Illustration: Jim Cooke (Gizmodo)

How do you kill Bigfoot?

“You would need a heavy-duty rifle,” according Jim Lansdale, co-founder of the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization (GCBRO). “I would suggest a 30-aught-six or better; .458 or something like that. Maybe a seven-mag’. But it’s all shot placement and you’d have to shoot him in the head. You can’t body-shoot him. They’re too big.”

Lansdale has thought a lot about killing Bigfoot. He even starred in a reality show about it, called Killing Bigfoot on Destination America. In the recent canon of Bigfoot-focused pseudoscientific backwood shows and documentaries—including Finding Bigfoot, Discovering Bigfoot, 10 Million Dollar Bigfoot BountyKilling Bigfoot is the only show that unapologetically promotes Bigfoot bloodlust. It follows Lansdale and the rest of the GCBRO crew as they investigate Bigfoot reports and try to put a bullet in the brain of a creature that has never been proven to exist.

GCBRO has placed itself firmly on one side of a contentious debate within the cryptozoological community—should humans be allowed to wantonly slaughter Sasquatch—a creature that (if it exists) may be endangered and contain genetic wonders?

But most Bigfoot seekers fall into the other camp.

Advertisement

“I am avowedly on the no-kill side,” John Kirk, President of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, told Gizmodo. “The notion of killing a possible relative of humans is tantamount to homicide.”

Kirk is appalled by the likes of GCBRO. “This is pure, unadulterated vigilantism,” he said, angered that there’s a show that gives a platform to their controversial approach. “We harp and moan about poaching in Africa. Yet it’s okay for a bunch of vigilante yahoos to go out and kill somebody in North America?!”

Suppose for a moment that the overwhelming majority of zoologists are wrong, and Sasquatch is real, but has somehow eluded capture for all of modern history—we don’t know that it’s a relative of humans, but we also don’t know that it’s not. “Nobody knows in totality what a Sasquatch is. It certainly has facets of it that remind me very much of the genus Homo, which is what we’re all descended from,” Kirk said. “Supposing it does indeed have DNA that indicates that it is a close relative of ours. Well you have a moral quandary there right away, and a very serious legal and judicial quandary. Because if you kill something that is genus Homo, by the very definition of the word you committed homicide.”

But it’s that lack of DNA evidence that is primarily driving people like Lansdale, and others of the kill-Bigfoot persuasion. “Our mission is discovery,” Lansdale said. “And by discovery, I mean the only way that scientists will say, ‘Yes, this is an animal’ is if they have a body. And so that was our mission: to harvest a body and take it to science.”

Lansdale believes the anti-kill researchers just don’t understand Bigfoot. “The bleeding-hearts—they don’t really know about the animal itself,” Lansdale said. “They’ve got this beat into their head that this is a human-type hybrid. And it’s not. It’s some type of primate that we have—a North American ape that’s been here forever. There’s people that claim there’s only a breeding population, that there are only two to three thousand. They’re not out doing what we do. They’re sitting behind a desk. And we’re out in the woods.”

Advertisement

Based on his field research, Lansdale believes there are thousands of Bigfoot creatures, and they’re terrorizing the good people of Louisiana, where he is based. He said he gets several calls a year from people asking for his help when they see a Bigfoot or signs of its presence. “They just terrify these people,” he said. “You can imagine, something looking in your window that’s not supposed to be there, that has this gorilla-looking face. And it’s huge—7 1/2-, 8-foot tall—looking in your windows at night.”

And it’s not just a matter of fear. “Anything it turns up and kills your livestock or your farm animals or your dogs is a pest. And they need to be eradicated. And I don’t care if it’s a wolf, a coyote, or this animal. Doesn’t matter—they have no business on your property.”

The modern notion of killing Bigfoot goes back to at least July 1924, when the Ape Canyon Sasquatch attack took place. According to a tale that ran in Northern Pacific newspapers at the time, a group of miners reported a troop of feral “ape men” throwing stones at their cabins. Fearing for their safety, the prospectors shot back with their firearms. The humans survived, but one of them—Fred Beck—said he shot one monster and watched it stagger into the wilderness. Beck told the account to his son, who turned the story into a small book.

Loren Coleman, one of the most respected and prolific researchers in the cryptozoology community, explains that at the birth of cryptozoology in the 1940s and 50s’ researchers were only interested in killing mysterious creatures so they could collect the body. “That really came out of the Victorian era the 1890s,” Coleman said, explaining that the colonial approach to animal-collecting—in which studying exotic animals meant killing the specimen and hauling the body back to laboratories—pervaded cryptid research for the first half of the last century. “In the ‘60s, you had a much more enlightened view. Technology could then be part of it—DNA, film, recordings. And it really happened all at the same time as the peace movement.”

Advertisement

Then the famous (and controversial) Patterson-Gimlin film was released in 1967—seemingly showing a mysterious creature ambling through the woods in Northern California. The footage embodied this growing ideology that Bigfoot could be captured ethically, according to Coleman. “The Patterson film hooked up with a way of looking at Bigfoot-searching and seeking, not as killing them, but just documenting them. Getting all the evidence—lots of track, lots of hair samples—evolving up through today where it’s even more technological,” he said.

But the Patterson-Gimlin film also inspired many people to search for the the creature in the region. Responding to an influx of seekers wielding guns (and possibly hoping to take advantage of the attention), Skamania County, Washington, passed an ordinance that made premeditated slaying of the Saskquatch a felony offense.

Coleman recalls the modern debate about kill or capture starting on forums in the ‘90s. He said matters have only gotten worse with social media and TV shows that give Bigfoot hunters a bigger platform.

Benjamin Radford first noticed the debate about 15 years ago, in cryptozoological forums like Cryptomundo. Radford is a deputy editor of Skeptical Inquirer. He investigates mysterious sightings of creatures like Chupacabra and Bigfoot, but usually debunks the cryptozoological nature of these phenomena. “The whole kill-or-capture debate wasn’t on my radar because it didn’t seem like it was an issue that was going to come up any time soon,” Radford said. “But people were losing their minds over it. I was like, whoa, people need to calm the hell down and get off the computer.”

But over the years, as Radford has watched this debate evolve and even spawn a TV show, he believes he understands what’s driving it. He think the people on the “kill” side want definitive proof that they’ve been right all these years—proof they’re not crazy. They want vindication.

As for the people advocating for Bigfoot safety, Radford believes they are hoping to preserve something more elusive than a mythical beast. “For a lot of people, Bigfoot is not some abstract entity out there. It’s not a monster. It symbolizes innocence and the wilderness and a free spirit—the better angels of mankind who aren’t weighted with the pollution and politics and all the strife,” Radford said. “When you understand that, you realize why a lot of people get so upset about it. To them it’s not just like killing an armadillo or an elk—it is a symbol of purity.”