It goes by many names. Grassman, Momo, the Beast of Whitehall, the Boggy Creek Monster, Skunk Ape, Wood Ape, and Sasquatch, just to name a few. Yet, none of these names are as recognizable, and few are worthy of more derision, than Bigfoot.
While it may seem… shall we say… far-fetched, that a seven foot tall, muscle bound, upright walking ape is stomping around the forests of North America, leaving footprints, making weird noises, and little other evidence, that doesn’t stop thousands of people from reporting strange encounters with the beast every year.
In 2019 alone, the Bigfoot Field Research Organization (BFRO) received 23,000 reports of sightings.
And it’s not all random hikers reporting these sightings. Reported encounters have come from experienced outdoorsman , including Survivorman Les Stroud* , and even Theodore Roosevelt wrote about a potential encounter once recounted to him in his book The Wilderness Hunter.
Even some, admittedly very few, experts have reviewed various aspects of the Sasquatch phenomenon and found them credible. Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum for instance, an expert on primate foot morphology and locomotion, has determined that a large number of casts of tracks could only be genuine.
Scott Nelson, a retired Navy cryptologic linguist, stumbled across the reportedly Sasquatch “Sierra Sounds” online and determined that they were without a doubt, some sort of language.
Even Jane Goodall has expressed that there is something, to the Sasquatch phenomenon, and that she believes it is possible for such a creature to exist.
So, now that we’re buttressed with a little bit of credulity on this whole thing, surely we’d be forgiven for wanting to go on a little Sasquatch hunt of our own.
When do we start? No, really, when is the best time of year to look for a Sasquatch? And, come to think of it, where do we start? Are there certain weather conditions we should search in?
Well, through the wonderful world of data, it is entirely possible to find out!
This project utilized data from the BFRO’s catalog of sightings, compiled by Tim Renner, publicly available on Data.World.
This dataset contains 4,748 reported encounters from 1869-2018. It also has location, weather, and moon phase data. The encounter from 1869 was dropped out for this study, leaving us with 4,747 reported encounters from 1921-2018.
It is important to note of course that these reported sightings that have been gathered by the BFRO, an organization dedicated to proving the existence of Sasquatch.While they try to uphold the scientific process during their investigations, and vet sightings before posting them to their site, it is still worth noting where the data comes from.
It is also important to note that these are of course reported sightings of a creature, not believed to exist by the majority of scientists, or even by the majority of the public, we can’t say they are actual sightings.
It is also true that not everyone who believes they have had an encounter with this creature will report it to anyone, let alone the BFRO.
One final note, I will be using the term “Sasquatch” instead of “Bigfoot” in this study. Bigfoot is just a ridiculous term, and very loaded in the public consciousness. It also sort of indicates one creature instead of the amount necessary for it to be a viable species.
While 4,747 may pale in comparison to the 23,000 reported encounters the BFRO says they collected in 2019, it is still a difficult number to picture.
The maps below shows you just how many reported sightings there really were, but the next map is just a little bit more useful.
The heat map above, in addition to looking really cool, shows that there are five key areas you’d want to focus your search. Washington, Oregon, California, Ohio and Florida.
Still, five whole states is a pretty big range, and unfortunately we don’t have waterfront or elevation data. Anecdotally, we know we want to focus on forested areas.
Besides, our dataset does allow us to target specific counties.
The above map contains all the sightings group by counties, I suppose this could be useful, but no county has more than the 74 sightings present in Pierce County, Washington. Useful for telling us where not to look, but, not super useful for telling us where.
So, without any ways of presently expanding our geographic data, what else can we do?
I was attracted to time as a variable for two primary reasons. First, knowing when to look is as important as knowing where to look. Second, a lot of people dismiss Sasquatch sightings as misidentified bears. So, if the majority of sightings occurred during winter, when bears were hibernating, we could effectively rule that out.
However, the majority of sightings occur from June through November, which doesn’t really move the needle bear wise. While it is true that bears aren’t super active in summer (SOURCE), when there are a good amount of sightings, they are super active in late fall, when there are a lot of sightings.
Mixed bag bear wise. I will admit, I had a hard time pinning down when bears hibernate or are most active in each state. But as a general rule of thumb I’ll defer to the below.
Here we see the monthly data of the top five states. Since Washington has the most reported sightings over all, it makes sense that it also has the the month’s with the most sightings as well.
Washington has five months with over fifty sightings, none of the other states in the top five have even one such month.
Another interesting aspect of the monthly data, is that when filtered by state, we see that each state has different highs and lows. This could speak to possible migration, and future studies utilizing this data could explore this possibility further.
In addition to time, we also have a lot of weather data to parse through.
So, I looked at pressure, temperature and dew point data, but didn’t find anything particularly interesting. Which leaves us with humidity, cloud cover, and precipitation to aid us in our search.
As we can see here, the precipitation condition most likely to result in a reported Sasquatch encounter is none. Not super surprising, it seems fair to assume that people are more likely to be outdoors when it isn’t raining our snowing.
The results of the humidity data are a little more surprising however.
As we can see here, the majority of reported encounters occurred when humidity in the area was over 50%, with peaks coming between 61% and 87%.
Now, while this may seem odd, it does square with some of the more paranormal aspects of the Sasquatch phenomenon. Some people who report encounters report a strange ozone type smell, one similar to that which presages a thunderstorm.
The majority of the states in our top five (Washington, California, Florida, Ohio, and Oregon) show the same sort of results. The majority of sightings in each state, save California, occur when humidity is greater than 50%.
Interestingly, we see here, that at least for Washington, this holds true even when there is no precipitation.
The final piece of weather data that I found to be even mildly predictive was cloud cover. Cloud cover of 0.0 had 293 reported sightings.
As you can see here, great visibility is predictive of a reported Sasquatch encounter.
The final piece of data that I examined, which, listen I had insanely high hopes for, was moon phase data.
We’re dealing with something unexplained, possibly paranormal here, so wouldn’t it be great if Sasquatch encounters peaked during the full moon?
Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.
Now, maybe I’m misreading this, maybe I’m out of line here, but nothing with this variable struck me as particularly compelling. Again, more of an example of when not to look, than when to look.
Unfortunately, this proves to be the case when filtered by individual states as well.
Putting it All Together:
So, it turns out, Sasquatch is a difficult creature to pin down. While I guess that makes sense given that people have been trying to prove the existence of this species for almost seventy years at this point, it is still disappointing.
Still, there have been some interesting results. We now know that the best conditions for a reported Sasquatch encounter are humid days in Washington state.
There are a lot of possibilities for expanding on the results of this study. Many of these possibilities would involve further utilizing the descriptions of the reported sightings by eyewitnesses.
Digging into these descriptions could allow for examinations into factors such as time of day sightings are likely to be reported and whether encounters were more likely to be reported near bodies of water.
Another potential avenue for further research could be to analyze the elevation of reported sightings. I didn’t pursue this pathway because from anecdotal familiarity with reported Sasquatch encounters, it didn’t seem likely to yield interesting results, but there is always the possibility that it could.
A final potential avenue for future studies could be mapping reported sightings by month to see if the pattern suggests any migratory behavior.
Huthmacher, John. “Retired Navy Man Studies Bigfoot Sounds.” Hastings Tribune, February 18, 2019. https://www.hastingstribune.com/news/retired-navy-man-studies-bigfoot-sounds/article_a6a22674-31a5-11e9-8ca6-4376c78ccfbc.html.
Ingraham, Christopher. “Study: Americans Are as Likely to Believe in Bigfoot as in the Big Bang Theory.” The Washington Post. WP Company, October 24, 2AD. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/10/24/study-democrats-are-more-likely-than-republicans-to-believe-in-fortune-telling-astrology-and-ghosts/.
LernerAugust 17, 2018, Will. “Jane Goodall on Whether Chimpanzees Should Get Passports, Why Elephants Shouldn’t Be in Zoos, and How Bigfoot Might Be Real.” Yahoo! Yahoo!, August 17, 2018. https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/jane-goodall-chimpanzees-might-get-passports-elephants-shouldnt-zoos-bigfoot-might-real-192523749.html.
Roberts, Zak. “The Legend of Bigfoot at Salt Fork State Park.” Cambridge – OH – Guernsey County. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://visitguernseycounty.com/what-to-do/discover/attractions/85-the-legend-of-bigfoot-at-salt-fork-state-park.html.
Roosevelt, Theodore. The Wilderness Hunter: an Account of the Big Game of the United States and Its Chase with Horse, Hound, and Rifle. New York , NY: Putnam’s sons, 1903.
Stromberg, Joseph. “On the Trail of Florida’s Bigfoot-the Skunk Ape.” Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian Institution, March 6, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/trail-floridas-bigfoot-skunk-ape-180949981/.
Weisser, Kathy. Legends of America, 2020. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/boggy-creek-monster-arkansas/.
Willis, Bryanna. The Science Behind Bigfoot an Interview With Dr. Jeff Meldrum, September 19, 2018. https://www.byui.edu/radio/the-science-behind-bigfoot-an-interview-with-dr-jeff-meldrum.
“Beast of Whitehall DVD.” Small Town Monsters. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.smalltownmonsters.com/shop/beastofwhitehalldvd.
“The 8 Best Places to See Bigfoot Right Now.” Travel Channel. Accessed May 14, 2021. https://www.travelchannel.com/shows/in-search-of-monsters/articles/the-8-best-places-to-see-bigfoot-right-now.
“Welcome.” North American Wood Ape Conservancy, February 22, 2021. https://www.woodape.org/.
*There were several videos of Les Stroud recounting potential encounters with Apes in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Unfortunately they have all been removed.