlike being with near-human intelligence and I acted accordingly, my belief would constantly cloud my judgment and I could never be an effective researcher, even if my belief in the end proved to be correct. 4. ALWAYS QUESTION YOUR ASSUMPTIONS. Remember that all theories and beliefs are based on assumptions, some more valid than others. And it's important to question your basic assumptions occasionally. Most researchers automatically assume that Bigfoot actually does exist and that is always the first assumption in need of challenging, but there are others. For example, there is a popular theory that Bigfoot is (or is a descendant of) the fossil ape species Gigantopithecus Blacki. It's a perfectly logical theory; there is in fact a documented fossil species of large ape that is thought to have lived between 1 million to 300,000 years ago, and scientists have inferred from the fossils certain characteristics that match closely with the more consistent descriptions of Bigfoot. But there are some shaky assumptions involved. G. Blacki is the only fossil species of large ape we know about, but that doesn't mean it was the only species that ever existed. And we only have G. Blacki's jaws and teeth. No cranium or other remains have been found to date. In fact, the only thing we know for sure about G. Blacki is that it was apelike and had big jaws. There is also a popular theory that Bigfoot is a relic animal, an ancient species that somehow managed to survive the Pleistocene epoch and remain in its primitive form. This may indeed be the case, but on the other hand Bigfoot may be a species that has undergone as much or even more evolution in the last million years than we have. It may actually be a form quite advanced from its prehistoric ancestors. We simply don't know. But it shows that we must be mindful of the assumptions we make. 5. BE SKEPTICAL, OBJECTIVE AND REALISTIC ABOUT EVIDENCE AND KNOW ITS LIMITATIONS. We all get excited whenever we find evidence, especially if we think it's compelling or of high quality. You must realize that unless your find consists of a body, your evidence will be considered circumstantial. That is, the interpretation of the evidence depends a great deal on the circumstances of its acquisition; where it was found, how it was found, who found it, etc. and the predisposition of the interpreter to accept or reject it. We also have to be realistic about the possible impact the different types of evidence can have regardless of its quality. Footprint casts. These are probably the most famous pieces of Bigfoot evidence. This type of evidence tends to have very little effect in trying to prove anything because of the possibility of misinterpretation and of forgery. The ones with dermal evidence aren't really much better, since they can only further demonstrate what DIDN"T make the print. You can demonstrate that a human foot or a known ape foot DIDN'T make the impression by noting dermal or anatomical characteristics that are different from those feet, but you cannot adequately describe what DID make it. I personally don't think that footprint casts by themselves really matter much anymore, and I quit casting tracks some time ago. To me tracks are more valuable in context. I'm more concerned now with what they can tell me about where, when and why the animal goes on its travels. As you go in the field, don't be real concerned about bringing plaster with you. Except in very extraordinary circumstances casting tracks is a waste of time. You're better off learning how to study them in the ground. Photographs and film. Some very well known (to us, anyway) pieces of evidence fall into this category. They also tend to be the most controversial, and their actual value as evidence is hotly debated. You have the same problems here as with footprints since there is always the possibility of misinterpretation and forgery. As with casts, you can at most demonstrate only the possibility that something was indeed recorded on film. The Patterson film and the saga surrounding it should be an abject lesson to all those who think that film evidence by itself can be demonstrable proof of the animal's existence. It's valuable only if the person examining it is already predisposed to believe in the animal's existence. It will never constitute evidence to those who are not. If you are predisposed to accept it, film and video can be valuable. Much was learned about the animal's actual appearance and movement from the Patterson film by those who chose to accept it as genuine. So it is worthwhile to take a camera with you on your trips, just don't expect any real recognition to come from it no matter how good your results may be. The most you can hope for is to perhaps convince someone to pay closer attention to the phenomenon. Hair and trace DNA. I lumped these two together because they are both analyzed much the same way. They also have the same problems as the first two categories. At most, you can only demonstrate what it is NOT. Hair and DNA can only be tested by comparing them to known control samples. If they don't match to any known samples, then the result will be inconclusive. Think about it. The only way you could positively identify a hair or DNA sample as coming from a Bigfoot is if you had a known, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt sample of Bigfoot hair or DNA to compare it to. If you had such a substantial sample that it was known beyond all doubt to be Bigfoot then you wouldn't have to resort to the DNA analysis. The mystery would already have been solved by conventional means at that point. I always have to shake my head whenever I see or hear of someone chasing the unmatchable trace DNA in bits of hair and feces and the like trying to use it as proof, always to no avail. But I wouldn't tell you not to bother collecting this type of evidence, since it's as close as most of us will ever come to actually holding in our hands a bit of the unknown. If you're the sort who is into UFOs, it's sort of like going to Roswell and finding a sliver of metal in the side of that hill. There's no real way of knowing, but it could be. And that's personally satisfying for a lot of people. Anecdotal evidence. This includes eyewitness accounts and the second-hand stories that you always hear. Keep in mind that human eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, and no two people will describe anything, much less a Bigfoot, in exactly the same way. And since you weren't there when it happened, you not only have to deal with whatever facts the witness can give you but also the witness' own interpretation of those facts. Was it really a Bigfoot he heard screaming, was it really a panther, or was there really even a scream at all? Ultimately the witness might seem pretty sure, but you can never be. Two people may see the same animal at the same range at the same time. One will see a dark-colored animal with prominent ears; one may see a light-colored animal with no visible ears. The difference? Perhaps just the angle of the head and the angle of the ambient light on the hair with respect to each witness, which could be very different. The veracity, abilities and motives of the witness come into play too. For these reasons and many others, eyewitness testimonies and anecdotes are intriguing but not worth much in the way of solid evidence. They are often the only things you as a researcher have to work with, but your interpretation of them is entirely subjective and you alone have to decide how to act on them. 6. THE BIGFOOT MYSTERY IS SOLVABLE, AND YOU CAN BE THE ONE WHO SOLVES IT. If there is one great thing about the Bigfoot mystery above all other great mysteries, it's that it is within the reasonable capability of any ordinary person to decisively solve it. All it takes is to be at the right place at the right time and to be prepared. Think of all the other mysteries. Unless one crashed in my backyard, my chances of scientifically proving that alien spacecraft are visiting the Earth are pretty slim. I have absolutely no idea how I could go about scientifically proving the existence of a ghost even if I thought I knew where one was. I would have to live close by a large lake reputedly inhabited by a monster for it to be practical for me to try to find it, and even then the cost of the equipment necessary to make a realistic effort would be prohibitive. The sea serpent would be many times worse. I'm pretty sure some people will make the trip to Mars in my lifetime and I'm just as sure I won't be one of them, so I can't research the "structures" on Mars. Most all of the other natural and man-made mysteries always seem to be in exotic far-flung locales that I can't afford to go to, and the paranormal subjects are by their nature not scientifically approachable. But Bigfoot is different. Bigfoot is the only mystery for which there does exist some objective evidence to support it. That evidence indicates the presence of the phenomenon in places as far apart as Washington State and Georgia. If for the sake of argument we accept that evidence, then it stands to reason that it could be found in at least some areas in between. That means that the mystery is potentially accessible to a great many ordinary people. All they would need to do is think, study and plan logically, and occasionally visit an area that they think could be a viable habitat and be prepared for a possible encounter or to find evidence. Having a camera, tape recorder, sample bags and tweezers along with the normal camping and safety gear would be the only real necessities. Keep this in mind. There are people who have been actively in the field after Bigfoot for decades working in the best possible areas. What do they have? A few pieces of plaster, a hair or two, a few pictures and a lot of stories. Most of them still haven't seen one. I've been an active field researcher for about seven years. What do I have? A few pieces of plaster, a hair or two, a few pictures and a lot of stories. I do think I've seen one a couple of times, but I'm not really sure. Most all of the witnesses who have encountered Bigfoot weren't even looking for it. They were just out and about one day and there it was. So don't let all this "have to spend a lot of time in the woods and know all the secret knowledge and tricks" nonsense bother you. The real truth is that all that is factually known or reasonably speculated about Bigfoot to date can be learned in a few hours' reading. I don't know exactly what things it takes to find a Bigfoot, but one thing is obvious: sheer time spent in the field and lots of trivial knowledge certainly doesn’t seem to be among them. It doesn't matter how long you have or haven't been looking for Bigfoot; whenever you do go out there, know that you're on the same level as any of us. But above all, you should behave as if you always expect success. That way you will always be prepared.