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SHOULD WE SHOOT BIGFOOT?


The great ape of the Pacific Northwest-better known as Bigfoot-has been an icon of American legend for decades, yet remains as illusive and unsubstantiated today as it was fifty years ago, and for good reason. The evidence, it seems, is missing.

While supposed footprints of the thing have been found and cast in plaster for study, a couple of blurry photos and Roger Patterson's few seconds of "something" walking through a Northern California forest in 1967 have been shot, and some claim to have acquired hair and scat samples of the creature over the years, mostly all the Bigfoot hunter has to offer are multitudes of anecdotal stories, eyewitness accounts, and a few historical references—and little more. Why no body, no fossils, no bones or teeth? the skeptical community frequently asks before dismissing the entire subject as just so much nonsense. Where is the "smoking gun" of Bigfootology—the incontrovertible "proof" that Sasquatch exists? It seems that unless a Bigfoot turns itself into the nearest Natural History Museum, it is fated to remain forever just outside the periphery of provability and, therefore, the stuff of mythology rather than zoology.

I suppose there is always the remote chance that someone will stumble across a rotting corpse of a Sasquatch one day, recognize it for what it is, and bring it to the attention of science, but that seems unlikely: the vast forests of the Pacific Northwest are so vast, the chances of finding an elephant graveyard would be remote-much less a Sasquatch carcass. Dense forest canopy, the ravages of scavengers, and the speedy process of decay all combine to provide only the tiniest windows of opportunity, making the odds of finding physical evidence something akin to stumbling across a sea serpent corpse washed up on a remote beach.

Of course, there's always the possibility that a second "Patterson film" might be shot—a clear and detailed piece of video (and it would have to be full color motion video; still photos would never do) showing one of the illusive creatures walking through the woods-but that too remains unlikely. Not as unlikely as locating a Bigfoot body, perhaps, but getting the sort of footage that would stand up to careful scientific scrutiny-i.e. a minute or two of a Sasquatch in broad daylight at close range, preferably with audio accompaniment-is probably not going to happen anytime soon (if ever.) Additionally, even if it did, it would merely be a bit of film likely to be held up to ridicule by the skeptical community as "another guy in a gorilla suit" and promptly ignored. It might receive some serious attention by a handful of scientists and naturalists out there and perhaps even loosen up some funding, but how many zoologists and primatologists are going to be willing to risk a careers worth of hard-earned credentials over a "too-good-to-be-true" bit of footage? Without physical remains, even the best Bigfoot video is going to push the debate no more than a few inches towards resolution.

The Unthinkable Option
So what does that leave us? If the prospect of finding a Sasquatch corpse is inexorably remote and superb film footage is insufficient to bring Bigfoot to life, I'm afraid it forces us to consider the most unpleasant option of all: the only way to finally and indisputably prove the existence of Bigfoot is to shoot one and recover, if not the entire corpse, at least part of it. Nothing else will or could do the trick.

I know many Bigfoot enthusiasts find such an option reprehensible, and while I agree it is not a pleasant possibility to consider, it may the only way to prevent these creatures-assuming they exist at all-from suffering eventual extinction.

And the prospect of extinction is not merely an alarmist opinion. A quick dearch of Bigfoot reports compiled on several websites demonstrates that while Bigfoot reports continue to come in every year, they appear to trickle in at about the same rate they always have, which strikes me as counter intuitive, especially when one considers how fast the human population of the Pacific Northwest continues to grow. With more people building homes in previously remote or barren tracks of forest, Bigfoot sightings should be increasing proportionately with the growth in population-but that does not seem to be the case. In some counties in the Pacific Northwest no Bigfoot has been reported in decades, and in a few areas Bigfoot sightings have actually dropped in proportion to the size of the actual population. This suggests that as their habitats are being compromised, these creatures-which, by most accounts, appear to be nomadic by nature in any case (in marked contrast to African Mountain Gorillas, which remain in one area their entire lifetime)-are migrating to more remote locations, perhaps opting for the vast and still largely desolate regions of British Columbia. As such, it is possible that as the Pacific Northwest grows in population and becomes increasingly popular as a tourist and recreational mecca, the Sasquatch is likely to vanish completely over the course of the century.

And human encroachment may not be the only culprit in bringing about the Sasquatch's eventual extinction. Since we don't known how closely related these animals may be to homo sapiens, we have no idea if human-borne viruses may not be particularly lethal to them. It's even possible that diseases our bodies can easily fight off may have already begun the process of killing off these great apes (much as smallpox did to the Indians when introduced by whites in the late seventeenth century.) There are also the effects of pesticides, industrial pollution, and a host of other manmade agents to take into account as well. Only by establishing the Sasquatch as an actual zoological entity-giving them "a Latin name," so to speak-will be possible to protect the species, not only from encroachment by humans, but from disease, pesticide poisoning, and the destruction of their habitats, and that can only be accomplished by producing a body (or, at least, part of one.) It's as simple as that.

The Tranquilizer Option
Before proceeding, this is a good point to consider the option frequently suggested by Bigfoot enthusiasts, and that is the possibility of tranquilizing a Bigfoot with a dart gun rather than killing it. While obviously that would be preferable to killing the animal, the difficulty of successfully tranquilizing a Bigfoot is considerable. First, toting around a dart gun for days or weeks at a time in the hope of getting a shot off would be impractical, largely due to the nature of the tranquilizers themselves. Unlike bullets, tranquilizers have a shelf life that renders them ineffective over time, mandating that the shot would have to be made fairly quickly while the toxins in the chemicals are most effective.
Additionally, tranquilizer darts are normally carried in a special container apart from the rifle until such a time as they are needed, meaning that once our Bigfoot hunter stumbled upon a likely subject, he would have to stop, load the dart with the proper dosage, load it into the rifle, and fire. Assuming he could get the Sasquatch to wait for him to go through these steps, he would need to get the dart on target the first time, for its unlikely he will get a second chance (and, of course, the rifle can only fire one dart at a time.) Then he would need to hit a vital spot where the tranquilizer would have the optimum effect (this without knowing anything about the animal's physiology) and hope it succumbed before it disappeared into the forest or-perhaps unhappy with being stuck by a needle-charges the hunter. Since dart guns are normally fired at comparatively close range (usually less than 100 feet) one can imagine how problematic this might be. Then there is the problem with transporting the temporarily unconscious animal (which may weigh as much as 600 pounds by some accounts) and hoping it doesn't wake up before it's been thoroughly restrained.

But probably the biggest problem with tranquilizing the creature comes in our ignorance about the beast. In not knowing the animal's physiology, it's impossible to know what would be an effective dosage to use; too little, and it may simply shrug it off (and perhaps even come looking for the person who had inconvenienced it so); too much and its heart may stop, ending up killing it and defeating the whole purpose of tranquilizing it in the first place. Tranquilizers used in the wild have been carefully tested on the animals they're being used on and are designed specifically for each species. In other words, there is no such thing as a "one-size-fits-all" tranquilizer; a dosage that would work well on a lion might only infuriate an elephant and kill a gazelle. As such, unless one has a live Bigfoot to experiment on, determining the proper dosage that would work to bring one down would be pure guesswork and likely to have all sorts of unanticipated and likely unpleasant repercussions.
Obviously, since attempting to tranquilize a Sasquatch would be more difficult than simply killing it, that returns us to our original scenario, which is that if a Bigfoot is ever going to be "bagged", it will be via a high powered rifle in the hands of a professional hunter who has inadvertently stumbled across the animal while looking for a twelve point buck. Any other scenario is simply too unlikely.

Legal and Ethical Considerations
The fact of the matter is that killing a Sasquatch and recovering at least parts of its body remains the best and, likely, the only way to prove its existence. While encountering a Sasquatch in the wild and getting an opportunity to shoot it remains unlikely, it is more likely to occur than is the random discovery of a carcass, plus it would have the advantage of the remains being relatively fresh and, hence, more amiable for DNA testing. But even if we can justify the need to kill a Sasquatch, might not the person who performed the deed face serious repercussions for doing so?

Obviously there are a number of factors-practical, ethical and legal in nature-to take into account in intentionally shooting a Sasquatch: fines, possible imprisonment for the perpetrator, public outrage-not to mention whether bringing down such a large animal could even be done without putting the hunter in grave danger himself. Let's consider each of these points in turn for a moment in an effort to determine just how valid a concern they may actually be.

First, what of the criminality of such an act? Some have suggested that shooting a Bigfoot would be tantamount to murder, but since there is no evidence that a Sasquatch is human—and since homicide is an exclusively human act—such a charge would be difficult to uphold in a court of law. In fact, since Bigfoot does not officially exist, there is no law—that I know of—that makes shooting a Sasquatch illegal. As such, it would be difficult to know precisely what charge to bring the hunter up on. Unlawful discharge of a firearm or killing an "unauthorized" species would likely be the extent of the charges a would-be Bigfoot hunter would face, either of which would probably incur little more than a stiff fine at most.

Further, a hunter coming out of the woods with a Bigfoot in tow would make national headlines, likely resulting in something of a media circus. In such an atmosphere could the man who had just proven the existence of Bigfoot—arguably the scientific find of the century—really be dragged off in chains? I believe that in such an environment, it's likely the legal aspects of the case would become secondary and probably be eventually dismissed in any case, especially if the individual expressed remorse for having had to do what was necessary for the animal to acquire the protected species status it so badly needs. In such a case, the argument could be made that if illegally killing an "unauthorized species" results in them becoming a protected species, it was worth circumventing what could only be described as a nebulous area of the law at best.

Of course, if the hunter wanted to avoid a legal nightmare he could always claim he shot the animal in self defense and, without witnesses, who can challenge such an assertion-especially once the reality (and sheer size) of the creature had been established? Though Bigfoot experts claim that Sasquatch have rarely been reported to attack humans, the possibility that could do precisely that-especially if one felt threatened or was unusually aggressive-is not beyond the realms of possibility. It is, after all, an unknown species whose nature can only be surmised from largely anecdotal stories, so the possibility that it could be dangerous cannot be dismissed outright. Trying to predict what any animal is capable of doing-even those we know well-is always problematic as many a dog bite victim can testify.

As for the ethics of such an action, as articulated earlier it is in essence for the animal's (or, more accurately, the species) own good. While I am not a big proponent of the "ends justify the means" argument and believe it has been historically used to justify tremendous atrocities, in this case it may be valid. Of course, it may still be unethical-even if necessary-but then so occasionally is war; human have leveled entire cities throughout history in an effort to protect freedom; is killing a single animal in an effort to save an entire species much different? Even the late anthropologist and Bigfoot proponent Dr. Grover Krantz (1931-2002) once wrote in one of his many works on the subject that the first man who shoots a Sasquatch should get a medal-precisely for this very reason. He also wrote that the second man who kills one, however, should be hanged. I'm sure the good doctor was using a bit of hyperbole on the latter comment, but the point is valid and needs to be taken seriously by the Bigfoot community.

But even if we can rationalize killing a Bigfoot in our own mind and are prepared to accept the consequences of doing so, how feasible is it that a Bigfoot could be brought down in the first place and if so, how might it be done? Below are a few ideas to consider and some important points to keep in mind when contemplating such a thing. Obviously, these are not the extent of the potential difficulties, but they should at least give the reader some idea of the difficulty involved in shooting a Bigfoot.

Hunting for the Ultimate Trophy
The first thing to establish is that no one should ever purposely go hunting for a Bigfoot. The reason for this is that it is generally illegal to carry a loaded firearm in the woods except at certain times of the year (i.e. hunting season). To get caught by authorities "packing heat" at other times is likely going to result in the confiscation of the weapon and a hefty fine. Further, since the chances of encountering a Sasquatch are exceedingly small, it would be impractical to tote a heavy rifle for weeks or even months at a time in the one-in-a-million chance of finding something. If the opportunity to shoot a Sasquatch ever did arise, it would undoubtedly be unplanned and the decision to shoot would have to be made on the spot. I suppose it is possible that there may be the occasional professional hunter out there who might possess the time, patience, and tracking skills necessary to purposely hunt a Bigfoot, but unless an area was a "hotbed" of recent Sasquatch activity, tracking the illusive creature is probably going to be futile. It's always possible, of course, that a "purpose hunter" might get lucky, but it's far more likely that a Sasquatch kill would be a byproduct of a normal deer or elk hunt rather than through the efforts of a Bigfoot tracker.

In any case, let's assume that our hunter—probably a skilled professional with years of hunting and tracking experience under his belt—stumbles across a Sasquatch one otherwise quiet afternoon and, cognizant of the importance of his encounter and realizing that he has an opportunity to finally prove the existence of the creature once and for all, decides to take his shot. Here are a few things he needs to keep in mind.

First, he needs to have a rifle with sufficient firepower to bring down the animal, preferably with one shot. By most accounts, an adult Sasquatch may weigh anywhere from 350 to 600 pounds, making them roughly the same weight as an Elk or a Bear. Therefore, any caliber of rifle capable of downing these animals—preferably a 30.06 or 9mm rifle or larger (which are common hunting calibers)—should be sufficient to get the job done. Any smaller a caliber—say a .22 cal—would probably only injure the animal and possibly illicit an attack, and a person would be ill advised to use a shotgun or a handgun due to the close ranges required and the lack of accuracy and stopping power these weapons normally possess. Additionally, it would be best for the hunter to use a mounted scope when taking his shot in order to both improve the chances of a clean shot as well as keep the animal a good distance away in case of an errant shot.

Second, he needs to ensure his target is alone as best as can be determined. Sasquatch have been known to travel in packs (tribes? clans? families?) making the odds that another Sasquatch may be somewhere in the area pretty good. As such, shooting a Bigfoot is likely to incur some wrath if its mate is nearby, likely endangering the life of the hunter (at which point he may then make the claim that he really was firing in self-defense, assuming he survives.) Also, consideration has to be given to the fact that even if a second creature does not appear to be present, Sasquatch likely have excellent hearing; if it should manage to get off a few eardrum shattering screams before it dies, the individual may want to hasten their departure from the area (after, of course, collecting some evidence from the dead carcass or-at a minimum-at least noting its precise location as best possible for later retrieval.)

Third, it is important that the hunter not shoot a juvenile Bigfoot, mainly for safety concerns. While a smaller Bigfoot would be easier to kill and its carcass more readily recovered, Sasquatch appear to be a close-knit group, making it practically a certainty that one or both parents will be nearby and, as such, likely to attack if they feel their young is endangered. Additionally, it is best to-if at all possible-avoid killing a female Sasquatch because of its child bearing and rearing capabilities and, like the death of a juvenile, the likelihood of its death eliciting a reprisal from any resident male Sasquatch in the area. Obviously, it will not be possible to choose the sex of the Sasquatch one has the opportunity to shoot but, in the case of a female, the hunter must be cognizant of the very real possibility of a mate being nearby and proceed with special caution.

Finally, assuming the hunter has the opportunity, a powerful weapon with a scope, and a clear shot, he will want to take it down as quickly as possible. While this would seem to imply a head shot to be the best target, the chest area would be the better choice, both because it is a larger target and because it is important to prevent damaging the head for reasons I'll articulate in a moment. Likely any shot to the upper torso should be sufficient to bring it down, but the classic shot to the heart—assumedly positioned roughly where a human heart would be—would be ideal, both for the animal's and the hunter's sake.

Obviously, once the creature was down, the worst thing the hunter could do is shoulder his weapon and run towards the carcass; seasoned hunters never approach their game directly or presume it is necessarily dead just because it's still. Men have been gored by deer that appeared dead but were merely stunned or unconscious; I can only imagine what a wounded Sasquatch would do to a person who came too close! As such, the hunter would have to approach the carcass carefully with his rifle loaded and aimed, ready to fire again if it should suddenly lunge or if another Sasquatch appeared to be approaching (in which case discretion might really be the better part of valor.) Probably several minutes would be a reasonable amount of time to wait, and the carcass approached slowly and incrementally after that.

Body Recovery
So let's say our intrepid hunter has managed to squeeze off that once-in-a-lifetime shot and the animal goes down. After concluding that no other Sasquatches appear to be present and, after determining the animal to be definitely dead, then what?

Most likely the creature will be far from any roads, and with a weight averaging around 400 pounds or more for an adult, it will be too heavy to be carried out. To simply note its location and walk out of the area to alert authorities would be risky: it could easily be carried off by scavengers (or even recovered by another Sasquatch) or the precise location could be lost, making relocating it again difficult (and, of course, this doesn't even take into consideration the difficulty of convincing authorities to follow you back into the forest to recover a dead Bigfoot carcass!) This means it will be necessary to recover at least a part of the animal and, using it to established the credibility of your story, return later to recover the remainder of the carcass. But what part should be taken?

Though it's grisly to consider, the most obvious answer is the head, which would be the most informative body part to scientists (and would explain why a destructive head shot would be undesirable). With an intact skull, anthropologists would be able to determine the creature's cranial capacity (and hence better gage its intelligence) study its visual, auditory and olfactory capabilities, and even examine the teeth to ascertain its diet. Further, it's likely a Sasquatch skull would weight only around 15 to 25 pounds, making it fairly easy to pack out of the area. While it might prove difficult to remove from the upper torso (especially if the animal is as muscular as many assume) an experienced hunter who is used to dressing his kills should be able to make the separation in a few minutes. If time is a consideration or the hunter lacks either the disposition or means of making a quick and clean separation of the skull, a hand would be an acceptable alternative (and would also be even easier to remove, making it an especially attractive option if the hunter suspects other Sasquatch to be in the area). It wouldn't be as useful to scientists as the skull, but it would at least establish the animal's existence, provide DNA for study, and give some clues as to the creature's overall physiology.

Finally, once the hunter reaches civilization, the body part(s) should be immediately refrigerated and, if possible, extensively photographed from numerous angles. At this point it would probably not be a good idea to immediately inform authorities of the find, but instead pack the pieces in ice inside a cooler and take them to the nearest natural history museum or University that possesses a biology, zoology, or anthropology department. Normally these institutions are receptive to queries from the public and willing to cooperate if an individual approaches them in a professional manner and simply asks if someone on staff would be willing to take a look at an unidentified specimen. Once you produce the body part(s), the rest will undoubtedly take care of itself.

The Aftermath
Producing a Bigfoot skull or hand is going to be the scientific equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. Instantly every biologist in the area is going to be called in, the hunter will be peppered with questions, and likely an expedition to recover the rest of the carcass will be immediately mounted. Official word of the find will probably be delayed until after the carcass has been recovered, but once the University or museum staff holds a press briefing, produces the evidence, and introduces the man (or, conceivably, woman) who brought the proof in, the media circus will begin.

At that point legal charges will likely be drawn up against the "perpetrator," probably by a consortium of state and federal agencies, animal rights groups, and Bigfoot organizations. Eventually, however, after all the legal ramifications have been taken care of and the initial outrage/shock/sensationalism has ebbed, the serious work of studying the animal will begin. The first order of business, of course, will be to immediately pass legislation outlawing the shooting of any more Sasquatch, making our hunter's experience hopefully the first and last time a Sasquatch is ever shot. Second, there will be a major effort by qualified and well funded primatologists and anthropologists to track and study Sasquatch, likely using the most modern electronic and tracking technologies available.

Eventually, it seems likely that at some point a Sasquatch will be captured in the wild and studied in detail, at which point it will loose its mystique and be transformed from a mysterious monster into simply another animal—albeit a particularly remarkable one. Thus drained of its ability to frighten us, it will fade from the scene and humanity will once again turn its attention to other mysteries and other monsters. Then the Bigfoot of legend will really be dead even though the Sasquatch of science may live on, alive and well (if perhaps a little less fascinating as it was when it existed purely as a myth).


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