by Steve Moon
So, I’ve known you for about eight or nine years now, and we got to know each other through an expedition, a BFRO expedition, and found out that we both have a really intense interest in pursuing the great American hominid known as Sasquatch. So, what exactly got you involved in it to begin with? What led you to go to that expedition in 2008?
(laughs) You’re not going to want to write this. You’ve never even asked me that.
I know! What got you interested initially?
I actually… I’m a weird person, OK? And I like doing a diversional hobby thing; activity. I always have. But when I do, I’m always laser-focused on only one thing. And a lot of people have ten things that they like to do. They go fishing and hunting, and do this do that, and they do it one weekend, or two weekends a year. I’ve never been that way. I have an obsessive-compulsive type of personality. And in my life I’ve been through phases, and they’ve been pretty intense. Like told you, I was really involved in downhill skiing. I lived, slept, ate and breathed downhill ski racing for five, six, seven years. And this isn’t just like zipper-head stuff, this is pretty intense. I was involved in bow hunting, archery, a number of years. Just tore that up for a decade. I was into breeding pumpkins for about five, seven years. I go through these phases and I’m obsessive about em’. And I got to this point around 06, and we had moved, and had just got the business started, and I was out a hobby. And I was actually severely depressed, and kind of a lost pup. And I had just gotten done with my astrophysics and string theory spell. Did that for a couple of years. And when I found out that I couldn’t build a particle accelerator in my back yard, it was pretty much it. I was like, oh, that was a real buzz kill! Cause I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t have the degree. That was a real bummer. I was actually, seriously bummed out! I was lost! You know, business and work life is great, and family is great, but I didn’t have that “thing.” And as asinine and stupid as it sounds, I actually sat down and made a list. I still have a copy of it on my computer somewheres. Twenty different ideas. I was, I wanna do this, I wanna do this, I wanna do that! And I spent months deliberating. I was like, what am I going to do? And I was all down! I didn’t really like that, that didn’t sound like fun, I had to travel for this, and this cost a ridiculous amount of money, whatever. And I had spent a lot of time in the UP (of Michigan) with my grandparents as a kid, and they had always talked about Sasquatch up there. I don’t know what really moved me, but I just started thinking about it and reading. And that was the stage where I read every book, and looked at every form there ever was. And then I slapped myself in the face. I’m like, dude, this is (stupid). Don’t do that. And I actually quit it, cold turkey. I don’t know if you know that, but I quit it like three times. I started, and then I thought, oh, this is dumb, people are going to think I’m stupid, and I stopped. And I started working on other stuff, and it came back. I use this test for myself on a lot of things. I throw stuff away and see if it comes back. I did on this place (a hand built cabin in the middle of a swamp in NW Wisconsin), before I bought this place.
So I threw it away, and it came back. I started yearning and studying and reaching. Started to get really involved in it, and I talked to a few buddies, my brother, and they’re like, dude, you’re nuts. That’s stupid. I’m like, yeah, you’re right, I’m not going to do that. And put it away. Again. And it got put away for like six months. And it came back. And I thought, there’s a reason for it. You and I have never talked religion, and I have very specific spiritual beliefs that are not normal. But I do believe stuff happens for a reason. I’m like, OK, there’s a reason here, so let’s go with it. So that’s why it’s weird. I just literally picked it off of a list, and then it started coming back and it wouldn’t go away. Honestly, the reason why I chose it is because it fit my lifestyle. I had a lot of requirements. I have commitments to family, I have commitments to work, so I need something that can be done pretty much in time. I hate stuff that’s, um… like deer hunting. I love deer hunting, but you get nine days out of the year! What kind of a hobby is that? You could spend all year reading magazines and shooting your gun, but you only have nine days! I wanted something you could do all year, you didn’t have to schedule or plan ahead for. I wanted something I could do locally with minimal travel. Something my kids could do if they wanted. So, there was a whole bunch of requirements. And I love the outdoors. I’ve been doin’ stuff outside my whole life. So it fit real well. And I love the technical aspect of it, as you know. So it fit! And that’s why I started tearin’ into it.
Your interest in and aptitude for problem solving was one of the things you also enjoy about this. And so you’ve gotten involved in audio recording to a certain extent, but not a whole lot.
Thermal first, and that was technology that you seized on as being the most likely to succeed? Is that the case?
Fact of the matter was these are nocturnal creatures, supposedly, and you spend your whole time out there in the dark, and I can’t see in the dark. So it just made sense to me.
And after doing that you started working with game cameras. What made you start wanting to work with a game camera?
It wasn’t until much later. You remember when you met me early on, 08 or 09, there was never a game camera in my bag. Everybody said ‘oh, they don’t work.’ You know all the comments. ‘There’s thousands of hunters and they all have thousands of game cameras out all year and nobody ever gets anything, so they’re a waste of time. They’re dumb.’ And that’s why I never had one and never got involved with them.
What changed your mind? You obviously got involved in it in a big way for quite a while. What sparked your interest, finally, in game cameras?
I just started asking the questions of why. I guess what really tripped it for me was watching people, one person in particular, who had a bunch of em’, and they lived in his garage. And I was just awe-struck. He spent a lot of money on really nice cameras, and they were in his garage! He brought em’ out occasionally on an expedition, occasionally would put em’ out for a weekend, and they lived in his garage. And then all of the people I know that hunt, they’re like, ‘we only put em’ out a week before season, and all the batteries die anyway, so they don’t last.’ And I guess that’s what did it. People say they don’t work because they’re out there and they’re not successful. They aren’t out there. They aren’t being utilized. Nobody is actually trying to make em’ work. We dismissed them too early. And I wanted to give it a try, and try to solve the problems that I saw people making in deployments, and all aspects of it, and that’s what we’re talking about here. The frequency that they use em’, how they put em’ up, which is stupid. You know? The short battery life, the poor triggers, and all that. But once I started doing it… I have to give credit where credit is due. I’m not an uber-genius at all. But people asked tough questions. Good people, like you, and other investigators, who’d ask tough questions, that’s what really drove me. And I give a mountain of thanks to those people. One guy would say ‘I know why they won’t work. Because you went to breakfast and had bacon and your hands smelled like bacon, and you put the camera out and it smelled.’ I’m like, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but you have a good point. I’ll try it. On the smell. That’s how the smell thing came. I researched it, started using plastic bags, and I found some study on cats. Game trail cameras, studying cats in Africa. And they used acidic pine duff half decomposted. So that’s why you saw me carry around those bags. I would put the cameras in there a week ahead of deployment. I didn’t use rubber gloves. I probably should have. There’s only so much you can do. So I tried not to eat bacon and smear it all over. So I did the best to try to keep smell off. But that’s a really good example. I didn’t come up with that idea. But somebody asked me that tough question. And I was like, we can solve that. Another guy poked me along the most on sound. He actually paid attention to his pictures, and he’s like, ‘well how come I have a deer always looking right at my camera on the first picture? How can you tell me that it’s not making noise?’ And that’s the kind of thing that got me looking at sound. Cause, I didn’t have the answer. I was lookin’, you know?
So you built an isolation chamber, and wired it with microphones. Tell me a little bit about what you did to test each camera.
Well people originally thought it was high frequency sound from electronics that was scaring everything a way, which I think is partially true, but not wholly true. Because there’s a lot of other noises… Yeah, I built a, what was a solid copper box, cause I was leaning more towards RF frequency and ultra-high frequency. So basically building a Faraday box out of solid copper and lined with foam to dampen any outside noise. And then the microphones were on the inside. And I made basically a frequency shifter, so… Because obviously you can’t hear 50,000 Hz sound, but this brought the frequency down. It worked kind of similar to how bat scanners work. So, you’d take sound up to a hundred, hundred and twenty kHz, and knock it down to the audible range of fifteen thousand Hz or so. Then I recorded that. And what I found was, it was frightening! There was a lot of noise! I think you’ll remember the battery and power consumption correlation, with the sound. There were some models that made so much frickin’ noise, in standby, just with the batteries in the box! Just on standby! And my wife was creaming from downstairs, because I had it rigged up, and I’d put the camera in there and turned it on, and EEEEEEEE! Squeal, and make all this noise, and she’d be pissed because she couldn’t listen to the TV. It was that bad! And oddly enough those were the ones that had really high battery consumption, and died really quick.
And you contacted people and had them send you different cameras so that you could test them. How many different models did you… How did you find those people, was it through the BFRO?
Uh huh. Yeah, other investigators that I knew. Anyone I knew that had game trail cameras. So we got all kinds of em’ . I had a whole bunch of Moultrie models, Bushnells, Reconyx, and all kinds of off-brand stuff. And there was a definite correlation between price, how much money you spent on em’, and how good the electronics were. The cheap, junky fifty dollar Walmart ones were really loud. I think they have really bad resistors and capacitors in them. It was really illuminating. Cause you could hear the standby noise, you could hear the flash, and you could hear the shutter noises too. The whole thing is, we don’t know if Sasquatch can hear above 20 thousand Hz. We don’t. But in order to shut these people up, you know, you have to take away all of the stuff that, people point at it… In order to console everybody you gotta’ find a way to do it. Because there’s a possibility that they can hear… There’s a lot of animals that can hear above 20 thousand Hz… So, it’s like, hey, let’s eliminate that possibility. And what we found was that the Reconyx HC-600 was really, really quiet. It was dead silent in standby, and made the tiniest little noise from the camera shutter. So that was cool!
And it had a ridiculously long battery life.
Especially after we modified em’, eighteen months to two years. (With off-the-shelf lithium batteries.) It’s actually more a function of pictures than time. It’s not about the eighteen months, it’s about the pictures. A full card in there is about thirty thousand pictures, so, you could easily photograph thirty thousand pictures. Now if you set it up on a deer trail with a whole lot of deer, well it’s going to shoot up thirty thousand pictures in a month. So it’ll die. But if you set it up in not so high a traffic area, two years is very doable. Especially after we modified them.
Now you say we, who did you collaborate with on that work?
Most of it myself… Nah, that I did on my own. That was later on when some people were still poking at me about the deer. I got some people, a number of people, running the HC-600s. And they’re like, damn, there’s still deer looking at my camera. And I’m like, it just can’t be. Because I tested it, I know they’re dead quiet. And here’s what I found out. These higher quality IR flash cameras have a filter in em’. Because the photographic cores have to be made really receptive to IR light. And from your photography you know that you can make a core that is receptive to a band of light of any kind. But if it’s really good at receiving IR, you’re going to have a compromise somewheres else. And that’s what happened with these guys. They couldn’t build a lens and core combination that would be receptive to the 900 nanometer IR, and take a good daytime picture. So, there’s a tiny little filter in there, and it flips over the lens, this is all inside, during the day, because the sun has a lot of IR in it, and it would wash out the photograph. And it’s on a little electromagnet. So what happens is, the camera wakes up, it’s got a little light sensor, it looks out to see if it’s day, or light, and if the last picture it took was at daytime, that filter is on, obviously. Say all of a sudden it’s dusk, and it looks and says, OK, it’s night, I gotta flip that filter up. So it goes “click”. There’s a tiny little click, and that filter goes. That’s what these deer were hearing. So they’d hear that kathunk! just a fraction of a second before the photo snapped.
So you disabled those.
Disabled them, much to the dismay of Reconyx people voiding the warranty. Yeah, we took em’ out. The trade-off is the daytime pictures are not great. You’ve seen em’. They’re kind of purple. They have a purple hue. But the clarity’s there, they’re in focus, they’re clear, and for a guy that’s chasing a nocturnal creature, who cares. You know, your daytime picture quality suffers a little bit, but it works.
And, it saves a lot of battery. Cause that electromagnet consumes a lot of power. We went further than that. I took one camera apart. Well, actually several cameras died in this project. Four. But I took one apart, and the circuit boards are in layers, and drew all the layers in CAD, and made foam, closed cell polyurethane foam, and basically packed the whole inside with foam, to try to dampen more noise. That was an abject failure. It didn’t make a damn bit of difference. So that was frustrating. Still had one guy bitchin’ at me that they were making noise, and I built one camera that was completely quiet, but it wasn’t deployable. Because what we basically had to do was turn the camera inside-out. And build it in a complete soundproof box. So it was like, clear polycarbonate plastic, all welded at the seams, and… The hard part is, the PIR sensor has to be on the outside, and the Fresnel lens has to be on the outside, so it’s basically turning the camera inside out. And it’s huge, and stupid. So, it can be done, you can make it so it’s quiet. But, I decided that having the HC-600 modified was pretty damned good, and it was good enough to go with.
And so the next innovations came in deployment, and your technique for deployment, which is really interesting.
Very unique. And having participated in that process with you… It’s challenging in a lot of respects. Tell us a little bit about that whole… how that developed.
Yeah, just from watching people, especially on expeditions, you could walk, and you could see their camera from a quarter mile away. Cause it’s just a plastic box strapped on a tree with a bungee cord. It’s like, OK, I can see that. And it was also a security thing, because these are expensive cameras, and I was looking to put a lot of em’ out, and didn’t want to get em’ stolen. If people can’t see em’ they won’t steal em’. But it’s also… You know, we can’t hide everything from a creature that lives out here. That’s how all that got started. And I think I owe a lot of that to you. You asked a lot of tough questions. Cause’ you’re more aware of the visual world. And you’re more… you’re just more in tune to that kind of stuff. And you asked me a lot of tough questions, and spurred me on to do stuff like that. And I tried a lot of different things, and came to the tree thing. That was pretty good. The beehive was a failure. That didn’t work very well. I put one in a beehive and it didn’t work.
The bear ate the beehive, as I recall…
Yeah, and chewed on the camera. You can fill in most of the details of how we did it, drilling the holes in, and chiseling all of the wood out.
Yeah. You’re basic tool kit, when you went out into the woods with your camera to deploy one was a cordless drill…
With a lot of batteries… Chisel, hammer, glue gun; hot glue gun that’s butane powered. And you modified the cameras so that they could be locked into an opening once you got the correct size and shape in the tree. You were able to place the camera deeply enough that you covered it with bark. Most of it…
Leaving just the lens and the flash.
Leaving just the lens and the flash, and a sensor to trigger it, and that was it. And then you covered it back over with glue and bark. But the technique you used for locking them into the tree was an interesting little detail too. And it’s just one example of how detail oriented you are, and how important the little details are. Because there isn’t anything you did, or spent too much time on, or settled into for a routine, that wasn’t necessary to the process.
Well, we kept asking questions, too. You’d find something that didn’t work… It’s like the obsessive compulsive thing that I told you about. I’d just sit around and obsess about how I’m going to put this camera in.
And you did end up putting a lot of cameras out. How many states did you have cameras out in at one point?
You’re not going to write that are you? Lot’s!
A lot of states. Pretty much in the Upper Midwest. Maybe most of the Upper Midwest states, and some in the central, southern…
Some further away. The vast majority of em’, like in a three or four state area here. A lot in the UP. A lot in Wisconsin. A lot in Minnesota. We tried a little bit in Iowa. That’s where the bulk of em’ were. But there’s a lot that goes into that, too. I obsessed over that for a long time. I didn’t really start this thinking ‘I’m going to run this game camera project.’ It really wasn’t. It was, let’s just make a game camera that works, and use it for wookie stuff. You know? But then, I’m like, I wanted a… You know in science we always talk about a hundred year data set. Everybody uses a hundred year flood cycle, and a hundred year data set for biological stuff. And I had the hypothesis, whatever, and I said ‘I want a hundred year data set. Because I’m not going to live a hundred years I’m going to need a lot of cameras.’ So that was my kinda my goal, was to be the equivalent of sittin’ on a sump 24 hours a day in the woods for a hundred years. But I wanted it in good places. And my basic theory was, we don’t know anything, and anybody that tells you that they know these creatures, they’re full of bullshit. So I went into it eyes wide open with the idea that if we already knew where they were we and how to find em’ we would have done it already, so let’s cover a lot of different bases. So I tried to gear it towards places where there was a sighting history, or some that weren’t. Some were centered on food sources, but not all of em’. Some were centered on water, like that spring in the UP. I had a camera there for a couple years. But not all. Some were focused on… I was big into choking points and funnels; game funnels. Some were in those. Some were not. Some were out in the middle of the deepest, darkest swamp. Some were not. Some were on ridges, travel corridors, some were right next to highways. Some were, as you know, in county parks. I really tried to not focus myself on one thing, because I thought that would be a disservice. Because we don’t know. We don’t have the answers. We still don’t. So you asked where they were, that’s where they were. I tended to lean towards more remote spaces. That’s one area where you and I kind of disagree on. I tended toward the places that were really hard to get to. Way out of the way. I did an awful lot of hiking to go install these. It’s really hard to go primarily in places I’ve never been, hike around and find that place, and then find a good tree in that place.
And then the camera has to be serviced once a year. So you need to return.
Eighteen months to two years. And that’s one of the great things about em’. I really think being able to leave em’ for a long time is important. I know people who service cameras and they think it’s great. ‘I go out and check em’ every week. I put batteries in and change the card out every week.’ I’m like, really? Put it in there and forget about it. Let nature do its thing, you know, and reabsorb it. I think they’re more likely to not be noticed that way. I tried to deploy them under distraction a lot. Like, if I was on an expedition, a bunch of people stompin’ around in the woods, I would just go and disappear. Put a camera in while everyone was out stomping around, and then just causally leave. And leave it for two years. I did that a lot. And like I said, a wide variety of places, a lot of diversity. I kept track of them on a huge spreadsheet with the GPS coordinates, and verbal instructions how to get there in case they got lost. I had everything hidden. If anyone would find the spreadsheet all the numbers on it were actually wrong. So nobody could find it. I don’t know why. Who the hell would want to go out and find em’? I don’t know. I challenged people. I said if you can go out and find em’ you keep em’. Cause I really thought they were hidden that well. You could walk right by em’.
I went to eastern Kentucky with you on a trip, where we put out three cameras, and you may have had a success with one of those.
We’ll show that image.
You can. There are three frames there, I think.
Worth looking at. And I know Eric had an interesting take on the musculature that he saw in the possible shoulder of the figure. He’s got a lot of experience with that sort of thing.
The deal with that picture is, it’s great, but it’s not definitive. That’s one of those that knowing the circumstances, and knowing it’s a good location, there’s a lot of history there, you think ‘that could be.’ But there’s not enough there to say for sure that it is. That’s what’s frustrating. If we coulda’ just got six more inches. What did we figure out, that it was about six foot fourish?
So do you still have cameras out?
There’s some here. I got rid of a lot of them.
Other than this property then?
No. That one you have in Iowa, and that’s it.
So in affect your survey ended. Did you get your one hundred years of data?
Pretty close. Not quite. I was satisfied.
And that was two years that you did that intensely?
Over two years. And it kind of started gradually. Originally I only had five and then it grew. Ten, fifteen… So they weren’t all out on one day in the beginning. It took a whole year and a half to get em’ all out! And then about a year and a half to pick em’ all up. I was driving all over the place! Drive to Minnesota, and pick up a bucket. You know?
So how many cameras did you have out?
You can’t print that. If my wife ever found out I’d probably be in trouble.
OK, we’ll skip that little detail…
There was about fifty-five.
That is a lot of data. A lot of data!
Yeah. And there were failures. I learned a lot of hard lessons. Leavin’ little branches in front of them, and gettin’ thirty thousand pictures of a branch wavin’ in the breeze, and shit like that. Putting it too close to a deer tail and getting twenty thousand deer pictures. Always facing the north, or tried to, because if you’re facing the south you get so much sun that they trigger and you lose a lot of pictures. Just little things like that. You had asked about the baby thing…
Yeah! The baby, um… What shall we call it, the baby-bot?
Yeah, we called it the screaming child, or whatever. Yeah, that was an interesting one. You put that one on the list of weird shit that you’ve done in your life. (laughs)
So you had three cameras in that setup?
Three or four. I think there was four in the area, Three right next to it. That’s another example of why I don’t take any credit for this. That was another investigator. You know? I just had the gift to be able to put it into action. We were sitting around the campfire one day and he’s like, ‘You know what would be really cool, if we had a bunch of crying babies in the woods and it had a bunch of cameras around it, and it was there for a long time.’ I’m like, we’ll see you next weekend. You know? And two weeks later I showed up with a giant box that would never make it through airport security. I think I sent you pictures of it.
And it either burbled happily or cried bloody murder. And completely random.
No, there were two sound tracks on it, an A and a B, and then there was a two channel twelve volt timer. Actually, the timer that’s in that outhouse (pointing) is the one that was in there.
And that timer has two channels and a seven day cycle. And there’s eight or ten on/off cycles per week. And then you can make the on interval of either one. And we had some cockamamie scheme where it was like, Tuesday morning at like two 0’clock in the morning it was like on for five minutes, off for ten, on for three, off for fifteen. They were in like blocks, and like, crescendos. It wasn’t blaring all the time, and it was on for a day off for a day. There were like, splurges of it. Kind of like a crescendo of activity. It was like one little blurp. One of them built up in the morning, up until dawn, like 5:00 a.m., was like, a crescendo, and a mixture of the happy baby and the tortured child. And it had a battery pack in it, and a solar panel in it that would recharge the battery, and I hoisted it up in a big spruce tree. That was in a bog. The hardest part about that one was putting it someplace where people weren’t going to hear it. Because if people hear that, you know you’re going to call in the FBI, and you’re going to get in trouble. And that was up in NE Minnesota in a black spruce bog. Where you and I and Adam hiked that trail and you saw that brown furry thing in the woods (my first daylight sighting of a Sasquatch). Kind of where you camped there. Directly to the south of there. Huge tamarack, black spruce bog. Bigger than this one. And it was plumb in the middle of there. There’s no way people would be out there. No way. It took me forever to hike that out there. Hiked out there, camped out there and installed it. That was the heaviest backpack I ever carried. Because I had four cameras and the baby-bot, and all my camping gear. And all the batteries and everything. But yeah, we hoisted the baby-bot up in a spruce tree, and there wasn’t big enough trees to do inside tree mounts, so the cameras were not as… The biggest tree there was like, six inches. But I still cameoed em’ as best we could, glued moss on em’. There was nothing on the cameras. It’s interesting. Just normal stuff. Deer, bears… That setup was up for a little over a year.
Was it still working when you went and got it?
I think so. It still had power.
What are we forgetting? Anything?
We talked about the sound… The flash is another big one.
Yeah, you actually modified the flash in a camera, or tried to.
Yeah, I tried building a game camera. Reconyx has done a good job with it. They have… The cheaper cameras have really poor LEDs in em’. And they have a broad spectrum of light. Your human eyesight is 400 to 700 nanometers, visible light. What Reconyx has are really sharp cutoff LEDs. Their output, the graph is so sharp, there’s nothing until about 850, it peaks at 940 or so. But they do one thing that nobody else does. They have a long-cut filter on the front of their camera, so any remotely visible light is blocked out by that long-cut filter. And nobody else has that.
And that’s over the flash, of course.
Yeah, in front of the flash. And there’s people who claim that if you put it right in your face you can see a real dull red. Yeah, you can, but if you’re even a few feet away… I can’t see it. Maybe some people are more receptive. But yeah, Reconyx did a really good job with that. Still inadequate, though.
Exactly! It doesn’t go out more than fifty, sixty feet. And that’s the problem you were trying to solve for a while.
Yeah, I was trying to build a hundred footer. It can be done.
In order to do that, though, you created so much heat…
Heat and power consumption.
Almost burned a tree down, as I understand it.
(laughs) Could have cooked a hotdog on it. What I basically concluded at the end of that, I could build a hundred foot camera. The technology is there. It’s just an array of LEDs and that long-cut filter, but with all the components, it was twelve, fifteen hundred bucks to build it. And not your labor, just the parts. And for that you can put three Reconyx’s out and cover the same area. You’ve got three pieces, but you cover the same area, so what’s the point, really. It’s cool, but didn’t seem useful. Yeah, I guess we pretty much covered it.
I think so!
I think the most important thing is to give a lot of thanks and appreciation for all of the people that were involved. I’m not gonna name them because most of them don’t want to be named. But people helped me get their cherriest spots, and I’m thankful for that. You know, everybody has that gem that they don’t take people to. And most people were like, ‘come on, put a camera there.’ And all of the people that asked questions. Basically, they push you. It never would have happened. I like that. It’s the true meaning of team cooperation. And good things happened. I never would have done it otherwise.
Well, thanks! I really appreciate it.