Is Bigfoot Real?
Updated: Feb 3
Is bigfoot real? A look into the evidence for and against the existence of bigfoot.
Trudging through the dense, pine forest of Oregon or Washington state, you may think you’re alone. The babbling brooks, the gentle rustling of trees, and the coarse sound of dried foliage trampled underfoot reaches your eardrums with each and every step. But if many eyewitness accounts are correct, you are likely not alone…
Does a giant bipedal primate stalk the forests of North America? What evidence is there for bigfoot, and what bits should we trust and consider reliable? Perhaps the biggest question of all is - is Bigfoot real?
Some may claim that the vast array of evidence, physical and eyewitness testimony is proof that the beast exists. Some point to a legal system which has declared the beast to exist as evidence that the state accepts that there are Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) stalking the USA.
What is a Bigfoot?
Let’s first define what exactly a Bigfoot is supposed to be. For the purposes of this, I’m only going to consider the Sasquatch said to live in the North Western forests of the USA. This means we won’t be talking about the Southern Skunk Ape, the Almas, Yowie, Orang Pendek, or even my personal favourite- the Yeti.
The Oregonian- Californian- Washingtonian-Canadian beast is probably the best known of the above, being instantly recognisable the world over. It’s allegedly between 6 and 9 feet tall, covered in long brown/black/red hair, and with an ample foot size, from which the name comes from. The creature walks on two legs, but has proportions more similar to apes such as Gorillas, with very long arms and an exceedingly muscular build.
We know that this is how bigfoot is meant to look because we’ve seen it scattered throughout media, both in alleged sightings and in film and television productions.
By far the most well-recognised film of Bigfoot (and I would argue one of the most famous pieces of film to ever exist) is the Patterson Gimlin film, shot at Bluff Creek, CA.
Whilst the film itself may be world-famous, the story isn’t quite so much. Here’s a quick summary of what’s going on.
Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin went in 1967 to search for Bigfoot, after a tip-off that there may be one stomping around Northern California. Patterson was somewhat of a Bigfoot enthusiast, and he and Gimlin allegedly were there to film a mockumentary about the creature, with the hope of seeing it as they were out and about.
They rented a camera and made their way into the wilderness on horseback. On October 20th, the two men stumbled upon a female bigfoot stomping through a clearing. Patterson dismounted and begun filming it, whilst Gimlin hung back with a gun ready should the encounter go sour.
The rest, as they say, is history. We all recognise the creature that is now engraved onto the public consciousness when they think of bigfoot, like the plasma-burned logo of a favourite TV station, forever to darken the corner of our sets.
There has been so much research on this video by many in different fields (and indeed by myself, if one includes posturing as research) that there seems to be very little to say that is new about it, and merely to conclude that the fierce dispute on both sides is only evidence that the video itself cannot be considered either proof nor disproof of bigfoot itself.
Indeed, this is a problem faced by any supposed footage of bigfoot, but the problem has certainly been made much worse by the significant advancement in readily available video equipment.
Paranormal footage in general is known for being blurry, amateur, and potentially deliberately ambiguous. Bigfoot videos and bigfoot pictures are no exception. It’s easy to find hundreds of examples of blurry, dark shapes deep in the woodlands, which inevitably are most likely to be broken trees, masses of foliage, or even the odd deer.
The blurriness gives each video the potential to be ‘the real deal’, on the basis that we’re not given enough information to decide either which way, and so it is mostly left to our inherent biases to decide what is the most likely explanation for the shape. Those who say bigfoot is real will see a bigfoot. Those who believe bigfoot is not real will see alternative possibilities.
I have yet to see a piece of bigfoot footage that impressed me enough to consider video or photos as the best evidence for bigfoot. They leave as many questions unanswered as there are bigfoot sighting videos dropped on the internet.
So, what would it take for a piece of video or a photograph to be considered as valid, irrefutable evidence that Sasquatch is real?
A lot is the answer. Video, but more so photographs, are so easy to manipulate these days that almost anyone could do so without too much effort. As a result of how easy such evidence is to manipulate, any footage that attempted to prove the existence of Sasquatch would have to jump through many more hoops than anything from the earlier days of video and photography. Of course, even in these times, manipulation was possible, easily done, or even accidental; many old ‘ghost’ photos are a result of reused film causing double exposure.
It is because of the increase in availability and the ease of photo and video editing in the present day that any piece of evidence has to be considered as edited in some way on it’s own merit. There may be supplementary evidence which could lead to a creature in film being proven to be a sasquatch, but a video in itself neither cuts any mustard, nor butters any parsnips.
Physical evidence then remains the best way to prove or disprove the existence of Bigfoot. But, as with many things to do with Bigfoot, there is an inherent murky hurdle which we must successfully bound over before we focus in on a single type of evidence as the most compelling. That is, what types of evidence do we consider scientific enough to deem ‘evidence’ in the first place.
The most common type of physical evidence one will see when looking into bigfoot is footprints. Given how large each print is said to be, perhaps it is no surprise that these remain the most common evidence of the beast.
Yet the authenticity of these has been repeatedly drawn into question. You may well remember stories of Ray L Wallace, who strapped wooden foot-planks onto the bottom of his shoes and would walk around to leave giant tracks everywhere. These tracks allegedly lead to the popularising of the term ‘bigfoot’, which appeared in the Humboldt times in 1958 as they reported on Wallace’s tracks.
Whilst many were happy to push footprints under the carpet following stories such as Wallace’s, ignoring them like next weeks looming assignment, it remains a fascination to some. Dr.Jeff Meldrum will be a familiar face to literally anyone who has watched a bigfoot documentary since the death of Grover Krantz. Indeed, Meldrum is one of the few scientists carrying the sasquatch torch up high, in not only not denying the existence of Sasquatch but actively believing that it does exist. Meldrum has amassed a huge collection of footprints from alleged bigfoot in his lab - enough to conduct some in-depth research into the anatomy of what a bigfoot foot may look like.
The good doctor refers on many occasions to evidence of a mid-tarsal break in many of the footprints that call his lab ‘home’. I’m no anthropologist, but having watched almost every bigfoot documentary I could get my chubby little hands-on, I have amassed enough knowledge to give a gist.
The midtarsal break appears in large apes, and is essentially another joint in the foot that helps support their large mass as they move. Humans, being much lighter than our ape-cousins, lack the need for this joint since when we walk, we pivot onto our toes. According to Meldrum and others, there is evidence in the footprints that suggest that whatever left them had a midtarsal break, and so may indeed be bigfoot.
Whatsmore, the sheer volume of footprints that exhibit this trait either means there is indeed a bigfoot, a massively coordinated hoax by scientifically informed fakers, or a series of coincidences - or indeed any combination of the above.
Further physical evidence can be found in our old friend DNA. There was a superb documentary series on Channel 4 / Animal Planet in which vet turned TV presenter Mark Evans went around the world collecting evidence for bigfoot and bigfoot-like creatures. Whilst most returned underwhelming outcomes, my favourite, the Yeti, turned out to be much more interesting. The team of scientists found polar bear hair from the Himalayas - thousands of miles away from their normal territory. As a result of the discovery, the ‘special bear’ hypothesis gained momentum.
Perhaps following on from such a discovery, DNA testing could be seen as entirely reliable, and the ultimate way in which the identity of bigfoot is discovered. But I remain not entirely convinced that it will on its own solve the mystery.
For one, DNA is rather easily contaminated. I remember an episode of the TV show Monster Quest ( a show in which, from the very strapline, we are made aware that ‘science searches for answers’) in which a team collected blood and tissue samples from a screw spiked board that had been placed outside the door of a fishing lodge plagued by sasquatch activity. In one episode, they claimed to have found primate DNA on the un-welcome mat. And indeed it seemed they had. When they later returned to look at the evidence, they found that the dna may well have been contaminated by human DNA after all. There is plenty of research done in real life too, with potentially serious legal implications for innocent people which I would advise reading.
If not DNA, and not necessarily footprints, what can we hold onto to prove Sasquatch is real?
The unfortunate answer may be a specimen in its entirety. It is for good reason that many in the scientific community regard this as the only valid form of evidence for the existence of any creature. It provides a taxological analysis of exactly what a creature may be, and, particularly in regards to cryptids, allows full research in order to determine the authenticity of the specimen. Consider for example the Metepec creature, a well known alien hoax, which turned out to be a small monkey under examination, rather than the extraterrestrial beast many claimed (and indeed still do claim) it to be.
So it’s simple. We kill to bigfoot. After all, without a body, how can bigfoot be examined to prove it exists. Well, as previously mentioned, it is illegal to kill bigfoot in certain areas of the world. But bigfoot also carries with it a lot of cultural history through the folklore and stories passed from generation to generation which have all contributed to the present perception that we have of bigfoot as a creature extent or otherwise. Such folklore extends not just from the indigenous people, but from settlers as they first colonised the western mountains of North America. Both these and many other influences have driven the perception of what a bigfoot is towards current perception.
Whilst stories and folklore give us a great insight into how the world around us was perceived by our forebears, that is in many ways the problem with considering this valid evidence for bigfoot. With the depth of understanding that we have in the current age, we still remain baffled by an entire plethora of spectacles which mother nature chucks at us. Human nature demands that we attempt to rationalise things, even if those things may well be beyond our current comprehension, and this can only be made worse if the general level of comprehension is much lower.
For example, we may today be able to rationalise thunder and lighting as the result of shards of ice bashing together in the sky, causing friction and thus lighting bolts ( as is the current theory), but to older civilisations, it may have seemed entirely reasonable to believe that a god must be behind such a disruptive and powerful spectacle - Zeus, Thor etc.
What it is sensible to conclude is that our ancestors were fallible narrators - as indeed future generations may well consider us to be. I’m in no way attempting to belittle the beliefs of past civilisations, and indeed I think that it is of utmost importance that we consider what folk stories may have to say about each civilisation that passed them along.
The modern version of such folklore could be considered as ‘eye witness testimony’. Such stories from across the spectrum of what they relate to can be considered shaky at best. The human mind is very easily fooled, very easily manipulated, and very easily scared.
One of the most important psychologists who addressed the unreliability of eyewitness testimony is Elizabeth Loftus. In 1974, her study into the effect of leading words on eyewitness testimony remains one of the best examples of how easily the human brain can be influenced. What the study showed was the participants could have their perception of the speed of a vehicle changed by the use of different loaded words, such as ‘smashed’ and ‘collided’. Participants who we asked the questions with the more dynamic words, ‘smashed’ were more likely to rate the speed of the vehicle higher than those with less dynamic words ‘collided’.
So why are we talking about bigfoot and cars in the same article? I’m pretty sure he hasn’t cashed in on a new Camero… Loftus’ experiment highlights how easily the wrong words in a question can lead to a different perception in the mind of the eyewitness after the event.
It’s exactly why the questions “How big was it?” and, “Was it over 6ft tall?” are very different. In one, you leave an open-ended response that allows the eyewitness to elaborate on their own. In the second, you introduce a scale and an implication that above 6ft should be considered large, as bigfoot is perceived to be.
The Gorilla in the Room
Along with perception of the size of the creature, it was given a reference as to what exactly it looks like by the discovery of the gorilla in 1902. The discovery of the mountain gorilla is twofold one of the most important parts of the bigfoot story. Firstly, the reference it gave to what a large ape may look like - the locomotion of it, the muscular structure, the head shape and other physical traits became a copy/paste for examples. Alternative, pre-mass awareness of gorilla encounters, such as the one detailed in this article from 1904 in the Oregon based ‘Lane County Leader’ illustrates, comparisons were more likely to be given to a devil covered in hair. Interestingly, Bigfoot is historically called ‘the wild man’ in many of these articles, and also referred to as particularly man-like.
The second important thing that the gorilla gave the bigfoot world is the idea that a large ape could remain undiscovered by science until the turn of the 20th century. It may sound, therefore, entirely feasible that a similar beast may yet remain undiscovered. Whilst this is indeed a possibility, given the vast areas of wilderness in North America, it still remains not as compelling as the idea that a smaller ape such as the gorilla could live in the much less modernised and urbanised forests in the heart of Africa.
Location, Location, Location
The North American bigfoot lacks much of the privacy that the gorillas would have enjoyed at the turn of the century. But the location of Bigfoot may also be scientifically relevant. A map created by the Bigfoot Field Research Organisation shows the supposed range of bigfoot and bigfoot-like creatures across the US. What is instantly striking about the map is the sheer volume across the country. From the very Northern Western coast, right through to the tip of Florida, it seems that everywhere in the states has a bigfoot to call their own.
Focusing back on Washington, Oregon, and California though, we are able to see a density of sightings, for which there could be a few reasons. Bigfoot sightings in the area could be partly down to the expectation that there should be bigfoot in the area. Afterall, this is where some of the most famous examples of bigfoot evidence came from, including the patterson/gimlin film, and the skookum cast - taken from a field in Washington state which allegedly shows the shape of a squatting sasquatch - perhaps delicately teabagging a victim like a 14 year old in a battle royale video game. This neck of the woods is the equivalent of a fine french vineyard, providing palpal wine - it has a legacy, and an expectation aged with time.
The second could be down to the location being capable of supporting a large amount of wildlife.It is important to note the similarities between the mapping of bigfoot sightings, and the range of grizzly bears. We can see that, in the area in question, the two have distinct areas of crossover, which naturally leads to two conclusions. Firstly, it is evidence that the area can support many large, omnivorous animals quite comfortably, since evidence seems to exist to suggest similarities between the diet of grizzly bears, and the alleged diet of sasquatch.
However, we could, and have to to an extent, conclude that this distinct overlap means that a great deal of bigfoot sightings could be down to grizzly bears. With their brown fur, ability to stand on two legs, and vast scale, bears are a likely candidate to be bigfoot in many reported cases,photographs, hair samples etc.
Despite this, it is necessary to conclude that the alleged area of the north-west bigfoot is, given reports, a reasonably appropriate place for a large ape to live.
Now to answer the question: Is bigfoot real? I have to conclude that on the balance of probability, probably not. Whilst there are many things which may support the existence of the creature - footprints and favourable climate, these on their own do not provide enough evidence to suggest that the creature exists.
However, I would also argue that the lack of evidence that would confirm the existence of bigfoot does not necessarily imply that it does not exist. I think that this is an important tone to take, and is the difference between fact-lead research, and the outright cynical dismissal of something. It is for exactly this reason that we need more Grover Krantz’s and Jeff Meldrum's. Forcing a dialogue within the scientific community between those within it who believe in bigfoot and those who do not can help to resolve some of the issues on either side of the debate. For example, perhaps there is a rebuttal for the mid tarsal break evidence, which is a cornerstone of the argument for bigfoot. If such an argument exists, then it is important for the sceptic community to not only make the suggestion, but to publicise it. Sure, there will always remain ardent believers and non-believers who would never accept the result comewhatevermay, but if conventional wisdom is able to move in a different direction, then it is important to appeal to it.
I may not be convinced of its existence, but I openly hope that I am proven wrong, and that a large, bipedal ape does indeed stalk the forest of the North West USA, but much more time and evidence would have to be provided before that conclusion is able to be reached.