“I Could Look it Right in the Eye”: Local Bigfoot expert shares his encounters with a growing audience

Where There’s a Woods, There’s a Way: Rural states with lots of forested areas are prime spotting locales. This includes much of the Pacific Northwest, the far-northern woods of Michigan and adjoining states, and many locations across North Carolina, which is ten-percent wilderness. Photos by Rachel Pressley


No proof of Bigfoot’s existence has ever been widely accepted. But neither has every account been conclusively disproved. 

And unlike many enthusiasts consumed with the shaggy, ape-like character who reportedly roams the woods, Rick Reles of Hendersonville can tell you first-hand stories of his encounters. 

“In 2010, I was driving across the northern part of Wisconsin with a business associate,” he recalls. “Right around dusk, I saw this thing come out of the woods. It crossed in front of us and then hurtled over a fence.” Reles was certain that the creature wasn’t an elk or moose, as neither were common to that particular area. Moreover, “it was bipedal: on two legs,” he emphasizes.

Intrigued, Reles soon returned to the scene, measuring instrument in hand. “That fence was four or five feet high,” he says. That would rule out nearly all humans: The world record for a standing high jump is 5 feet 5 inches; the average human can jump a mere 16 to 20 inches. Though he had given the subject little thought prior to this encounter, Reles was convinced he had seen the legendary figure also known as Sasquatch.

“When something like that happens to you in your life, you can take a couple of paths,” he muses. His associate dismissed it. 

And Reles? 

“I did not. I went the other way” — that is, head-first into the branch of cryptozoology known as Bigfoot research.

Fast forward 13 years. Today Rick Reles is an investigator with the BFRO (Bigfoot Field Research Organization). In fact, he’s one of as many as 300 investigators scattered across the nation. He and his colleagues process and investigate reports of Bigfoot sightings; Reles handles cases for Western North Carolina and its environs. 

More than ten percent of the state is protected by state or federal laws. That gives Bigfoot millions of acres of mountain, piedmont, and coastal wilderness to roam undisturbed. 

Still, reported encounters aren’t exactly rare. “I pick up a couple of reports every week,” Reles says. “I follow up and vet the legit ones.” Locally, BFRO.net has documented three sightings each in Buncombe and Henderson counties and one each in Polk, Rutherford, and Transylvania counties. More than a dozen sightings have been documented in rural Montgomery County, part of NC’s Uwharrie National Forest in the southern piedmont region. Reles knows an accredited anthropologist who estimates the population of Bigfoot-type creatures in North America at around two million.

The study of Bigfoot is popular across the country, especially in the Pacific Northwest (home to many of the most celebrated encounters, including the familiar image caught on the Patterson-Gimlin film from 1967). And with so much alleged Sasquatch activity in the Appalachians, Reles has found enthusiastic local interest in his own Bigfoot excursions.

“We take people out in the woods, into an area that’s [previously] been scouted,” he says. The demographic for these three- or four-day trips include “engineers, teachers, retired police and military. They’re not thrill seekers.” Many attendees have had unexplainable encounters of their own. 

Author of the Field Guide to Bigfoot Stick Structures, now in its fourth edition, Reles is an in-demand speaker/lecturer on the subject. He appears regularly as a guest on podcasts, radio shows, and at Sasquatch-related events like the annual WNC Bigfoot Festival in Marion, NC. 

“Some researchers say Bigfoot is a relic hominid or an undiscovered primate,” he says. “But we don’t know.” 

In his years as an investigator, Reles says he has seen the mysterious creature(s) on many occasions. “Not a fleeting glimpse, either,” he emphasizes. “I’ve tracked them. I’ve had rocks thrown at me by them. I’ve smelled them.” He believes the creatures have their own language; a vocalization he describes as “Whoop!” is among Bigfoot’s most common utterances. Recalling an encounter in Colorado, he says, “It was from a distance of 90 feet — I could look it right in the eye.” 

Reles is also a singer/guitarist who performs solo (“Just Rick”) and as part of the duo Two Step Too with Marc Brown. He’s released a string of Sasquatch-themed singles, including “Woodbooger Walk.” The song has become a TikTok sensation, with more than 40,000 streams. (Brown plays resonator and harmonica on the tune.)

Fun songs like “Woodbooger Walk” and quirky themed merchandise all help spread the message. But when it comes to Bigfoot, “people aren’t satisfied” with campiness alone, as Reles points out. “The curiosity for this is growing and growing.” 

Keep up with Rick Reles on his IG account “I Know Squatch.” E-mail rrrwhoop@gmail.com about Bigfoot-related correspondence and richard.reles@gmail.com for gig inquires.


Two Step Too performs at NC Arbor Evenings at the NC Arboretum in Asheville on Thursday, Sept. 7, 5:30-8:30pm; at Jump Off Rock in Hendersonville on Saturday, Sept. 16, 5-7pm; at Blue Ridge Beer Garden in Hendersonville on Friday, Sept. 22, 5-8pm; at Packa’s Place in Etowah on Sunday, Sept. 24, 3-6pm; and at Silvermont Mansion in Brevard on Friday, Oct. 6, 6-9pm. www.reverbnation.com/twosteptoo1/shows.

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