‘So prehistoric and such a weird thing’: Meet the trackers on the trail of the Sussex County Bigfoot

Bigfooting. After Michael Familant maps out their expeditions, the crew jumps into their customized van and heads out, “almost like we’re a news team. It gets really fun, and the comradeship with the group is great.”

| 28 Jan 2022 | 02:04

It’s 1991 or thereabouts, and Scott Nosal and his buddy are miles into the woods, along an old gas line in Vernon, setting up tree stands for deer hunting season. They got their work done later than expected and trekked the several miles out as the sun set behind the mountains.

That is when Nosal’s life changed.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw,” said the Fredon resident and long-time outdoorsman. “There, about 65 yards away, was an eight-foot-tall creature. Next to it, on all fours, was what appeared to be a five-foot-tall creature. I believe it was a mother and juvenile Bigfoot.”

Years later, he met Michael Familant at a convention at Skylands Stadium in Frankford, where he’s set up a table set up with information about his Bigfoot tracking. “So we began talking about my experience,” Nosal said. “We ended up hiking back out to the place where I had seen them years before. And although we didn’t find anything concrete, we did see an 18-inch footprint.”

Familant immediately pulled out some plaster of Paris to make a cast of the print. But, Nosal said, “It wasn’t quite deep enough and was on a downhill.”

The National Geographic calls Bigfoot a “camera-elusive, grooming-challenged, bipedal ape-man that roams the mountain regions of North America,” and who may otherwise be known as Sasquatch. Most people regard Bigfoot as a character in a book of old, a myth or a legend. But to Familant and his crew, the question isn’t “if” Bigfoot exists — it’s where they are now, and where they’re headed next.

Yes, “they.”

According to the Sparta resident who produces the YouTube show and operates the Sussex County Bigfoot Facebook page, which has 1,350 subscribers, these purportedly large, hairy, ape-like creatures emerge only at night. They are docile unless they feel threatened or under attack. Familant believes a group of three currently travels between High Point State Park and the Delaware Water Gap.

Invest in special equipment

Familant’s search for Bigfoot began several years ago in Florida. He was working at a beach resort when he came across a Bigfooting camping adventure. He purchased tickets to attend with his fiancé. “I grew up pretty much an inside kid and had never done much outdoors or anything related to camping,” he said. “This was going to be our adventure.”

Unfortunately, the couple parted ways prior to the expedition, leaving Familant with an extra ticket. “I had a friend who seemed pretty intrigued with the whole thing, so he came with me,” he said.

There was no turning back. Familant was hooked on Bigfooting.

Life brought him back to Sparta, where Bigfooting became his passion. What he didn’t like were the countless stories and “fake” movies out there, and the general skepticism regarding Bigfoot’s existence.

The only way to prove that Bigfoot was real was to show people, Familant decided. So he got some equipment, a crew, and a van customized for Bigfooting, complete with sleeping area and plenty of storage space. Although the group is based in Sussex County, their search takes them all over the United States.

“With a passion for Bigfooting and a history in video editing, I decided to make the first real show about what expeditions are truly about,” he said. “You’ll see raw, uncut footage of what Bigfooting actually is. If there is one thing I hope people gain from this show, is for families and friends to get off the couch and outside into nature to explore what this amazing world has to offer.”

The equipment used to obtain evidence is pretty specific: thermal infrared hand-held recording monoculars, voice recorders, and night vision cameras. “Thermal cameras use heat signatures and turn them into an image,” Familant said. “That way, we can see anything alive in pitch black. My unit can spot a field mouse at 100 yards. Night vision cameras use ambient light, like from the moon or stars, to amplify the image.”

Record your sightings

He said Sussex has a “staggering” number of Bigfoot reports. “Actually, New Jersey holds the seventh spot on the list for U.S. sightings, and Sussex County itself hold more sightings than 25 states,” Familant said.

Bigfoots are quite elusive, so planning is necessary. “Generally, I go to some place where there haven’t been any sightings in hopes of finding Bigfoot activity,” he said. “But I also have a theory about their return — about every three years — to the same area.”

After recording a sighting on an expedition, the team goes back and tries to prove it was some other animal. “If we can rule everything else out, it may have potential,” Familant said. “Voice recorders are used to capture knocks and vocalizations. These vocalizations are sent to a military linguist who analyzes them to see if a human, or any known animal, could produce those sounds.”

Familant has created a map on his Facebook page where people can report Bigfoot sightings.

“These are reports from all sources,” Familant said. “Names will always be removed from the public database. Why every third year? That’s my theory. I would challenge everyone to find patterns in the map — and come up with their own working theory. Many people say they’ve been hunting for Bigfoot for years but have never seen any bones. My reply — have you ever came across a bear skull? The answer is staggeringly always no — followed by an epiphany. The three-year, nomadic theory, from what I feel is pretty accurate. I will be publishing the theory in my upcoming book, which has yet to be titled.”

Know your subject

Familant believes Bigfoots are Denisovans, archaic humans thought to be nomadic and who are now extinct. “Bear and Bigfoot populations and sightings are virtually identical, which is why I feel they consume similar items,” Familant said. “During the day I feel like they bed down in a secluded area, and at night they travel and eat.”

In September 2021, Familant filmed with a thermal camera a possible Bigfoot sighting in High Point State Park (the video is on his site at youtu.be/RO1K9thAlxk). He produces a YouTube show called “In the Shadow of Big Red Eye,” which includes other episodes filmed in Sussex County (youtu.be/Lx9LYqCp1GE).

Crew member John Hamble said he’s always loved camping. He and Familant attended Sparta High School together — he graduated in 2007 and Familant in 2008 — and were reunited a few years ago when Familant returned to Sparta.

“When he told me about his Bigfooting, at first I was super-skeptical,” Hamble said. “I thought, ‘That’s so prehistoric and such a weird thing.’”

These sentiments didn’t last long. “I started joining him on his expeditions, and it’s such a weird thing, but the more you dive into it, the weirder and more intriguing it gets, especially when I started seeing the evidence.”

Hamble said Familant always plans the expeditions. They jump into the van and head out, “almost like we’re a news team. It gets really fun and the comradeship with the group is great.”

Nosal calls Bigfoots “gentle giants.”

“Over the years, I’ve heard stories about people searching for them and even finding what they think may be a nest,” he said. “I tell them to leave them alone and to not exploit their location.”

In the 1970s a park ranger at High Point State Park reported seeing an eight-foot-tall Bigfoot with glowing red eyes, he said. “Since then,” he said, “hundreds of people across Northern New Jersey have witnessed the same, giving birth to the name ‘Big Red Eye.’”

Familant said his closest, most realistic encounter with Bigfoot was in Whitehall, N.Y., a few years back.

“My team and I were surrounded by Bigfoots, three of them within 20 yards, breaking branches throwing rocks and breaking trees,” he said. “So incredibly terrifying. We brought out big spotlights. All stopped. Clearly we had invaded their little area.”

Stay skeptical

Everyone loves a good supernatural yarn about a prehistoric half-man, half-ape that has survived the centuries in hiding. New Jersey Assemblyman Parker Space, who owns Space Farms in Wantage, is familiar with just about every species of animal out there. He says no way.

“I have lived here my whole life and spent many hours hiking and hunting in Stokes and High Point,” he said. “I have never seen any evidence of Bigfoot. Any track they see would be a melted-out bear track. Just like a bobcat track in the snow that melts out and doubles in size, then people think it’s a mountain lion track. We have no mountain lions here.”

Keith Raff of Stillwater is a site superintendent by profession and is and always has been an avid hunter and fisherman.

“Ha ha, Bigfoot?” he said. “No way. I spend a ton of time in the woods, and I’ve never seen any sign of a Bigfoot. There are millions of hunters in the U.S. with trail cameras all over the place and not one picture. I’m sure it’s possible, but I’m not a believer.”

Do you believe?

Maybe Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the locally famous “Snake in the Lake,” who supposedly slithered into boathouses on Lake Hopatcong a few years back, are myths.

Or maybe, just maybe, they, or a version of them, do exist.

Nosal is convinced that what he saw was the real deal. “To this day, I kind of wish I hadn’t seen those two creatures in the woods,” he said. “I used to go for miles by myself in the wilderness. Not anymore. I don’t believe they would hurt humans, but the males are very protective and have been known to throw rocks. Since that evening in 1991, I’m not just a believer that Bigfoots exist, I’m a knower.”

“From seasoned researcher to never-been-in the-woods enthusiast, everyone will gain some inspiration to get off the couch and into nature with families and friends to explore what this amazing world has to offer,” Familant said. “Sure, it’s about tracking Bigfoot for me, but it’s also about quality time with family and friends.”

The search has an even deeper meaning for him.

“It’s about believing in that possibility that something is, indeed, out there,” he said. “I’d rather live in a world where that possibility existed than in one where it does not.”

To view or add to the Bigfoot sighting map, visit the Sussex County Bigfoot YouTube channel: tinyurl.com/yr8b4c7x
Also find Sussex Count Bigfoot on Instagram (instagram.com/shadowofredeye) and Facebook (facebook.com/shadowofredeye)
“It’s about believing in that possibility that something is, indeed, out there. I’d rather live in a world where that possibility existed than in one where it does not.” Michael Familant