Is It Legal to Shoot Bigfoot?

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iStock

As long as there have been legends of mysterious ape men roaming the woods, there have been people determined to find them. Traps, cable TV shows, and continent-wide organizations exist for the sole purpose of locating Bigfoot. But for all the time and energy spent tracking the elusive creature, the proper protocol on what to do on the off-chance it’s found remains unclear. Should Bigfoot hunters play dead? Lure it to civilization with beef jerky? Shoot it between the eyes and deliver it to their local taxidermist?

Before setting off on your next Bigfoot hunt, you might want to check with your state’s wildlife department. It’s true that Sasquatch is legendary, but the cryptid still receives hypothetical legal protection in some parts of the country.

The first place to outlaw Bigfoot slaughter explicitly was Skamania County, Washington. In 1969, two years after the release of the controversial Patterson-Gimlin film, the county found itself caught in the heat of peak Bigfoot fever. Believers flooded the Pacific Northwest with plans to track down the stealthy beast—and, as the Board of County Commissioners soon noticed, many visitors brought dangerous hunting weapons with them. Not only did this pose a risk to potential Bigfoots, but it also threatened the residents living in these supposed Sasquatch hotspots. More concerned with the safety of the latter than the former, the commissioners passed an official ordinance [PDF] stating that slaying Bigfoot was a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Still from the Patterson–Gimlin film. Image source: AHMED YOUSRY/YouTube.

By 1984 the Bigfoot craze had settled down and legislators recategorized the intentional murder of Bigfoot as a gross misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison and/or a $1000 fine. The same amendment also named Bigfoot an endangered species in Skamania County and declared all land within their borders to be a “Sasquatch Refuge.”

Not all places hold such a humanitarian attitude toward the mythical monster. In Texas, for example, it is perfectly legal to hunt and kill Bigfoot. At least that’s according to L. David Sinclair, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's chief of staff, who responded to an email about the legalities of Bigfoot hunting in 2012. He wrote:

“If the Commission does not specifically list an indigenous, non-game species, then the species is considered non-protected non-game wildlife [...] A non-protected non-game animal may be hunted on private property with landowner consent by any means, at any time.”

Because Bigfoot isn’t recognized as an official species by the state of Texas, hunting one is technically allowed (with the proper license and permissions, of course). California takes the opposite approach when dealing with cryptids: The state keeps a record of non-game mammals in the California Code of Regulations. If any animal is missing from that list, as is the case with Bigfoot, that means it can’t be hunted legally.

Oregon follows a similar policy to California’s in that any animal not classified under Oregon wildlife laws is considered “prohibited.” Like the rest of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon has a long history of alleged Sasquatch encounters. “[We] receive periodic reports of Bigfoot sightings,” Michelle Dennehy, wildlife communications coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, tells mental_floss. Instead of going after Bigfoot with a gun, Dennehy suggests a legal (and tongue-in-cheek) alternative for trackers planning their next expedition.

When it comes to capturing Bigfoot, a super-sized live trap is the way to go. According to Dennehy, “The cage trap should be large enough to allow Bigfoot to have sufficient space to turn, stand, and lay naturally and of sufficient strength to prevent escape.” An extra-large cage from Havahart, the brand she recommends, is only big enough to contain a bobcat, so Bigfoot hunters will likely need to have a trap custom-made. Because Bigfoot falls under “prohibited” status, transporting, selling, or exchanging the animal is against the law in Oregon. The best course of action for any Bigfoot hunters who find success on their mission would be to call the wildlife department and allow state officials to handle it from there.

There’s one more major factor that makes killing Bigfoot a bad idea no matter where in the country you find yourself: If the hirsute victim is deemed to be more human than ape, the crime could count as manslaughter. Skamania County, Washington addressed this possibility in their Bigfoot ordinance of 1984, saying: “Should the Skamania County Coroner determine any victim/creature to have been humanoid, the Prosecuting Attorney shall pursue the case under existing laws pertaining to homicide.” And if the target turns out to be just a person in a Bigfoot costume (which, let’s face it, is more likely than the alternative) the consequences wouldn’t be any less severe. Just something to keep in mind if you had your heart set on collecting a Sasquatch trophy.

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Mental Floss's Three-Day Sale Includes Deals on Apple AirPods, Sony Wireless Headphones, and More

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Apple

During this weekend's three-day sale on the Mental Floss Shop, you'll find deep discounts on products like AirPods, Martha Stewart’s bestselling pressure cooker, and more. Check out the best deals below.

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Apple

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Sony

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Sony

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Martha Stewart

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Jashen

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Evachill

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Gourmia

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Townew

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FenSens

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Noerden

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Prices subject to change.

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Why Do Supreme Court Justices Serve for Life?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There are few political appointments quite as important as a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. Unlike a cabinet secretary or an ambassador, justices serve for life. In the modern era, that often means more than three decades on the court. Thanks to increased lifespans, justices appointed in the next century are expected to sit on the Supreme Court for an average of 35 years, compared to the average of around 16 years that judges served in the past. Because of this shift, some scholars have begun to question whether lifetime appointments are still appropriate, as the definition of “for life” has changed so much since the Constitution was written. But why do justices serve for life, anyway?

Well, for one thing, the U.S. Constitution doesn’t exactly specify that justices and the court are in a “’til death do us part” relationship. Article III says that judges (of both the Supreme Court and lower federal courts) “shall hold their offices during good behavior.” So technically, a judge could be removed if they no longer meet the “good behavior” part of the clause, but there are otherwise no limits on their term. In practice, this means they have their seat for life, unless they are impeached and removed by Congress. Only 15 federal judges in U.S. history have ever been impeached by Congress—all lower court judges—and only eight have been removed from office, though some have resigned before their inevitable removal.

The only Supreme Court justice Congress has tried to impeach was Samuel Chase, who was appointed by George Washington in 1796. Chase was an openly partisan Federalist vehemently opposed to Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican policies, and he wasn’t afraid to say so—either in his role as a lower court judge or once he was appointed to the Supreme Court. In 1804, the House of Representatives, at then-president Jefferson’s urging, voted to impeach Chase, accusing him, among other things, of promoting his political views from the bench instead of ruling as a non-partisan judge. However, he was acquitted of all counts in the Senate, and went on to serve as a Supreme Court justice until his death in 1811.

The point of giving justices a seat on the bench for the rest of their lives (or, more commonly nowadays, until they decide to retire) is to shield the nation’s highest court from the kind of partisan fighting the Chase impeachment exemplified. The Supreme Court acts as a check against the power of Congress and the president. The lifetime appointment is designed to ensure that the justices are insulated from political pressure and that the court can serve as a truly independent branch of government.

Justices can’t be fired if they make unpopular decisions, in theory allowing them to focus on the law rather than politics. Justices might be nominated because a president sees them as a political or ideological ally, but once they’re on the bench, they can’t be recalled, even if their ideology shifts. Some data, for instance, suggests that many justices actually drift leftward as they age.

The lack of term limits “is the best expedient which can be devised in any government, to secure a steady, upright, and impartial administration of the laws,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist No. 78. The judiciary, he believed, “is in continual jeopardy of being overpowered, awed, or influenced by its coordinate branches,” and “nothing can contribute so much to its firmness and independence, as permanency in office.” Without lifetime job security, he argued, judges might feel obligated to bow to the wishes of the president, Congress, or the public, rather than confining their work strictly to questions of the Constitution.

While lifetime appointments may be a longstanding tradition in the U.S., this approach isn’t the norm in other countries. Most other democracies in the world have mandatory retirement ages if not hard-and-fast term limits for high court judges. UK Supreme Court justices face mandatory retirement at age 70 (or 75 if they were appointed before 1995), as do judges on Australia’s High Court. Canadian Supreme Court justices have a mandatory retirement age of 75, while the 31 justices of India’s Supreme Court must retire by the age of 65. Until her passing at the age of 87 on September 18, 2020, the oldest justice on the current U.S. Supreme Court was Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the oldest justice in U.S. history, retired in 1932 at age 90.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court has never had term limits before, there have recently been serious proposals to implement them. Term limits, advocates argue, could combat partisan imbalances on the court. Presidents wouldn’t get to appoint justices purely based on whether someone died while they were in office, and the stakes for political parties nominating a justice would be slightly lower, possibly leading presidents and Congress to compromise more on appointments. One popular suggestion among political analysts and scholars is to impose an 18-year term limit, though critics note that that particular plan does bring up the potential that at some point, a single president could end up appointing the majority of the justices on the court.

In any case, considering such a change would likely require a constitutional amendment, which means it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. For the foreseeable future, being on the Supreme Court will continue to be a lifetime commitment.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.