Bagging Bigfoot is something Upstaters Gary Robusto and Paul Bartholomew can’t imagine doing.
Not that they don’t believe the 7-foot-tall, hairy, manlike creature exists. But they’re committed to protecting the elusive beast — for the sake of science — especially when others want to put a bounty on his head.
Last week Oklahoma state Rep. Justin Humphrey filed a measure that calls on the state conservation department to set an annual hunting season to coincide with a Bigfoot fest in his southeastern district, complete with licenses. He wants a $25,000 bounty for the first to nab Sasquatch alive.
Humphrey insists he only wants to bring in tourists — and their cash — and emphasizes he doesn’t want to kill Bigfoot.
“I can promise I am going to be on one of the first hunts, and I guarantee you we will have fun, and that’s what it’s all about,” he told The Oklahoman. “That is what we are trying to promote.”
When New York-based Bigfoot enthusiasts got wind of Humphrey’s scheme, they fumed.
“Bigfoot should be protected, not shot,” Robusto told The Post. “These creatures should be preserved in their natural environment. Any kind of new species — like a Bigfoot — even needs the protection of some kind of federal law.”
Bartholomew called the bounty idea a gimmick and pointed out his hometown of Whitehall, considered the Bigfoot capital of the Northeast by believers, passed legislation that he proposed in the early 2000s, establishing the area as a protective habitat for Sasquatch and banning “the willful harming” of the creature. Also included in the measure is a tribute to Bigfoot’s long history in New York, from early sightings by the Algonquin and Iroquois tribes to now.
He modeled the law, which doesn’t include any fines or jail time for violators, after one in Washington state’s Skamania County and one in Port Henry, which protects Lake Champlain’s Champ, an aquatic monster.
Last year, Oklahoma had 104 Bigfoot sightings, lagging behind New York’s 113. Both states fall in the middle of state rankings; the Pacific Northwest – Washington state, California, and Oregon – top the list.
“A hunting season is a bad idea all-round — certainly for Bigfoot but also the hunters,” Bartholomew said. “You could have hunters hurting themselves, shooting a little haphazardly.”
Robusto, 41, told The Post he has seen a Yeti twice: In 2012 not far from the town of Whitehall, on the Vermont border, and about a month ago in Albany County, where he lives.
The first sighting came on a favorite hiking trail at night. Robusto had a night-vision monocular light, scoping out wildlife. Instead, he came across a Bigfoot climbing down a tree about 60 feet in front of him. “I was watching it — and it blinked at me.”
His latest sighting was in the woods, too, about 1 p.m. On the ridgeline stood a Bigfoot. Robusto had a fight-or-flight response. He stayed. “It was staring right at me. It put the fear of God into me real quick.”
“I was a big skeptic, and then next thing I know, I’m a believer,” said Robusto, a chef. “Now, I have more understanding.”
A few points for the uninitiated, from Robusto: There isn’t just one Bigfoot. There are many around the world, called different names — Sasquatch in Canada, Yeren in China, Yowie in Australia and Yeti in Russia. Legend portrays them as gentle giants, although they look dangerous — 7 to 9 feet tall, lumbering, furry, with glowing eyes.
Bartholomew has been fascinated with the unexplained since he was a boy growing up in Whitehall. Today, at 57, the frozen-foods manager investigates sightings — learning as many details as he can, plotting locations, trying to pick up on patterns. He said he hears about more sightings in August, September and October, probably because more hikers are on the trails, he said. Robusto counts four or five a week.
Bigfoot even traipses around Long Island, according to purported witnesses. NYC has no reported sightings, although Mayor de Blasio fits some descriptions of a hunched, lurching Sasquatch. “This is a global enigma,” Bartholomew told The Post. “For the skeptic, these creatures don’t exist. But why are people seeing these creatures?”
Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow at the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, has driven from his home in Buffalo to visit Bartholomew. They have vigorous but friendly debates, but they do think the same way about Humphrey’s proposal.
“It’s a whackadoodle idea. What he’s doing is an absolute invitation to needlessly kill wildlife, especially bears because they resemble Bigfoot,” Nickell told The Post. “I don’t know why we would want people unleashing guns out in the forest to hunt Bigfoot…they may shoot Littlefoot — themselves.”