Never stop because you are afraid - you are never so likely to be wrong.
PITFALLS OF RESEARCH
Copyright © 2010-2013 Keith McLain. All rights reserved.
If you are reading this article you have already realized that sasquatch research is not easy. If it were, sasquatches would already be listed in all the nature guides. As a sasquatch researcher, you need to be a jack-of-all-trades: a naturalist, a biologist, a navigator, a tracker, a tactical scout, a photographer, a skilled outdoors man, an in shape hiker, and many other things. Even if you are prepared, you will encounter all sorts of problems while on expeditions and while relaying your findings. Many of these will be uncontrollable to some extent: weather not cooperating, teammates disagreeing with your tactics, other people in the environment, being criticized by skeptics; the list is numerous. However, there are many problems or pitfalls that you can control - primarily by arming yourself with the knowledge and understanding you need. This article will deal with pitfalls, that if avoided, will make you a more professional researcher.
We have all heard noises that we want to attribute to sasquatches, especially at night when we cannot see what made the noise. This is an area where being a naturalist is extremely important. You should know what other animals are in the area AND what those animals sound like. The more knowledgeable you are in animal calls, the less time you will spend trying to interact with or record something that is not a sasquatch. The following is a list of likely audio misidentification culprits.
Felines: Bobcat, Lynx, Cougar. These can be quite vocal at night and quite disturbing. They can make sounds from groaning to screaming, like a woman screaming for her life. It is the cat scream that is most confused with sasquatch scream. Try to familiarize yourself with feline sounds.
Canines: Coyotes and Wolves. The barks and yelps are not at issue here - it’s the howls. Not all howls are the stereotypical wolf howls you hear in the movies. They can be shorter, longer, higher pitched, or lower pitched. Although they are often preceded by a couple barks, they may not be. Key indicators of canine howls are: other howls joining in, barking before or after, and sharper tonal fluctuations. That said, the howls could be a response to a bigfoot howl, so hearing canine howls does not mean sasquatches are not in the environment.
Cattle: Yes, cows moo - and they sometimes moo at night. If you are listening for a sasquatch moan and hear a cow moo, your first thoughts will be sasquatch. You need to rule out the cow before claiming it was a sasquatch moan. A cow moo is probably going to be a little deeper and shorter in duration (not a rule). A cow is also more likely to repeat itself. Know where the cattle farms in your research area are.
Ungulates: Deer, Elk, Moose, and Caribou have a wide range of sounds...from deer snorts and grunts to Elk bugles. If you are not familiar with these sounds, your first thought will be ‘sasquatch’. After all, you are listening for sasquatch. Become familiar with these sounds, especially the grunts and snorts.
Geese: The Goose honk does sound similar to a sasquatch whoop. Geese also honk at night, although usually within a couple hours of sunrise and sunset. A Goose honk will typically be more sharply two-tonal. More importantly, it will be repeated more, it may have others joining in, it will be moving, and, since they are flying, will be from an elevated area.
Owls: Owls have an incredibly diverse array of noises that they make and probably deserve the most attention. There are CDs and ornithological web sites that have many recordings you can listen to which will amaze you. Owls do much more than just hoot. Here are some examples just to name a few. Many owls can make non-vocal noises in the form of bill snapping and wing clapping. These can be mistaken for rock tapping or tree knocking under the assumption that they are emanating from much further away. When owls do this they may be alarmed or agitated and may perform the two together or accompany them with a hiss. Territorial dispute calls and agitated hoots can really put a researcher on edge. Some, most notably those of Barred Owls, will have a primate quality to them - sounding like two Chimpanzees arguing with each other. Other owls have hoots that could easily be mistaken for a sasquatch whoop. Owls with the most notable whoop sounding hoots are Spotted Owls and Great Gray Owls. Screech Owls and Barn Owls will sometimes scream; these noises are worth familiarizing yourself with. Other sounds such as whistles, barks, trills, and chuckles can be attributed to owls. Owls are a major source of audio misidentifications and it is well worth learning their calls.
Humans: There may be other people and even other researchers in the environment. Campers can make a number of noises, that from a distance could be mistaken for sasquatches... chopping wood, slamming camper doors, occasional yelling. Try to know where the nearby campers are. To do this, you need to know the area. Other researchers may make calls or respond to one of yours. Know where the rest of your team is, and if applicable, maintain radio contact and inform each other when you make a call or hear a call. Of course there could be other researchers in the area that you are not aware of. This is one of the harder misidentifications to rule out. Knowing the area will help some... most researchers will typically operate near roads or paths.
Visual misidentifications, though not quite as prevalent as audio misidentifications, are well worth discussing. They fall into three categories: animal, print, and hair.
Animal: Luckily there are not too many animals in the woods that can be misidentified as sasquatch. The most important one is the Bear - Black Bear or Grizzly Bear. Bears will stand up on their hind legs, but not for an extended period of time. Additionally they will not travel any extended distances on their hind legs and will appear somewhat awkward and off balance. Other key features to look for are snouts and ears - much more prominent in bears. If you are close enough to see that the subject has claws instead of fingernails, you might want to think about exiting the area! Lastly, take note of the limb to torso ratio. This will be higher in sasquatches (arms are longer compared to the torso than in bears). The further away the subject is; the easier it is to misidentify as a sasquatch. Body positioning, lighting, and movement (subject or you) are factors as well. When viewing a subject, mentally go through your list of animals of the area and rule them out. When looking through thermals or night vision scopes, the most likely culprit for misidentification is human - usually another researcher on your team. Know where everyone is and know what clothing looks like in whatever device you are viewing through. Lastly, be aware of the possibility of a human wearing a costume - hoaxing. I’ve never seen it personally, but have seen plenty of You tube videos. Study known hoax videos and learn to recognize the attributes that suggest the subject is a hoaxer.
Prints: There are two types of foot prints that are most easily mistaken for sasquatch foot prints: Bear and Human. Sometimes a bear’s hind foot will step on the print of its fore foot making it appear to be one larger foot print. Additionally, claws do not always show up in the print. This is where being a tracker is very important. Look for other prints. If there is a track line and it’s a bear, you will quickly see a separation of the fore and hind prints or see a claw. If the size of the foot print is not out of the realm of the size of human prints, you need to look closer to rule out humans. Refer to our tracking video or one of our tracking articles to see the major differences; but for the most part sasquatch prints will be wider and the toes longer. Dermal ridges, if view able, will be oriented differently than in humans. Be aware that humans do walk without shoes often - especially in pleasant weather and near water or camp. There are even barefoot hiking and running clubs throughout the US that will run on trails with various substrates even in winter. Learn to rule out hoax foot prints. Again, our tracking video is good for this. Follow the track line to see if the stride or straddle change. Also, note how the foot reacts to varying substrate. A live foot will be much more pliable than a rigid print platform. Also worth noting is looking at tracks in snow. As snow melts and re-freezes, the shape of the print can change - eventually leaving a print not at all like the print that was there initially. Surprisingly, rodent tracks in the snow can be confused with sasquatch tracks. In deep snow, rabbits and squirrels will bound from spot to spot, leaving whole body prints. A lot of these “3-toed sasquatch prints” you hear about are whole body rodent prints with the “toes” actually being the fore legs and the head. Rodent prints will have symmetry and will have no straddle. (Straddle is the horizontal distance between the left and right foot prints). Of course, 2 rodents traveling side-by-side may give you the illusion of straddle, but their hops will seldom match each other and the straddle is likely to change.
Hair: As a researcher, you have probably already collected hair samples. Determining if they are sasquatch is an extremely difficult task which is probably best reserved for a specialist. An individual mammal has many types of hair on its body. Combine that with all the different mammals in the woods and you will find that the numbers and types of hair are just too numerous to be able to definitively exclude all of them. Without genetic sequencing, the best we can do is “possible sasquatch”. Sorry. If you do send a hair sample to a lab for DNA sequencing, the best your are going to get will be “unknown primate” - and you are not likely to get your hair sample back. Jeff Meldrum in SASQUATCH - WHERE LEGEND MEETS SCIENCE describes sasquatch hair as: 2 inches to 15 inches long (avg. 8 inches), with a thickness of 58 microns to 73 microns (avg. 65 microns), and without the medulla or with a broken medulla. If you do have access to a microscope, you can use a stage micrometer or an ocular micrometer to estimate the diameter of the hair. Although sasquatch hair is fine, some human hair does fall in that range. Also, not all microscopes will pick up the medulla if there is one. Look at other hairs with known medulla to confirm if your microscope can see it. It is not a magnification issue, it is a quality of optics issue. Combine variations in microscope quality with the fact that some hairs in an individual may or may not have the medulla, or have a broken one, then you can see that an absent medulla really doesn’t mean a whole lot. When viewing hair under the microscope, look for 3 things: fine hair on the low end of the micron range, uncut hair (frayed ends rather than flat/straight ends), and unwashed hair (presence of multiple oil globules attached to the hair). Anywhere within the 200X to 500X range is sufficient for your hair microscopy.
Fear of the Dark
Fear of the dark is something that all of us have to overcome at some point in our lives. If you are lucky, you overcame it while still an adolescent or young adult. In one subtle way or another we all still deal with. I’m not referring to the fear of going outside when it’s dark. I am referring to impairment of your judgment due to not having the use of one of your senses (sight). While it is true that your other senses tend to pick up the slack when your sight is impaired, it is also true that your imagination gets enhanced as well. Sounds become bigger and closer; and of course, you want to say they are made by a sasquatch. The better you can control your imagination, the better researcher you will be. Put yourself in the right frame of mind, avoid the temptation to turn on a flashlight, and practice walking with limited vision.
Making too much Noise
When you are out on an expedition, making too much noise will greatly hinder the research. This falls into two categories: inadvertent noise and purposeful noise.
Inadvertent Noise: If you are a hunter you are all too familiar with this: kicking sticks, coughing, bumping your equipment against something, or talking. All this and more can reveal your position. Always watch where you are stepping and step carefully and lightly. Travel will be a little slower, but you will be rewarded by the increase of wildlife you will see or hear. Muffle any sounds you have to make and speak as softly as you can. Additionally, if you are using two-way radios to keep in contact with team members, turn off the roger-beep and don’t use the call button! These can be aggravating to your teammates and although they should all be using ear buds, inevitably one will not and those beeps will be heard.
Purposeful Noise: The purposeful noise that you will make on expeditions comes in the form of whoops, howls, screams, and wood knocks. While these are all fun to do and may illicit a response, there is a time and place for them. Try to avoid making your calls next to your car, your campfire, or out in the plain open. If a sasquatch sees you make the call or sees that it emanated from a place brimming with human activity, it is less likely to respond. This is not a rule: you can get great responses in this type of scenario, but they will be less frequent. More important than the location of the call is the frequency of the call. The more you call, the more likely you will be identified as ‘human’ and be ignored. Avoid overcalling.
Misinterpretation of Evidence
There are cases where instead of being misidentified, the evidence will simply be misinterpreted. It can be in the field, in the dark room, or in front of your computer. The following are some examples.
Stick Structures: A stick structure is supposed to be a collection of sticks placed together by sasquatches in order to create a marker of some sort. The problem with attributing a stick structure to a sasquatch is that there are other things that can cause a stick structure. Weather related structures are probably the most prevalent misidentifications. Yes, wind and rain knock trees down and yes, the wind can blow in more than one direction. Structures can also be made by humans - either as a marker or just for the sake of making one. Stick structures are in old Boy Scout manuals as a method of marking a trail. Bears will also bend trees over and even twist them. These are called whammy trees. They may be trying to get food, marking their territory, or just playing around. If you can rule out weather, man, and bear, you MIGHT have a sasquatch stick structure.
Bedding Areas: Large areas of matted down grass or leaves have been pointed out to be sasquatch bedding areas. Most large animals do the same thing. Look for other signs: droppings, hair, prints, or evidence of feeding to rule out what you can. Included with bedding areas are “nests”. We have seen pictures and videos of “nests” that were simply debris huts - simple outdoor lean-tos probably made by boy scouts. We have a survival video on our You tube channel that illustrates how to make one. Look at the finished product and realize that something like this will be made by a human.
Photographic Evidence: We have all been shown a photo of a “sasquatch” that was taken by a game camera or was taken by someone that did not notice the subject until reviewing the photos. This is where the term “blobsquatch” came from. It’s a spot that someone interprets to be a sasquatch. If a photographer did not see a sasquatch when he took the picture, it probably was not there. In most cases the subject is a stump, another mammal, a shadow amongst the trees, or even bird. Insisting one of these is a sasquatch is a great way to ruin your credibility. Take each picture for what it is and don’t interpret too much into them.
Exaggerating Your Findings
Embellishment is a trait that is found in most of us. If we are telling a story, we want to make it just a little more interesting or just a little better than the previous story. We want to one-up our story telling comrades and may round up measurements, exaggerate sizes, or embellish incidences. Sasquatch researchers are not immune to this tendency. To avoid this, try to be clear and concise in your descriptions. Tell exactly what happened the way it happened - not in a way that sounds better. Use simple descriptors and avoid similes that may paint an inaccurate picture. Remember: you are presenting your findings for information, not for entertainment. Most people do recognize embellishment when they see it. If your findings are not captivating; then so be it. At least your credibility will be intact.
One of our most important underlying goals in sasquatch research is to be credible. Without credibility it really does not matter what you find. Credibility is hard to obtain and once lost, it is next to impossible to get back. To get and maintain credibility there are a number of things you must do and traits you must exhibit. Treat your fellow researchers with respect; don’t unnecessarily trash their opinions. Be very knowledgeable in as many fields as you can and be willing to share your knowledge. Don’t present yourself as someone you are not. For example, if you are not an expert tracker, don’t tell everyone you are. If you’ve never heard a sasquatch howl, don’t be afraid to admit it. You don’t have to be the most qualified or expert researcher in the camp to be respected. Don’t be a braggart - having the best pictures, the most pictures, the best equipment, the spots with the best activity, the best call, the best tactics, or whatever. Sooner or later someone will want you to produce on your claims and if you can’t, your credibility is in jeopardy. Look at your own evidence with the skepticism you look at others’ research. Above all, be willing to do the research and put in the "dirt time." The more you are out there, the better your chances are of finding something.
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