by Aaron Carnes on Apr 24, 2012
Ashley Membree, Michael Rugg and Ralph Jack hunt for a Bigfoot around Felton. (Chip Scheuer)
When I found out I’d be going Bigfoot hunting with Michael Rugg, I figured we’d hike deep into the woods to some remote destination to conduct our search. In actuality, we spend most of the time in Felton, right along the road and close to the nearby homes.
“Bigfoots don’t have to be in a big wilderness area to exist,” Rugg, who owns the Bigfoot Discovery Museum, explains to me on our outing. “They can exist around the edge of town.”
I meet up with the crew at Taqueria Vallarta in Felton, where we eat tacos and wait for the sun to go down before heading out the crew’s usual spots. The first place is partway up a winding road in a neighborhood where Rugg says he’s gotten several reports of Bigfoot sightings. We park in a dark space between two homes and settle in, and I get a chance to get to know the team.
Rugg, the undisputed leader, has a commanding presence despite his small stature and calm voice. At 66, with a gray beard and full head of gray hair, he’s surprisingly energetic and passionate. Ralph Jack, who has been working with Rugg since 2006, is a funny, happy-go-lucky guy with long hair and a thick California accent. Jack says he was actually a prospector in his younger days, and that he owned a landscaping business until recently. In stark contrast is Ashley Membree, a Cabrillo College student in her early twenties who’s been volunteering at the museum in her spare time for a few months.
Bigfoot hunting, it turns out, involves a lot of sitting and waiting. Membree holds a boom mic and headphones, aiming it at the nearby mountain range. Jack has a camcorder and audio tape recorder on constant record, just in case. Rugg looks at different pockets of trees with a pair of night vision binoculars.
“Did you hear those coyotes?” Jack asks me. “Where there are coyotes, there’s sasquatches.”
I put on the headphones, but can only hear coyotes.
Rugg explains to me that normally they go out much later in the night, usually starting around 11pm, when all the people and cars have quieted down. But even late, he tells me, they detect very little activity most nights.
“We have some Bigfoots down here (in Santa Cruz County) that are real people-savvy. They’ve been hanging around us for years and they know how to get around us,” Rugg explains.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t successful nights. Earlier at the museum, Rugg played me two audio clips. The first was recorded at the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos three years ago. It starts out with a group of coyotes howling. Then something else, a totally different high-pitched howl, arises in the background. It gets louder and quieter and louder again, lasting a minute and a half.
The second clip also starts out with a bunch of coyotes, but in the middle of their howling, something—it sounds like a gorilla—grunts.
Rugg shows me video from the night of the first clip. They had gone to this particular spot because someone had called them up and told them that they’d recently seen signs of a Bigfoot. Jack, of course, recorded the whole evening on the camcorder. As they were walking they caught a pungent odor and heard that high-pitched howl. Later, when they walked back to that same spot, the odor was gone. They determined that meant the odor was transient and couldn’t have been coming from a rotting animal carcass. The way they figured it, that smell came from something on the move.