According to a 2014 poll, about 20 percent of Americans believe in the existence of Bigfoot, the hirsute creature who supposedly stands somewhere between seven and 10 feet tall. And a good many of those people seem eager to spend their time tramping around in the woods, in hopes of being the first to bring back the first conclusive, irrefutable proof of the reclusive primate's existence. Most of those intrepid trackers, sadly, must self-finance their pursuit of zoological immortality.
"People pay out of their own pockets to search for Bigfoot," says Loren Coleman, author of the 2003 book "Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America," and director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.
"That's why debunkers use the ridicule factor," he says, "and call the short-term Bigfoot seekers, 'weekend warriors' and 'six-pack Joes,' acting like these sincere folks out there looking for Sasquatch are just beer-drinking yahoos — which is not the reality at all."
But there is one exception — a Florida man who's found a way to search for Bigfoot as a full-time job, and to make a decent living at it in the process. It took plenty of entrepreneurial ingenuity and determination, with a healthy amount of luck sprinkled in.
"I don't see that I have any competition," says 31-year-old Stacy Brown, Jr., who describes the rest of Bigfoot's pursuers as "a bunch of glorified campers." Brown notes that he spends up to 180 days a year scouring the woods for evidence of the creature. "I'll go out for 10 days at a time," he says.
Unlike some of his self-financed competitors, Brown also has the best equipment, including a $10,000 thermal imaging device for tracking the creature out in the brush via its own body heat. He's even got an arrangement with a major university to do DNA analysis, whenever he finds some remnant of Bigfoot that can be tested. (Though no major universities are sponsoring their own hunts, some do perform Sasquatch-related work, as Oxford University did in 2014.)
And somehow, Brown actually makes a decent living: between $80,000 and $100,000 a year, he says.
Brown has been interested in Bigfoot for almost as long as he can remember. When he was six, he started poking around in the woods near his family's house. But it wasn't until four years ago, at age 27, when he says that he caught a glimpse of the creature one night while on a camping trip, that he knew he'd found his calling.
"I heard something walk up [to the campsite]," says Brown. "It was maybe 15 or 20 feet away. It had a chimp-like face — you got a human nose, wider and flat, and this protrusion around the mouth." The best way to describe the creature, he says, is "like the Beast Man off 'Masters of the Universe,' the old TV show, except that he's got hair up to his cheeks, because Beast Man had an Amish-style beard."
After that eye-opening experience, Brown started spending a lot of time searching for Bigfoot, even switching his job as a supervisor at a cable TV billing facility to 12-hour shifts so that he'd have more time in the woods. To bankroll his expeditions, he even sold his nice truck and bought a "crappy vehicle" to get around in.
But Brown was just scraping by until he became got a chance to compete as a team with his pal David Lauer against other Bigfoot hunters on a cable TV program called "10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty." They didn't land the $10 million grand prize, but they managed to walk away with a $100,000 grant for research, for being the final team left in the competition.
That influx of capital helped, but the notoriety was even better. Brown says that he no longer has to buy the various imaging and parabolic recording gadgetry that hunters need these days, because the manufacturers are willing to give him the stuff in exchange for a chance to be associated with his notoriety.
"We probably have $100,000 worth of equipment," he notes. Additionally, Brown has appeared on other cryptid-related TV shows, earning $2,000 or so per appearance, he says.
Those shows, by the way — constantly increasing in number, and boasting titles like "Bigfoot," "MonsterQuest," "Cryptid" or "Mountain Monsters" — receive their own funding in a variety of ways. Depending on whether the show is commissioned by a television network, or created independently and then bought by the network, the money to hunt the monster comes from the network and its advertisers in the former case, or the show's production company in the latter, who then tries to sell the show to a network.
Beyond the Small Screen
More importantly for Brown, though, than television appearances: He started getting approached by people who wanted to hire him to search for Bigfoot on their property or else take them on hunts for the creature. On one recent Bigfoot expedition in Washington State, he was paid $10,000 to lead a group of eight on a week-long search.
Brown also is the impresario of the annual Skunk Ape Conference, a weekend affair at which participants not only get to hear talks by leading Bigfoot researchers, but go on a hunt as well — all for a $100 fee.
Despite his status as perhaps the nation's only full-time professional Bigfoot hunter, Brown still worries that some amateur who gets lucky will stumble upon the first irrefutable proof of Bigfoot. "It is a race," he says. "Some people don't see it that way, but it is to me."