Saturday, September 23, 2023

‘It Walked Hunched’: A Deer Hunter’s Encounter with Bigfoot in the Mendocino County Mountains Forty-Nine Years Ago

A pinnacle rises above the trees in the area of Highway 162 and Dos Rios-Laytonville Road, not far from where the hunter alleges he encountered Bigfoot [Picture by Matt LaFever]

We crave the unknown. Explorers embarked into strange seas. Frontiersmen cut paths through unforgiving mountains. Men launched themselves to the stars planting a flag on the Moon.

We find ourselves in a time where those waters are now charted, highways span mountaintops, and missions to the moon feel old hat.

The heart of humanity evolved to endure the wild, yet our modern world has commodified predictability. While we GPS to our destination, something inside yearns to know what lies down that unmarked road. 

Indigenous peoples worldwide told tales of ancient men who rejected the village and embraced the wild. These stories remain. Mendocino County and the Greater Pacific Northwest, defined by primordial forest, mountains, and coastlines, has been the geographic center of America’s legends of ancient men thriving in remote corners eluding modern man. 

Bigfoot, also called  Sasquatch, has become integral to the lore of America’s wilderness. Mainstream science has rejected the possibility of an ancient ape sustaining across time and space in the forgotten corners of the world. 

In the face of being rejected as pseudo-science, Bigfoot believers have assembled a catalog of evidence they claim refutes mainstream science. They cite the recurring wild-man figure seen around the globe within the mythology of indigenous people. They point to thousands of first-hand experiences, some horrifying and engrossing. These believers have curated a selection of videos, photos, audio recordings, and even footprints said to be physical evidence of the sights and sounds of the mythical Bigfoot.

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49 years ago, a deer hunter climbed the steep slopes of interior Mendocino County near Dos Rios hoping to bring down a buck, a modern man satisfying the calling of the ancient hunter. 

In a landscape made vertical by tectonic uplift, the hunter watched an ancient man emerge from the wild. The creature was tall and shaggy and muscular and disappeared as quietly as it had materialized.

Forty years after this brush with the unknown, the hunter would take to the internet to report his experience to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (BFRO), an amateur research group dedicated to cataloging the stories of encounters with Bigfoot across the United States. 

The BFRO would classify the sighting as “Class A”,  the organization’s highest rating of credibility because the hunter’s recollections were clear with little chance the sighting was the result of the misinterpretation or misidentification of another animal.

Here is the hunter’s tale.

A depiction of a hunter’s first encounter with a gorilla from Paul B. Du Chaillu’s 1861 book Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa

It was September 1974 in northeast Mendocino County. The cold of night was giving way to the warmth of the mid-morning sun. A hunter traversed the wild country near Dos Rios, an unincorporated community east of Laytonville named for its proximity to the confluence of the Eel River and its Middle Fork.

Unfortunately, the BFRO report offers conflicting accounts of the sighting’s location. In the hunter’s original report, he described the sighting in the area of Baxter Ranch located east of Highway 162, known locally as Covelo Road, and south of Dos Rios.

A BFRO research makes note that a phone conversation with the hunter specified the sighting occurred east of Laytonville off of Laytonville-Dos Rios Road, about 4 or 5 miles before Dos Rios, in the Holmen Ridge area, likely in the area of Burger Creek.

This hunter’s memory was four decades old when he composed his report for the BFRO. If he is anything like Mendocino County’s veteran outdoorsmen, the days on the trail blend together in a series of false summits, cold nights, and rugged landscapes. 

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The two locations, though different, are within a dozen miles of each other and are defined by the proximity to Dos Rios. They are both deep in California’s Northern Coast Range as it rises eastward to Round Valley and the Mendocino National Forest. They’re both known for deer hunting. 

Putting aside the specific location issue, the hunter’s recollections are quintessential Mendocino North County. In the mid-morning sun, the sky was clear and the air was still. He walked amidst manzanita, oak trees, and dry wild oats. 

While descending a canyon, the hunter noticed a human walking below an estimated 1,300 yards. He shouldered his rifle and peered through the scope. The bipedal creature wore no clothes, had no rifle, and appeared to be ascending the opposite slope of the canyon.

The humanoid puzzled the hunter, unsure of what he was seeing. Almost even with the hunter across the canyon, the creature seemed to disappear into the thick manzanita. 

The hunter’s attention was caught by the roar of a Jeep in the distance. When he looked back to where he had seen the creature disappear, it was once again ascending the canyon. 

The hunter estimated the creature was 7 feet tall. Its body was slender, like a “basketball player with big strong shoulders and a really skinny waist.” Its legs were “really muscular and strong.”

Its arms were long as were “the fingernails and fingers.” The creature’s body was covered with black hair estimated to be two inches in length and there were a few noticeable bald spots showing skin. 

Forty years after this sighting, the hunter wrote “its forehead was gunpowder gray with the temple area being purple red down the side of the face partway then dark tan. Its face was flat with a flat nose. It walked hunched over with his arms at a dead hang as he walked.”

The hunter watched the creature but the creature took no notice of the observer walking into the wild.

The hunter could not shake what he had seen and returned to the area the following weekend to trace the steps of the creature. In the middle of the trail, the hunter found a steer skull, “completely clean underneath without a cobweb or speck of dirt.” He set the skull back on the ground where he had found it.

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 Two weeks later, the skull was gone. The hunter proposed a hypothesis befitting of someone who pursues game animals:  “Maybe [the trail] was a migration route, and others were following.”

The snow-capped mountains of northeast Mendocino as seen from the Hopland Valley [Picture by Matt LaFever]

The hunter’s report is clinical, devoid of the sentimentality often seen in other Bigfoot sighting reports. He doesn’t recount horror, terror, dread, or fear. On that September day, the hunter saw a creature through his rifle scope that he could not identify, a distinctive experience for any sportsman. 

The mountains and forests of Mendocino County hills are teeming with predators and prey. For centuries men and women have roamed the region using their ingenuity and grit to find the verdant in the formidable. Forty-nine years ago, a man well-acquainted with this region’s flora and fauna encountered a creature that defied his backwood knowledge leaving behind the unshakable feeling that despite the infinite guidebooks, maps, and how-tos, the unknown remains.

This is the third installment in our series of articles exploring the many encounters with Bigfoot that have taken place in Mendocino County over the years. We write these stories to document the lore and mythos of our region, not to convince anyone of Bigfoot’s existence. Check out the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization for their archives of sightings and their approach to studying Sasquatch.

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    • Well i for one enjoy & appreciate these stories of the supernatural & American folklore. Keep em coming for those of us without intimate knowledge of a rifles scope capabilites.

  1. No doubt that must have been one hell of a scope. As a deer hunter that uses high end expensive scopes on my rifles I can tell you a scope that powerful does not exist today and certainly not 50 years ago. This hunter is lucky that Bigfoot wasn’t carrying a rifle himself or he might’ve got shot. You use binoculars to spot prey and a scope to kill it, unless you want to get shot yourself.

  2. I love Bigfoot stories, always have. But to actually believe in 2023 that somehow Bigfoot exists is hilarious. It’s as surprising as the alarming number of people questioning if the Earth is a globe….

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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