Ben Sledge 2nd June 2018
“Monster hunting was never anything I expected to fall deeply into,” says Doug Ward. “But when you start looking into sightings and seeing patterns emerge, those folks with inquisitive minds tend to want to look deeper.”
Ward, who lives in the US state of Alabama, is a self-proclaimed werewolf hunter who investigates sightings of mythical creatures.
“So far, every answer I think I have found calls for new questions, but I keep following. From a quest for the snallygaster in Maryland to investigating animal mutilations in my home state, I search for a better understanding. We have found hoaxes and natural explanations, and we have found things we just can’t explain.”
Ward’s love of hunting cryptids began as a child. His interest in the supernatural, or unexplained, really started when local sheriffs told stories about the Chilton County booger, an unknown animal in his local area. Fast forward to the present day and Ward has built a half a dozen-strong team around him to track down and verify creatures like the one described to him as a boy.
Our team of Hellhunters is best known for ‘project lupine’, which involves researching, tracking and investigating alleged werewolf and dogman sightings
“We chase legends to validate or debunk them,” he explains. “Our team of Hellhunters is best known for what we refer to internally as ‘project lupine’, which involves researching, tracking and investigating alleged werewolf and dogman sightings.
“We work in a lot of other areas but that seems to be what most people who contact us are interested in. To be clear from the start, we are not looking for some mythical shapeshifter. What we usually investigate are sightings of a flesh and blood animal.”
Despite the extravagant names and the “werewolf hunter” tagline, Ward seems to approach everything he does in a very scientific manner and he is sure to distance himself from a pop culture-fanboy image.
“Everything we investigate is possible and, in some form, known to science,” he says.
Only after spending considerable effort verifying the claims of a sighting, do the Hellhunters go into the field. The verification process includes enquiring as to whether the caller has watched any cryptozoological documentaries recently — as that would make their claim less likely to be a real sighting and more likely to be their overexcited mind — and researching the site’s history.
If everything seems to check out, and the source is fairly local to their home in Alabama, the Hellhunters move in. Upon arrival at the location of the sighting, the team split into their pre-assigned roles. Some members question locals for more information, while others set up the equipment they will use to find and track whatever critter appears. This includes sensors, radios and night vision cameras, as well as microscopes for analysing evidence.
The majority of sightings turn out to have a pretty mundane explanation
Another group is a “tracking team”, which follows trails and prints to try to locate the beast. This doesn’t happen all that often, however, as many of the calls they receive turn out to be cases of mistaken identity or straight-up hoaxes.
“Even of the sightings that seem credible, the majority turn out to have a pretty mundane explanation.”
Cryptozoology is a much-debated practice, as we wrote about earlier in the week. However, it seems that, despite the exaggerated names and the online shop selling silver bullets, Doug Ward and his crew take their work very seriously and head into any situation fully expecting to find a mundane explanation, rather than a real werewolf or vampire.
There are real-life examples of mythical creatures being found by people like Ward, which serve to validate what he does as a real science. For instance, the Kraken of sea folk legend was “discovered” in 2004 when the first images of a giant squid were taken.
A more tenuous mythical creature that could be based on a real-life animal is the thunderbird, as Ward explains: “Several Native American tribes have legends of what we tend to collectively call ‘thunderbirds’ — large, winged monsters that had supernatural overtones. In Arabic legend, the Roc was a giant bird that could carry off humans. All over the world, legends of dragon-like monsters flood the subconscious mind of societies and hint at something evil lost to the mists of time. There are theories abound as to what causes these legends to be so prevalent around the world.
One thing we do know is that these ‘monsters’ could exist
“One thing we do know is that these ‘monsters’ could exist. Unlike some cryptids, we can see almost exactly what a ‘thunderbird’ would have looked like by going to a Museum of Natural History. Just check out the pterosaurs, like the amazing quetzalcoatlus with a wingspan of up to 40ft. Seeing that in the sky would have most likely caused terror and awe that would have become a tale told around many a campfire.”
It seems tenuous that a descendant of the pterosaurs — made famous by Jurassic Park — may have been seen by prehistoric humans. However, Ward cites the case of the presumed extinct coelacanth, the “missing link” between fish and four-legged animals that was discovered in 1938, which could suggest that other prehistoric animals could survive unseen. However, it’s probably considerably easier for a two-metre-long fish to hide in the depths of the ocean than for a bird with a wingspan the length of one-and-a-half London buses to hide in the skies.
It seems the point that Ward is trying to make is that in high-pressure situations, people can mistake unknown or out-of-place creatures for monsters, and he usually looks for the rational explanation. Fear can warp people’s minds and memories when they’ve seen something slightly out of the ordinary, which could account for some of the exaggerated tales that have then been passed down through generations of Chinese whispers.
“There are cases, however, that defy any mundane explanation.”
Almost the entire community had been seeing what they knew locally as the ‘rock dump monster’
One such case is the case of Dogwood. It started with strange sightings in the woods and some claw marks in the back of someone’s trailer bed in the near-abandoned mining town. The evidence was sufficient enough for the Hellhunters to get involved.
“After we contacted our lead, we discovered that almost the entire community had been seeing what they knew locally as the ‘rock dump monster’. It fit the description of the ‘white thing’ or an albino ‘dogman’ [that had historically been sighted in the area].
“We did some interviews, and enough of the stories seemed to match that we took it seriously.
“We discovered a case in the area that had made national news. A pug was skinned alive by what the police and the vet first thought was some sick human individual,” Ward says.
Eventually, police decided it was an animal’s doing. Other cases of skinned animals had cropped up in the area, suggesting serial attacks by whoever, or whatever, was doing it.
However, when the Hellhunters set up their camp to track the possible dogman, they could not capture any footage of the creature. Ward alleges that his camera picked up a heat signature in an old mine shaft but that their path towards it was blocked by a bridge too rusted to support their weight. On their way back to camp after this unsuccessful hunt to get footage, he claims that they saw three “somethings” ahead of them in the woods. Additionally, the tripwires at their camp were set off in the night.
Unfortunately, the Hellhunters could only find a footprint of unknown origin in the woods to back up their claims of the supernatural, which suggests that they could have simply met a bear or another creature native to the American wilds.
However, Ward is adamant that the case remains unexplained and feels that this was quite possibly a creature similar to the lofa of Native American lore, a bigfoot or ogre-type beast. He testifies that, although some people question his hobby, he has no motivation to lie, and that he goes into every situation with no preconceived ideas or hopes to find something supernatural.
“Remember that we investigate sightings others have reported,” he says. “In years of investigations, only a few times have we seen anything ourselves. Most times, we can come away with a rational solution that does not involve a cryptid sighting.”
We get that us being open to the possibility of an animal not documented by modern science makes some people question our sanity
Ward’s logic is that what he believes separates him from so-called “true believers”.
“Suppose there exist two explanations for an occurrence — the simpler one is usually better. Our team goes into an investigation not to prove or disprove but with a completely open mind.
“We get that us being open to the possibility of an animal not documented by modern science makes some people question our sanity.”
Ben Sledge 2nd June 2018