A milestone for the BFRO was acheived this past April during the 2011 BFRO New Mexico expedition, at a remote hotspot in the mountains outside Los Alamos.
Kirk B. (a BFRO investigator from Washington State) brought down his FLIR H-series handheld imager for the trip. It's an expensive military-grade thermal scope that can record short clips of video -- the first type of handheld thermal scope for covert use that can actually record video internally. During the trip he recorded footage of what is very likely a sasquatch watching the camp at night.
Over the past five years several people have spotted and observed sasquatches with non-recording thermal imagers during BFRO expeditions, so the usefulness of thermal imagers, and more importantly, the methodology for identifying sasquatch haunts, and the tricks for luring sasquatches toward a camp, had already been established and repeated in various parts of the country.
Based on prior observations by New Mexico BFRO members, this particular expedition group knew they had a good target area. The bait they used was the base camp itself -- the sounds and smells and activities of the humans.
Even though they were excited to be there, they were also disciplined enough (all ages) to maintain the right atmosphere and body language the whole time, because the right atmosphere and body language could distinguish them from hunters.
They were there to look for something, but they wanted to appear like campers and hikers who brought their own food. They didn't shine spotlights around, and they didn't have guns or dogs with them. Although they made howls at night away from camp, they were otherwise mellow around camp and appeared unconcerned about their dark surroundings. They made themselves approachable.
Faint recordings of vocalizations were obtained a few miles away at "Pam's Spot" on one of the nights, while back at camp, near a very deep dark shrouded ravine that locals call "the Abyss", Kirk B. recorded this tall figure spying on the camp from a distance. It was holding still (it does move slightly at points) and watching from the protection of large obstructions for several minutes. Comparative shots (see discussion forum) the next day showed the height of the figure was a bit over 7 feet. The soil was too hard for tracks (hard and dry with twiggy pine duff litter) but on a rocky shelf-landing nearby there were distinct "butt prints" in the pine duff, according to several participants.
This was not the first time a sasquatch has been recorded with a thermal imager, but it was the first time it happened with a relatively brief effort (3 days), and in the presence of several people who had set out to look for them. In past instances (only 4 instances) the thermal footage was obtained with more complicated systems (imagers connected to recorders) which were not easily portable. Those clunky systems were either unmanned or the camera operator was alone and had spent much time at the location before a bigfoot came close enough.
On many previous BFRO expeditions sasquatches were spotted with covert non-recording thermal imagers (before the recording type was on the market). Those handheld units (L-3 Comm. x200p) were detached from recorders to make them more easy to pass around.
The L-3 Communications Thermal-Eye x200p was the favored type of thermal scope among bigfoot researchers for the past few years, but it had no built-in recording ability. It was a spotting scope only -- not a camcorder.
Those unrecorded observations of sasquatches demonstrated the effectiveness of thermal imagery in this context, but even ardent bigfoot researchers were reluctant to pay several thousand dollars for the first batch of recording handheld thermals (made only by FLIR), because the very first units shipped out had so many flaws, and the flaws were not even uniform among the units. Wally Hersom bought a few for testing and we ran into issues with them right away. A firmware upgrade from FLIR solved some of those problems, but some remained.
The resolution and contrast was awesome, but it was clear that FLIR would need to come out with a new model with the bugs worked out. And that's what happened ...for the most part. The original H-series was discontinued when FLIR announced the upcoming release of the Scout, a smaller and more reliable version of the H-series. Nobody wanted to buy an H-series device at that point, but a few people did, fortunately, including Kirk B. in Washington state.
Unfortunately the new FLIR Scouts still have some issues which need to be worked out before they will be the perfect device for bigfoot research use. The Scout is geared primarily for law enforcement / military use. The recording capability is there, but it's not like a camcorder. On a camcorder you can push the record button and the device will continue to record until the record button is pushed again. On the Scout, by contrast, you must hold down a button continuously if you want to record a long clip. The button is not easy to hold down and it hurts your finger after a while. It's a challenge to record continuously for more than about 30 seconds.
The FLIR Scout does not record sound either. Sound could be useful in many contexts, like wanting to hear the sounds made by the subject being recording, or dictating notes along with the footage, etc. It doesn't have to be excellent sound, but having some sound would add an important dimension to a video recording, naturally.
There may have been a deliberate decision among FLIR designers to conserve battery life and recording space by not including audio recording capabilities like a camcorder. That may also be the reason why recording shuts off as soon as the record button is released, but those limitations make the Scout less useful in a variety of ways. Sometimes you need more than just a thermal spotting scope. Sometimes you want show other people what you spotted through that scope, and that may require letting it record for several minutes at a time. There may be an important audio component of what you are recording as well.
The video from a Scout (and an H-series) is recorded onto an SD card. An SD card with several GB of space can hold a few hours of footage from those devices ... so the recording space issue can be dealt with by the user. A set of lithium batteries will power the device for a few hours, even if the device is recording the entire time, so the power issue can be worked out by the user also. The user should be able to decide how fast the batteries can be consumed in a given situation.
Fortunately the FLIR Scout uses disposable AA batteries ... but unfortunately you need a small philips-head screwdriver to remove the battery cover. In other words, you can't swap batteries in the dark. The L-3 handheld thermal scope, by contrast, was brillantly designed to make it easy to swap out batteries is total darkness. You can feel the knob for opening the battery cover, and then you can feel which way the fresh batteries need to be oriented in the battery compartment, without having to turn on a light to look at them.
The FLIR Scout would be more usable if the battery cover can be removed without a screwdriver and the batteries could be easily swappable without turning on a light.
Continuous video recording would also make the Scout more friendly to TV production, where several cameras need to be synchronized with a clapperboard to allow efficient editing later. In those situations video cameras need to be left rolling for several minutes at a time. That is hard to do if you need to hold down a record button the whole time.
Even with these drawbacks, some bigfoot researchers have learned how to use the Scout and H-series pretty effectively, as was demonstrated by Kirk B. in New Mexico this past April.
Q: What makes these scopes "covert"?
A: You can use them without being seen in darkness. Most thermal devices show the image on a big bright LCD screen which lights you up, and the woods around you, like a lantern.
Covert FLIR's have an ingenious rubber sphincter eye cup in front of the viewfinder. The sphincter only opens when you press your face against it, and it closes up as soon as you pull it away from your face. That means you can remain completely dark. Even the L-3 handheld thermals don't go that far to make the unit covert at night.
The 2011 NM folks have agreed to answers question about the trip and the effort via the BFRO's public discussion forum, called the Blue Forum.
They are not going to disclose the specific location where the footage was obtained, for obvious reasons, nor even how far they were from Los Alamos. Los Alamos is the nearest city to the location, but the location is not right on the outskirts of town, let's say.
The footage does not show details of the figure, but it does show some important (and useful) behavior. When sasquatches approach human camps at night, they approach from the cover of big obstructions. They will hang back in the darkest shadows and hold very still while they watch humans around their camps. They will approach from an angle providing a quick escape route among even more obstructions. They seem to be very conscious of the potential for humans to shoot guns at them, but their consistent caution makes their approach and surveillance angles more predictable.
Applying that knowledge to future attempts at thermal footage, the expedition organizer should set up camp about 100 feet from a cluster of large trees and/or large boulders. Sasquatches won't feel comfortable to surveil a camp for a long time unless there is a thick cluster of trees through which they can flee quickly and quietly. The approach angle and safe viewing position for a sasquatch can be anticipated by the expedition group and then covert (no-glow) trail cams can be set up near that viewing position, or along the pathway leading to it. That's how to make the camp the bait. The game is to bring a sasquatch to a predictable point where cameras can be set up in advance. Being able to observe a camp of human intruders seems to be more effective as bait than a food pile, at least in the short-term.
Only the best covert trail cameras (Reconyx Hyperfire HC600 series, $700) should be used for this application. Unlike most trails cameras "Hyperfires" don't miss anything. They will shoot multiple photos (with nice IR flash) of anything that moves in front of them. By contrast, cheaper trail cameras have slower trigger speeds, and they only shoot one photo every 30 seconds. Hyperfires shoot up to 2 photos every second. It makes a big difference when you're trying to get a photo of something that may only pass by once, and pass by quickly. You'll spend plenty of money just getting yourself in that position, to have that opportunity, so you don't want to go skimpy on the trail cameras you set up. You don't have to worry about someone stealing your $700 trail cam if you're setting it up near your remote camp for a few days. A sasquatch is not going to steal it either.
The mountains of northern New Mexico receive more rain in Summer than in Spring or Fall. Warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico blows up from the south and drops rain and hail on almost a daily basis at the height of summer. Without those frequent summer rains these mountains would be much more arid, and would not support the amount of deer and elk that thrive there. Although the higher elevations do receive snow in winter, even big snows melt off within a few days in most parts of these mountains.
Do we recommend these thermal scopes? Yes
Do we think they're useful for bigfoot research? Yes
Do we think the will be less expensive in the future? Yes
More tech talk for field researchers only ...
Nightvision can see things that thermal imagers cannot see, and vice versa. Nightvision would not have spotted this figure in New Mexico standing in the shadows among those big trees, but the thermal imager would not have seen faint eyeshine from this figure.
In order to stalk and record sasquatches at night you should ideally have both types of scopes on hand. A nightvision scope with a small IR illuminator is the ideal type of scope for sneaking through the woods and not tripping over things, whereas a recording thermal scope is the ideal type of device for spotting and recording animals. A thermal scope cannot be used for both purposes because it will not help you see the terrain under your feet as clearly as a nightvision scope. A thermal scope is designed to see things at a further distance, and it won't show the detail of a trail if it's all the same temperature, especially after a rain. Having both types of scopes means you never need to turn on a headlamp, which could easily deter a sasquatch.
The current price tage for the best 3rd generation nightvision scope is about $4,000 retail -- the same as the retail price for a FLIR Scout. Once you have used a covert thermal scope in a dark forest you will never want to venture out there again without one, and you will understand why people spend thousands dollars to own one. They reduce your nervousness at night dramatically, and allow you to enjoy nature after dark rather than fearing it.
More people should experience that, which is why we hope some optics dealers out there will rent FLIR Scouts and H-series units for about $150 for a long weekend. These military-grade scopes are rugged enough to handle rental use. It would benefit FLIR to provide free repair service to those dealers who are willing to rent them cheaply, because plenty of people will end up purchasing them after renting them a few times.
If you are a dealer who already rents these types of covert FLIRs (not the very non-covert industrial handheld devices with the lantern-like LCD screens), please let us know. We will have some customers to direct your way.
Eventually these types handheld thermal scopes will be as commonplace as spotlights among ranchers, rangers, rural sheriffs, etc., for one very reliable reason:
In forest terrain at night it is easier to spot mammals (including humans) using a thermal scope than it is with the naked eye in daylight.
An animal on a forested mountainside might be very difficult to see in daylight with the naked eye, especially if it's holding still and hanging in the shadows, but that animal's heat signature will stand out distinctly at night if you can scan the hillside with a thermal imager. Thermal imagery changes the game significantly, and now internal recording changes the game even more, to our advantage.