YOU’RE DISAPPOINTED YOU’RE NOT AFRAID because it means you don’t believe. Not even a little bit. Not even down in your reptilian brain, which millions of years of evolution have trained to be frightened of things that go bump in the night.

There is no moon, and the forest around you is black as tar except for where the weak red light of your headlamp lands. Then it’s pale blood and inky shadow. This is country where you ought to be afraid. Because if there were anywhere in Arkansas to be scared of the dark, it’d be right here in the heart of ArkLaTex, just a few miles west of famous Fouke, home to Arkansas’ most notorious monster myth and more Bigfoot sightings than anywhere else in the state. But you’re just happy to be along for the ride.

Robert Swain, the organizer of this expedition and the guy who invited you along, is back at camp, but he’s told you if something happens, if it pops off, to follow Mark Parker’s lead because he’s an experienced Bigfoot researcher and will know what do (you’re pretty sure that means he’s armed). Robert and his fellow researchers talked of something happening so much and with such earnestness that you’d have thought all the talk was to set you up for some prank, if only they’d seemed the type.

As the leader of this particular outing and the only other person with a red LCD on his headlamp, Mark’s asked you to bring up the rear and light the others’ way as he leads from the front. Red light doesn’t ruin your night vision, and the hope is it won’t scare off the cryptozoological creature you hope to find. If you were scared, which you’re not, as the rear guard, you’d fear being the first one snatched into the dark.

The plan is for your little group of five—as it stands right now, half the total count of the expedition—to walk the mile and a half or so down a pitted gravel road past the remote county park’s firing range to place a small digital audio recorder: the primary weapon in the global hunt for Bigfoot. Along the way, every 10 minutes or so, Mark calls out a random number of steps, and you sound them off silently to yourself, before stopping—all of you together—and listening for the sound of following footfalls caught off guard by your sudden halt. Yes, you listen. You take it seriously because you don’t want to go through life the cynic. You don’t want to just believe that they believe. But it is all silence.

Each time you stop, you turn your head and stare up the way you’ve come, hoping to see something tall and dark and fearsome flash across the starlit road. Mark listens the whole time using a little trick he learned from Super Dave. Turn on a digital recorder, crank it up, plug in your earphones, and voila!—superhuman hearing. All weekend, everywhere he goes, Mark will have a recorder snug in the band of his camouflaged bucket hat, turned up loud. Earlier, around the fire, he let you try it, and though you were surprised how well it worked, it seemed a silly way to get permanent hearing loss. Here though, stock-still in the quiet winter night without even the sound of insects to fill your ears, you wait for him to give the all clear before taking another step.

Past the gun range, the park gives way to private hunting land—the trees dabbed with purple paint warn as much (whoever sells that paint around these parts must make a killing)—and eventually, the forest retreats, and the road opens up. It’s mostly dirt here and gray clay—deep ruts of tire tracks dried solid in the unusually warm winter weather. This is good terrain for finding footprints, and you all turn on your white lights and spread out.

Then something strange happens. You spot something down in one of the ruts. You stop and bend over, and yeah, that kind of looks like a heel. And if that is a heel, then the toes would be right … there. It’s faint, not so much an impression as a discoloration, but there is definitely something there that looks like, well, a big foot.

IT’S EARLIER THAT DAY, and the low February sun casts long, sharp shadows across the road as you pull into the camp. You are not the first to arrive, and the scattering of satellite-dish-shaped parabolic microphones among the tents and cars (Bigfoot researchers seem to love sleeping in cars) and campers let you know you’re in the right place.

You look for Robert because you know him. You’d attended the Arkansas Primate Evidence Society’s Bigfoot Boot Camp he’d organized—a crash course in cryptozoological researching for all ages—in his hometown of Vilonia last summer, and he treated you to lunch at Stoby’s in Conway before taking you out for a one-on-one look at the club’s newest research area, only a short drive from the restaurant (a location he’d rather keep secret for now). This afternoon, he’s set himself up on the far edge of the hilltop site overlooking the impounded lake. You find him in a camp chair reading under a tall hardwood, a pair of plaster-cast footprints leaning against the trunk to his right, his parabolic to his left.

He camped here alone last night, he says as you get to talking, and he heard a lot of activity—some really “ooky-spooky stuff.” Talk to any researcher, and they’ll tell you Bigfoots are so in tune with their surroundings that there’s really no point in trying to sneak up on them. Outside of supreme luck, the best you can hope for is to make them curious (though some Bigfoot hunters seem luckier than others). That’s why when he’s on the hunt, Robert’ll make a big show of going to bed after making a big show of camping out. But just because he’s going to bed doesn’t mean he’s going to sleep. He’d lain there in his vehicle last night, headphones plugged into the parabolic outside, hoping to hear sounds of his quarry.

big-foot-Edit_blue_THe heard many: mumbles and grumbles, the sharp clack of a few wood knocks, some pebbles thrown against the side of his car and a handful of distant screams. And there were about 20 big splashes not far away, like a beaver doing a cannonball, he says. The image of a Sasquatch jackknifing into the water amuses you, but he thinks maybe it was going after fish, because in the morning, he found still-wet piles of debris that seemed to have been scooped from the lake and deposited along the levee road.

After pitching your tent next to Robert, you join the rest of the crew. It’s going to be a cold night, with a low in the high 20s, and they’re just getting the fire going. Some, like Mark and “Big” Jim Whitehead, you met at Robert’s boot camp. But most of the others, like Randy Savig, are fresh faces. Randy is tall, with a thick gray beard, prominent nose, hearty laugh and the kind of deep booming voice you hear across camp like a hum even when you can’t make out the words. After you find a seat, he hands you his Mid-American Bigfoot Research Center business card (“Where researchers think outside the box”), which labels him as a researcher/investigator. The MABRC was founded in Oklahoma—a far cry from the heart of Bigfoot country in the Pacific Northwest—and now claims more than 300 members in four countries. And though there’s a lot of rivalry in the world of Bigfoot hunters (with everything from national organizations like the North American Wood Ape Conservancy to regional clubs like the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization, how could there not be?) they have a close working relationship with APES—the small group of Arkansans Robert founded in 2011.

There’s about an equal number of APES and MABRC researchers around the fire tonight, and though many are meeting for the first time, the talk is easy, and laughter flows. There are stories of Randy’s childhood in northern Minnesota, where he and his brothers needed a cord of wood each to make it through the winter. There are stories of how good raccoon tastes covered in barbecue sauce and how Big Jim once ate mountain lion. But mostly the stories are about Bigfoot. All the old hands have them, both their own encounters and experiences, and stories they’ve heard from friends and friends of friends. And those on their first expedition, like the two friends and co-workers from Acxiom, have more than enough questions to keep the stories flowing.

Randy talks about how he suspects there may be two troops of the creatures roaming his research area near his home in southwest Missouri, and how he once found a perfectly good deer stand and game camera abandoned in the woods, tracked down the owner—a young National Guardsman from the next town over—returned the camera, and offered to help him get his stand back. The guy wasn’t interested. He was shaking scared as he talked to Randy and would only say he didn’t hunt there anymore. Randy left his card in the game camera so if the young man ever wants to talk about what Randy thinks he saw out there, he has a way to get in touch.

Big Jim and fellow Oklahoman Dave Moomey are the only two who claim to have actually laid eyes on the thing, and both a lot more than once. In fact, at last year’s APES/MABRC joint expedition, Big Jim says he was sleeping under a tarp in the back of his pickup when a curious Sasquatch reached in and lifted him up, not knowing he was in there. It’s a popular story—you’ve already heard it a handful of times from multiple sources—and Robert and everyone else is quick to tell you with a wink that it happened right where you pitched your tent, so you’d better watch out.

Robert, though—Robert is quiet. Besides Dave from Oklahoma, he is by far the quietest member of the group. But when Robert speaks, people listen. When he speaks, every word matters. He’s the kind of guy who can say “ooky-spooky stuff,” and you don’t think twice how silly it is. And while compared to the others, he isn’t much for telling stories around the fire, you can count on him to chime in with a well-timed joke thick with his preacher’s sense of humor.

From his camp chair, a little off to the side so that he’s half in the shadows, he watches the group like a shepherd.

EVEN AS A LITTLE KID, I was into monsters,” Robert tells you six months earlier as you wait for the waitress at Stoby’s to bring your orders. It’s not long after that boot camp where you first met, but this is your first time really talking because he’d spent most of that evening putting out fires, making sure everything went smoothly. Today, he sports a Bigfoot-conference T-shirt. His face is round and earnest, with glasses and a bushy salt-and-pepper beard. You don’t know it, but he’s nervous and thinks he’s babbling.

“Then I heard about Bigfoot and that this could be a real monster,” he continues. And that was it. He was hooked.

He read all the books he could find in his high school’s library. He even drove down to Boggy Creek—right near where we’ll be camping come February, where the legend of the Fouke Monster got its start—and nearly scared himself half to death jumping at every sound in the woods that night. But passion waxes and wanes, he explains. It would be decades before he’d go on another hunt.

He met his wife at Harding University in Searcy and graduated in 1986 with two degrees—Bible and illustrative arts. It took him five years to graduate. His wife took three. He always knew he wanted to be of service to the church but didn’t always know he was destined to become a minister. For the next four years, though, he worked as the associate minister for the Church of Christ in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he helped establish the church’s campus ministry at the University of Michigan, and then worked as the campus minister at UCA for 14 years. Years later many of the members of his congregation there would come to share his passion for cryptozoology and would become some of the founding members of APES.

Nowadays, his family does full-time missionary and ministry work overseas. He’s travelled to India and Sri Lanka, Thailand and Myanmar, Europe and the Caribbean, and in a few weeks he’ll be taking off for the Dominican Republic, he tells you between bites of his sandwich. They are usually short trips, just a few weeks or months at a time wherever the local congregation requests their help, so when he is not abroad, he preaches at the Vilonia Church of Christ.

Bigfoot, though, returned to his life in 2006. His family was living in Mississippi at the time, preparing to move back to Arkansas permanently, and he and his young son, Jamie, had popped across Old Man River for a midweek campout at Alligator Creek near Helena. They’d driven all around the wildlife management area during the day, looking for deer, and hadn’t seen a single soul, save the ranger. But that night, once Jamie was fast asleep, Robert heard rocks clacking together somewhere off in the dark. In single cracks and sometimes groups, the sounds went on for 45 minutes. At first he thought maybe it was an otter clacking rocks on its belly, but where would an otter get rocks in these muddy bottomlands? The morning brought the answer, at least to that question. While driving around again, they spotted a pile of stones that was being used to shore up a levee. He still regrets not getting out to look for Bigfoot tracks.

“I could have gotten some really good ones,” he says, “but I didn’t know what I was doing back then.”

A month later, they went camping again near where they heard those mysterious clacks. It was their first “official” hunt. They moved to Vilonia two years later, and in 2009, Robert approached his friend Frankie about joining him on an expedition. He’d baptized Frankie when he was the campus minister at UCA, and Frankie didn’t even bat an eye at Robert’s strange hobby. He just said, Let’s go. APES was founded two years later.

Robert tried keeping it all a secret from his congregation for a long time, but eventually, it came out. Of course, there is some ribbing, a lot of When you catch it be sure and bring the thing ’round to my place, and I’ll believe you. Robert and a friend from the church are both Cubs fans, and Robert likes to joke he’ll see Bigfoot before they see the Cubs win the World Series. But besides that, there hasn’t been much ill will from anyone, he says.

These days, APES has about 30 members, and Robert seems determined to keep the organization growing, to keep getting the word out. Besides the boot camp and the annual conference, he’s talked to Boy Scout troops and done several presentations to grade-school science classes to discuss how one would prove something like this—the process, the need for credibility.

As Robert tells you all of this from across the table at Stoby’s, you can’t help but think back to the boot camp and the two kids—friends, barely teenagers—you’d met in your group as it rotated through the three stations Robert had set up. The dad chaperoning them that day was an old friend of Robert’s. Robert had taken them all out on the hunt before, and they all heard “some rather strange things,” as the dad put it. And though he was skeptical of the whole thing himself, the boys are in 100 percent.

“Everyone at school doesn’t believe in Bigfoot, basically, so it is kind of hard,” one of them told you of having such a strange hobby. High school is an unforgiving place. But then he surprised you with his eloquence. “Everything has been done before,” he continued. “It’s not like there are any hidden islands you can go to and have an adventure. This is, like, the one last adventure that anyone is going to have.”

With full bellies, you make the short drive to Robert’s new research spot. Robert came across many sighting reports near here while researching his new book, a definitive guide to every Arkansas Sasquatch sighting and story he can get his hands on (and a far cry from his Laughsquatch series, compilations of humorous Bigfoot cartoons). So far, he has 280 pages written and more than 900 sightings cataloged, ranging from 1835 to 2015. Right now he has reports from all but two counties in the state, and by the time APES and the MABRC meet next winter, he’ll have found sightings in them as well. (You’re not surprised to learn that with 130 sightings, Fouke’s Miller County has a commanding lead.)

Like being a minister, he thinks it’s just in his nature to spread the word. But of course, Bigfoot is nothing like the Gospel, he says. If people are curious, that’s one thing, but he isn’t called to convince anybody. He just presents the evidence as he sees it.

“This isn’t a religion,” he explains. “It’s not my job to convince you. I don’t care if you believe. If you’re skeptical, that’s OK with me.”

For Robert, his Christian faith and belief in Bigfoot are not mutually exclusive. Like most serious researchers, he doesn’t think it is some kind of supernatural being, and he certainly doesn’t think it is some proto-human or missing link. To him, it’s just an animal. That makes him a lot more conservative than most of the people he meets at the paranormal conferences he attends to promote his group.

“I think a lot of those guys are willing to believe just about anything,” he says, but he admits that the ghost hunters and UFO I-want-to-believers may think similarly of him and his fellow Bigfoot researchers.

It doesn’t bother him that he’s never seen one. There are plenty of big names in the Bigfoot community who haven’t. It could happen tomorrow, he tells you. It could happen right now as you sit in this car. Wouldn’t that be nice?

“There was this woman who called in a sighting and said, I wish I hadn’t [seen it]! I’m scared to go outside!” he tells you. “And I am just thinking, Lucky lady.”

BigFoot List“IF A RESEARCHER IS NOT WILLING to do the legwork, I am not willing to do it for them,” Randy says, his voice thundering. He and Big Jim are talking internal MABRC politics around the fire now. Being an international organization rather than a small local club like APES, the MABRC sees so many sighting reports that in an effort to eliminate “blursquatches”—photos with nothing more than a dark smudge—it’s recently launched an all-volunteer internal evidence review board. Randy is a member, and Big Jim wants to discuss just what they will be looking for.

They want their fellow club members to put some effort in, to make sure their sightings have some credibility. At the very least, Randy wants researchers to go back and take follow-up pictures of wherever the sighting happened with something for scale, often a human for blursquatches (at exactly 6 feet, Dave from Oklahoma is a common choice) and a dollar bill for prints and the like. (“I typically use a dollar bill because everybody knows how big a dollar bill is,” Robert likes to say, “and my wife will at least let me have a dollar.”)

“If another group [of researchers] says, Well, you never catch anything, we can say, Yeah, well, you know we have this vocal; we have got these pictures,” Randy will tell you later. “And until it is determined as an animal by science, we can’t say, Yes, this is it. But if you go through enough audio and there is something there that doesn’t fit known animals—and you have got [it from] an area with other evidence—um, what else is it?”

It is the general consensus of everyone you ask that it will take more than a photo—or photos or recordings or casts or even hair samples—for scientists to get on board. (“Until science has something to compare it to,” Randy says, “it is anomalous.” ) What they need is a body.

There are pro-kill groups—people who are willing and able and excited to take down a Bigfoot if only they can find one—and no-kill groups, which is self-explanatory. Robert, Randy, Jim and the rest of the APES and MABRC members seem to fall somewhere in between. They just know it’s going to take a carcass (no one even mentions the idea of taking one alive) for their movement to be taken seriously, and several of them, including Robert, have admitted to taking pistols with them on hunts for self-defense.

So where are the bodies then? you ask. At the boot camp, Big Jim estimated a population of several thousand Bigfoots in Oklahoma alone, and jeez, if there are that many, surely some hunter somewhere would have stumbled over one.

The thing is, they tell you, you have to realize how fast nature can take back a body. Randy points to deer antlers. Every year, deer shed them, and if nature didn’t take them back, well, we’d all be walking on antlers when we go into the woods.

Everyone is quick to say this is all purely speculation, that everything they’re telling you has yet to be proven. But even then, they paint a surprisingly detailed portrait of the beast. First, like Big Jim’s estimate shows, there are a lot more of the creatures than most people think, and they aren’t just a phenomenon of the Pacific Northwest—the MABRC has members in at least 34 states. Bigfoots are social animals that move in small family groups. (Dave from Oklahoma claims the troop of Bigfoots he follows trusts him enough to have let him glimpse their young—a trust cultivated, he thinks, because he never carries a camera. You don’t think to ask why he doesn’t carry a hidden one.) They are most likely omnivorous hunters that prefer deer as a protein source. But above all, they are intensely intelligent and curious creatures. How else could they have possibly avoided detection for so long and against the Bigfoot hunter’s modern arsenal of parabolic microphones, game cameras, drop boxes, and night and heat vision?

Big Jim tells you the story of the elephant that got loose in Oklahoma. It’s another story you’ve heard before. As he tells it, sometime around 2006 a circus elephant escaped near the town of Guthrie.

For three weeks, the elephant wandered around in western Oklahoma without being seen. Now think about that,” he says. “It might as well have vanished from the planet. It didn’t show up until 30 or 40 miles later, when it got hit by a car. … That makes you question what else could be hiding here, if it were smart.”

A Google search won’t bring up any escaped elephants near Guthrie in 2006, but if he’s talking about Kamba, the 29-year-old pachyderm that escaped near Enid, Oklahoma, in 2009, he has his timing off. The elephant was only loose for one evening but was indeed found after being hit by an SUV. Kamba suffered a broken tusk and leg wound, but was otherwise without major injury. There were, however, two baby elephants that escaped in Hugo, Oklahoma, in 1975, sparking an 18-day manhunt.

Randy, too, has a similar story of how easily something can remain hidden in plain sight. He once lost $50 to a Native American who bet him he could walk across a field and touch one of the deer grazing there. It was slow going. Every time the deer would look up, the man would wave his body like the tall grass in the wind. The deer didn’t pay him any mind, and sure enough, the man reached out, and the deer took off. To this day, Randy doesn’t know if the guy had been feeding the deer or what, but either way, it was impressive, and a bet is a bet. And if a human could do that, why couldn’t Bigfoot go unnoticed in the woods?

Evening has turned to full-on night, and now that the trickle of headlights flickering up and down the levee road off in the distance has stopped (high-schoolers going to grab a little “face time,” they joke, and you’re not sure your companions realize it’s a horror-movie cliché come to life), Mark is itching to get away from the fire and out on a night hike. Five decide to stay, including Robert, who’s not feeling 100 percent. Some walkie-talkies are distributed between those going and those staying behind. And as you head out, Robert jokes about the color of your jacket and how you know what happens to people wearing red on away missions in Star Trek, and honestly, you think it’s the funniest thing you’ve heard all night.

NO ONE REALLY THINKS MUCH of your “footprint” (though Mark goes as far as to describe it as “slim-probable”), but as you and the rest of the night hikers make your way back to camp—this time with everyone’s white lights on hoping to catch a glimpse of reflected eyeshine in the woods—there is a bit more excitement. One of the Acxiom guys spots what may be a highboy trail, a path researchers claim is created by snapped limbs high up in the trees that Bigfoot uses to move through the woods (often paralleling game trails). But it’s only in the morning that you realize you may have missed the real action last night.

As you join the group around the flameless fire pit, Robert asks you if heard any of the calls or the wood knocks last night, and you say no. And then he asks if you at least heard the splashes. “No!” you tell him, and they all laugh and shake their heads, and you laugh, too, because you’re not sure if they’re laughing with you or not.

And you missed more than just that. While you were hiking, Big Jim had seen some eyeshine near where you had set up your tent, and later, when Robert headed to his SUV to hit the hay after talking with a latecomer who was setting up his tent near that side of camp, he heard a few swishing footsteps a little ways off in the night. He quickly turned his light toward the sounds but couldn’t see anything. When he swung the light left, though, he says he heard six or so more steps back to the right as the thing apparently ran for it. Robert thinks it had been using the hill as cover to spy on the camp, and when he’d headed to his car, it must have thought he was trying to flank it and panicked.

He and Big Jim, who everyone says is an expert tracker, are going to look for prints later, he says, which is a surprise. Why not go look right now? But you’ve come to learn that’s not the MO around here. While the word “expedition” implies hacking a path through inhospitable terrain, here it means friends from five states gathering to tell stories and share ideas. There is no urgency.

As everyone splits up to do their own things—most of which, it seems, don’t actually involve Bigfoot—you join Randy and Super Dave (aka Dave Jett) by the fire. They at least have a reason for seeming inactive. They’re audio guys. Where some Bigfoot hunters want to cast the perfect footprint and others just want to see it so they can know—if only for themselves—that it’s real, that their belief is not misplaced, Super Dave just wants to record that iconic howl with no wind, no insects, no cars getting in the way. He doesn’t listen to the recordings in real time anymore. Instead, he’ll upload the track to an audio program and look at the spectrogram. Coyotes and humans, even if they’re howling, too, are pretty easy to spot by their spectrogram signatures, so he looks for anything that stands out for further comparison to his stash of sounds from known animals.

Randy, though—he listens minute for minute. He wants to hear the stuff that Super Dave’s method misses—the faint wood knocks, the quiet calls and mumbles—because he uses them to track his local troop (or troops, as there seem to be two distinct styles of calls).

Randy doesn’t know it yet, but one of his dropboxes—small digital recorders that can be placed anywhere—has recorded one of the craziest series of calls he’ll hear in all his years of chasing. The sounds are distant, and you have to listen past the white noise, but they are there. They are the sounds of a nightmare, and when you hear them weeks later, you can’t help but think that whether it was humans or notoriously eerie-sounding bobcats or whatever, something was making those calls.

They’ll share this evidence with most other groups as long as they are willing to reciprocate, but there are a few out there they hate to work with. (Being on television tends to give people big egos.) Robert, though—they like Robert.

“Robert has proved that he is a serious researcher,” Randy tells you. “I will go out in the field with him anytime. If he needs assistance with the APES group, I am there. That is just the way it is.”

But if you have an arrogant attitude? If you’re a know-it-all? Good luck. “That rubs me the wrong way because I. Don’t. Know,” he says. “There are some things I think I know, but I don’t know.”

_SR_2789YOU AND SUPER DAVE LEAVE RANDY by the fire and make the short trip to the neighboring bayou to check on the parabolic he’d placed out there the day before. He’d brought his boat, hoping to find some dry land along the sluggish creek that would be inaccessible any other way, but the water is up, and as he navigates the small fishing boat along the shallow channel, you look out through the trees and see nothing but shimmering water through the branches.

Like Robert—like most of those you’ve met, really—Super Dave has always been into cryptozoology. He always enjoyed a good mystery (before he retired, he was an auditor at a cable company), but it wasn’t until the rash of Bigfoot reality shows hit the air—specifically Finding Bigfoot—that he thought, Well, that’s nothing special. I could do that. So he did, and so did a lot of others. Though there are no hard numbers to point to, most everyone you’ve met sees those shows as a major source of new blood. Super Dave couldn’t really find anyone in his part of Texas who was on the hunt, so he started looking around for a club to join and found the MABRC. He liked the guys and really liked that unlike most other organizations he found, they don’t charge people to go on their expeditions. (The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, famously featured in Finding Bigfoot, charges $300 to $500 in organization fees for its four-day expeditions.)

As you pull back into camp, you see Robert on his way to town for lunch. He and Big Jim found a small print where he heard the footsteps last night, he tells you window to window. It’s small, hardly worth casting, but he’s going to, just the same.

Though the fire is much more crowded than when you left, the sun is bright, and the day is warming up nicely—so much so that a rat snake slowly noses its way out of a knot in the great hardwood shading the fire pit. One of the Acxiom guys uses his walking stick to lift the snake into a clear plastic tub. He’ll dump the snake down by the lake so it doesn’t have a scent trail to follow back to camp, but first, he wants Robert to see it when he returns to camp.

And then you learn something unexpected about Robert Swain. The man who hunts monsters is scared of snakes. He’ll try to deal with corn snakes and the like, he says after you all tell him to check out what’s in the box, but he can’t handle rattlesnakes. Growing up in Oklahoma, they were everywhere. He’d watch them crawl over the hay he’d just cut with the family tractor. He kept a .22 with him for the obvious reason. When he was doing missionary work in India, someone found a cobra in the small dirt-floor hut he and his wife shared.

It is about then that two of the other researchers come tearing into camp all hot and bothered. They find Robert and tell him they “just busted one bigger than shit down by the wildlife management area.” They don’t want you to use their names, they say, because they want to do their due diligence first and maybe get the MABRC review board’s approval before making it public, at least to the rest of the Bigfoot hunting community. You don’t see why it matters. They can only produce a few incredibly blurry pictures that don’t look like much. They show Robert, and he doesn’t seem all that excited either. And neither does anyone else. Even here among the believers, it seems no one gets excited unless he sees it with his own eyes or hears it with his own ears. There’s no rush to go back and look for tracks or drop off recorders, not even for the two who spotted it. At least for today, the whole incident just sort of fades away.

Robert heads down with his casting supplies to where they found the print, and you tag along. It’s not far from camp, only 150 feet or so down the hill from your tent. There is a scattering of pine trees here through which the sun paints the thin grass in speckled light. At first the print looks fake, like the pine needles were pushed aside rather than compressed by a footstep. But then, it is a steep hill, and you could see how a frightened biped might have lost its footing and slid while running from Robert’s light. As you help him clear some of the leaves and needles to make the print ready to cast, he speaks in his thoughtful manner.

“It’s just a quest to find it,” he says, unknowingly echoing the sentiment of that young kid from his boot camp. “And somebody is going to find it. If it is out there to be found, somebody will.”

And then you are joined by some of the others who have wandered away from the fire to learn how to make a cast. Mark’s there, too. He wants to film it for his Youtube channel and asks Robert to walk through the steps.

“OK, as I’m doing this, somebody else watch for snakes,” Robert says, and after getting everything ready, he looks right into the camera lens. “We’re at [redacted] Lake, and this is the MABRC/APES joint expedition.”

And as he tells the story, how he heard the footsteps, how he found the print, he slowly mixes the plaster until it is the consistency of pancake batter. When it’s ready, he doesn’t pour it. Instead, he reaches into the bucket and spreads great globs of it by hand, careful to make sure the surface is smooth, for once it sets, there is no way to change it.