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.
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.