Bigfoot hunt

Bill Henne, owner of Lawdog’s Saloon in Elliston, sets off a flare to signal the start of the legendary Bigfoot Hunt in 2012. The hunt draws folks from all around the state to track a Sasquatch in a meadow along the Little Blackfoot River Road near Elliston. The annual hunt takes place today.

Montanans from all over the state will gather in the small town of Elliston tonight for what can only be described as a classic small-town tradition.

Hundreds of people will file into Lawdog’s Saloon to purchase hunting licenses for $15 apiece. But these licenses will not be used to tag elk or wolves.

These hunters are looking for something far more elusive, and far more mystical.

Bigfoot. Sasquatch. The Hairy Man.

“It’s crazy, but it’s fun,” said Beck Henne, who owns Lawdog’s with her husband, Bill, a former law enforcement officer.

Lawdog’s hosts the hunt each year as a way to herald the coming of spring.

It’s exactly what it sounds like: A man dressed up in a Bigfoot costume hides in the woods while hundreds of people stumble through the dark to find him.

The first lucky hunter to uncover his concealed figure receives a $150 prize.

All hunters receive a “hunting kit” when they get their license, Henne said. The kit includes “Bigfoot bait” — beef jerky — a whistle, a small flashlight and more.

At dark, hunters will shuttle out to a 10-acre property a few miles from the bar where Henne’s husband will light a massive bonfire and set off a flare to declare the start of the hunt.

“If they find bigfoot, they blow their whistle and flash their light and give bigfoot their hunting license,” Henne said.

Additionally, there are two 6-foot-tall Rainier bottles hidden on the 10 acres. Hunters who discover the bottles are awarded an embroidered jacket.

“All in there we’ve planted balloons, and they’re all different colors,” Henne said.

Each colored balloon collected denotes another prize available to the hunters, she said.

“All these prizes have been donated,” she said. “Some are from us, but a lot are donated by our vendors or other bars.”

She said the event is a silly way to get people excited about the spring season, despite the leftover snow throughout the property.

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“It’s all fun, and tongue in cheeks,” she said. “We probably had close to 500 people here last year, and they come from all over the state.”

“One year it took them 45 minutes to find him on just 10 acres,” she said. “But what makes it sort of fun is there’s snow and mud.

“People are falling, having a ball,” Henne said.

The event could not be run without the dozens of volunteers who help set up and orchestrate the massive hunt.

Henne also said the bar encourages participants to bring designated drivers to prevent hunters from drinking and driving.

Lawdog’s provides a free meal and “all the soda fountain they want to drink” for all designated drivers at the event.

“The designated drivers are huge for us,” she said. “Last year alone we gave away $300 worth of meals.”

Hunters are encouraged to arrive before

6 p.m. to make the registration process as smooth as possible. There are a limited number of licenses, and Henne said the bar does not accept credit cards.