Hampden biologist Michael Merchant and Bowdoinham ghost hunter Kat McKechnie trekked out to the Pacific Northwest last summer to hunt for Bigfoot and try to win $10 million.

They combed remote mountain woods with eight other two-person teams — photographers, skilled hunters, a man who claims to have killed a Bigfoot, twice — competing in Spike TV’s “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty.”

Episode 4 airs Friday night and the new series wraps with a finale on Feb. 14.

Merchant and McKechnie can’t say whether they won, but they firmly believe Bigfoot is out there.

“If you go someplace where humans are not going very often — and you’d be surprised at the amount of areas people don’t go into — there’s strange s*** going on,” Merchant said in a phone interview with him and McKechnie last week.

Merchant, 50, has been exploring the Maine woods, often alone, for years. He said stories about Bigfoot’s history here go way back.

“The loggers were superstitious and they thought these people were maybe lumbermen that had escaped into the wild and became feral,” Merchant said. “I’ve cast tracks that I can’t explain. My wife actually had a visual of one of these things.”

He and McKechnie, 40, co-founder of Maine Ghost Hunters, met last year on a Bigfoot expedition that he led in Northern Maine. Not long after that, representatives of the TV show reached out, looking to see whether Merchant was interested in taking part.

“I needed a partner who had integrity at the last minute and Kat is a Mainer and she has Yankee ingenuity and has skills to bring to the table, so that’s how we got going there,” he said.

McKechnie, who has a geology degree, said she didn’t have any hesitation about saying yes, even when she found herself in Washington state huffing and puffing on the side of Mount Adams at 4,000 feet, dodging lava crevasses in the dark.

“I thought I was going to die,” she said. “Michael was running up and down this landscape (with her saying), ‘Michael you’ve got to stop; I can’t keep up.'”

“I’m hyper-focused in the forest, to the demise of anyone around me,” Merchant said. “I kind of tortured her out there; watch the show, it should be pretty entertaining.”

Merchant has appeared on “Out of the Wild: Venezuela,” a reality TV survival show. McKechnie has an ongoing ghost hunting show on WPME, “ZeroLux Paranormal.”

On “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty,” host Dean Cain gives teams a science-based challenge each week: Collect hair and a DNA sample in the woods. Take a picture of any wildlife (squirrels count). Trap anything using bait. Then, at night, apply those skills to find the big guy.

Teams are judged on the quality of evidence, with one team eliminated each episode.

“Everybody around us was losing their mind the entire time we were there,” McKechnie said. “Trying to make sense of what was going on, it was very stressful. You never knew who was speaking the truth and who was having a psychological freak-out and expressing that out loud, trying to strategize when there was no reason to do it.”

Not too far into the first episode, competitor Justin Smeja announced to the other teams that he’d already killed two Bigfoots in 2010. Merchant and McKechnie said they were inclined to believe him, at first.

“He doesn’t come off as deceitful. However, his story has changed a little bit,” Merchant said. “Initially, he said he shot an adult that ran off, and then that he shot one of the young ones. Initially, it was the thing fell down at his feet and he picked it up and watched it die, and of course on the show he says he choked it to death.

“It’s just a story,” Merchant said. “I need the body. I want the DNA. We want the beast in the box, 800 pounds snarling and breathing fire, that’s what we need.”

(It’s also needed to win the $10 million, hard proof.)

The Maine teammates, for the record, are believers in the no-kill catch.

“As a biologist and conservationist, you don’t go to a jungle looking for a rare primate and, ‘Let’s go blast a couple of these things, let’s Audubon them,'” Merchant said. “We’re going to Jane Goodall Bigfoot. All you need is a drop of saliva, a little bit of blood.”

Both said they were happy to have taken part in the show, no matter the results.

“I got to Bigfoot hunt with probably the best Bigfoot hunter on the East Coast and I got to go to the West Coast and bounce around to all the different hot spots; I was in heaven,” McKechnie said. “I think there is something that is new and undiscovered out there, and I hope Bigfoot is real.”

Weird, Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, unexplained and intriguing in Maine. Send ideas, photos and wayward Bigfoot to [email protected]

What: Spike TV’s “10 Million Dollar Bigfoot Bounty”

Who: Hampden biologist Michael Merchant and Bowdoinham ghost hunter Kat McKechnie are among the teams on the trail of Bigfoot.

Where: The Pacific Northwest

When: Watch Episode 4 on Friday, Jan. 31; the new series wraps with a finale on Feb. 14.


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