(Image courtesy Pixabay)

(Image courtesy Pixabay)

When Bigfoot sightings come to mind, you probably think about the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.

But there have been 323 strange encounters reported since the 1980s far from Northern California, Oregon and Washington state.

That would be the Sunshine State of Florida.

In fact, those sightings have become a kind of cottage industry, especially in Northwest Florida, home of the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization, founded by Mick Minnis, appropriately the owner of the Bigfoot Moving Company.

Some of the reports the group has investigated are indeed harrowing.

“When I see the reaction of people who’ve had encounters, I look at more than what they say. I look at how they feel,” he said. “And the way they talk, it’s like it’s turned their world upside down. Most of them didn’t believe Bigfoot exists. But now, they don’t know what to think.”

There were the two women driving from Destin to Panama City on U.S. Highway 98 when their car broke down. They began to walk toward Destin to get help when they heard a “very loud noise, like a scream mixed with loud moaning.” Then they were looking int the eyes of something they’d never seen before.

“It just stood there and stared at us,” both women recounted to Minnis, now a part of his journal of such encounters. “It was approximately seven feet tall, very muscular and covered in what appeared to be brown or black hair.”

As cars began approaching, the creature “hastily” walked back into the woods and disappeared.

“We’ll contact the individual and try to set up a time and place to see if their report is legitimate,” Minnis explained, having interviewed dozens of witnesses. “I’ve interviewed soldiers, law enforcement officers, men, women, everyday people.”

He says he evaluates each witness’s credibility, how fresh the incident is in the person’s mind and whether there could be a better explanation of the event.

“Our goal at BFRO is to get scientific evidence to prove that Bigfoot exists,” Minnis said. “And then to protect the species. There are some organizations out there that believe they need to kill something to prove it, but I am absolutely no-kill.”

Another journal entry is the experience of a kayaker on the Yellow River who first heard the sound of sticks breaking on shore and “smelled a very musky wet dog smell.” Then the creature started throwing rocks at him in the swamp.

“I thought, it’s got to be a redneck or something, so I yelled out: ‘Hello, what are you doing?’ No sounds, not even birds, then another rock about the size of my head almost hit my kayak … the river trip was 25 miles long and it sounded like I was followed the whole way.”

Then there was a group of people who fled in every direction after encountering a large “humanoid” form.

“Me and my brother were driving south … on Highway 85 about seven miles south of Crestview at 1:30 a.m. when we spotted what at first we thought was a really big black bear on the side of the road,” one of the entries, dated March 2013, reads. “When we looked we saw a large upright walking (like a human) black Bigfoot type of creature.”

Nearly all of the encounters have similar common denominators:

  • Experiences in the woods or swampy rural areas;
  • Most take place at night;
  • Witnesses smelled or heard the creature before seeing it.

Another witness was chopping wood outside his home when he heard a “weird, loud ‘growl-scream’ sound. It was on and off for a few hours,” the man wrote. “I have never heard anything like it. I had goose bumps all over and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I was totally freaking out.”

Another man was deer hunting when he heard what sounded “like a two-cycle engine” or a “chainsaw.”

Mike Spaits, spokesman for the Jackson Guard, denied any Bigfoot activity on Eglin Air Force Base, where many of the entries on the BFRO and GCBRO websites say they’ve seen the creature.

While Minnis says he’s never seen a Bigfoot, he claims to have heard “vocalizations” during an expedition in the North Florida woods several years ago. His wife, Tracey, said she saw a Bigfoot in a clearing in the woods on the side of Interstate 75 during a trip to Sarasota years ago.

“I believe instinctively that there are Bigfoots,” he said. “I think there’s just so much land, and there are so many woods and mountains that are still unexplored.”

“Almost on a daily basis, we’re still finding animals that have been undiscovered,” his wife, Tracey, added.

Minnis said most experiences go unreported because they fear ridicule, shame and ostracization.

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