Lawmaker thinks Bigfoot-hunting bill will be monster tourism draw

  •  A bill allowing for a bigfoot-hunting season has been proposed by Rep. Justin “JJ” Humphrey, R-Lane.  Ledger photo by Andrew W. Griffin

LANE – When state Rep. Justin “JJ” Humphrey introduced a bill for the upcoming legislative session calling for a law allowing for a Bigfoot hunting season, he knew he would get some press over it. He just wasn’t expecting to get calls – positive and negative – from folks around America, including many news outlets looking for the “quirky” story of the week.

But despite the nature of the bill having the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife designate a “Bigfoot hunting season” and even printing up special
hunting licenses – at a price to later be determined – Humphrey thinks it will be a big draw to his region of southeastern Oklahoma.

The Atoka County Republican had just finished feeding his cows when he spoke to Southwest Ledger. Full of humor and good cheer, Humphrey admitted he knew he was going to get a lot of negative feedback over this bill.

“I’ve had people worried that we are going to kill it or disturb its habitat,” Humphrey said, adding that his only intention is capitalizing on getting visitors to his region to seek out something that is already hugely popular in the wider culture.

“You turn on the TV and there are all kids of shows about Bigfoot,” he said. “And if we can get folks out here and they spend a day on a ‘hunt’ they could come home with pictures and great memories.”

And who knows? Maybe evidence of the cryptid.

That said, Humphrey said he has also had many calls from folks – including constituents – who want to guide Bigfoot hunting parties in corners of his district.

“I’ve been talking about this thing for two years now,” Humphrey said. “I knew I would catch some heat.”

He said some constituents have called him and cussed him out for pursuing time-wasting foolishness. But Humphrey is convinced that when people fully understand his intention for pushing the bill, they will see their economically disadvantaged region benefit from tourism dollars – all in the pursuit of the elusive, hairy beast said to haunt the hills and forests of Little Dixie.

“I’m trying to help our district, bring revenue to our district,” Humphrey said.

That means creating a draw to this remote corner of Oklahoma, where trees and hills outnumber people. But just a couple of hundred miles from Atoka County are population centers including Dallas/Fort Worth, Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Shreveport, La., all of which have hundreds of thousands of residents, and undoubtedly a few Bigfoot enthusiasts among them.

It’s those folks Humphrey is trying to attract to southeastern Oklahoma. Already, towns like Stilwell, Honobia and Hochatown have drawn people with Bigfoot-related events and festivals, many driving vehicles with Texas license plates and wallets full of cash waiting to buy coasters, stickers, pamphlets, t-shirts, hats and anything else shaped like Bigfoot.

“I’m not a Bigfoot believer,” he said. “I’m like those boys over in Missouri – ‘show-me.’ It would take some hardcore evidence for me to be a believer.”

As written, Humphrey’s bill appears thusly:

SECTION 1. NEW LAW ... The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission shall promulgate rules establishing a bigfoot hunting season. The Commission shall set annual season dates and create any necessary specific hunting licenses and fees. SECTION 2. This act shall become effective November 1, 2021.

Micah Holmes, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife, told Southwest Ledger that ODWC cannot create a hunting season for an animal that does not exist in Oklahoma.

“At the Department of Wildlife we based things off of science and data,” Holmes said. “We don’t recognize Bigfoot as a species in our state.”

That said, Holmes said the Wildlife Department continues to have an open line of communication with Humphrey and other legislators who focus on wildlife issues in Oklahoma.

Humphrey, meanwhile, imagines people who have deer hunting leases to offer up their property as places to “hunt” Bigfoot. He envisions “hunts” taking place in northern Pushmataha County, which is in his legislative district. Those involved in a hunt would have to purchase state-created licenses.

A few years back, in a story in State Impact Oklahoma, gift shop owner Janet Cress put a Bigfoot cutout in front of her McCurtain County store and immediately she was flooded with interested customers – all seeking to add to their collections of Sasquatch memorabilia.

“Bigfoot’s been very good to me. I cannot complain,” Cress said at the time.

Humphrey noted that with COVID-19 affecting travel plans for many people, people within an hour or two of Atoka and Pushmataha counties – both having reported Bigfoot sightings in recent years – could plan a guided, Bigfoot hunt. Of course, Humphrey said, he is wanting the creature captured and not killed. He wants a $25,000 bounty set up for the capture of a living Bigfoot.

Bigfoot enthusiasts and believers appear to be mixed about Humphrey’s bill.

Paul Bowman, of Tulsa, is with the North American Wood Ape Conservancy (NAWAC), which is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit conservation group that studies these cryptids, which they refer to as “wood apes.”

In an emailed statement, Bowman said that while his organization takes this subject very seriously, the scientific community – agencies on both the state and federal level – do not believe in the existence of Bigfoot. That said, Bowman added he is unclear of Humphrey’s intention filing HB 1648 and that“it will not be taken seriously” by the House.

“As such, it would be impossible to mitigate a legal hunting season,” Bowman said, adding that as a result of this current reality. Additionally, nothing is known about Bigfoot population densities, habitat concerns and more.

“Consider that when black bears were finally recognized by the ODWC as existing in the Ouachita ecoregion of southeastern Oklahoma, it took nearly a decade to conduct studies to determine the appropriate regimen for adding it as a listed game animal in Oklahoma.”

Humphrey thinks his unbridled enthusiasm over this bill will only help bring positive attention to the subject of Bigfoot.

“I always say, you can’t hit the ball if you don’t swing the bat,” said Humphrey.

And with that kind of approach, HB 1648 just might get knocked out of the park.