West Virginia’s “Mountain Monsters”

Posted by: Craig Woolheater on May 31st, 2014

Growing up in West Virginia, I looked for adventure in the deep woods where sunlight filtered through green leaves to the ground below. In the green light I saw a movement behind a tree and I convinced myself I knew what hid in the shadows of the forest.

Summer nights we sat by a crackling fire alongside the creek waiting for a fish to take our bait. Then suddenly a loud splash followed by a strange sound moved over the darkened water. We told ourselves it was a fish or some woodland creature hidden in the night, to assure ourselves we were safe.

Another time while hunting raccoons in the dense dark woods, we waited for the dogs to pick up the scent of their prey. A tree’s branch rustled overhead and a heavy musk smell filled the night air; again we told ourselves we knew what waited beyond our lights in the darkness. Afraid of the deep woods or dark, no, but we sometimes wondered what hid in the deep woods of the western Appalachian Mountains.

Perhaps Hamlet said it best, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt in your philosophy.”


I had the genuine pleasure recently to sit down with a man who hunts for those hidden things Hamlet spoke of beyond the light. John Tice, better known as Trapper, the star of the popular reality show, “Mountain Monsters” that airs on the Destination America cable channel, was kind enough to make time for an interview in his busy daily schedule. He is the leader of a team of men that hunts legendary creatures mostly in the mountains of West Virginia. Trapper is no stranger to hunting and fishing in the state. He grew up near Sugar Creek in Pleasants County. His early education took place in a one-room school with a pot belly stove for heat. He laughed as he told me, he moved to another one room school for sixth grade. “That school had a much better outhouse,” he recalled. While getting his book learning he also taught himself the ways of the woods. His skills in hunting were more for necessity than sport back in those days. A supper of fried rabbit and squirrel gravy was not found on store shelves, but in the woods near his home.

Trapper joined the Air Force and found himself going to Texas for a year’s electronic training before going to Vietnam. Part of his training was in crypto communications. Although he was in the Air Force, he was assigned to Headquarters of the 25th Infantry Division. He was then assigned to the 3rd Brigade. Trapper’s electronic training and crypto skills led to him to be assigned as a forward controller for aircraft and to sometimes call in artillery fire. He laughed as he said, “366 days in Vietnam, I caught a leap year.”

After returning from south East Asia, Trapper got work as a Boiler Maker out of Local 667 in Charleston, W.Va.-A job he worked for 32 years. His first job was in 1970 helping in the construction of the Mitchell power plant in Marshall County.

In talking with Trapper, you quickly realize his love for the outdoors and the good people of West Virginia. This emotional bond gives him an understanding of the creatures that live among the wooded forest. Anyone who has spent time in the woods knows that on occasions you experience something you may not be able to explain. With a hunger to understand what may live in the woods, he, along with Jeff Headlee and Willy McQuillian, founded the web site, Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings, AIMS.

Jeff is known as the researcher on the show. He takes measurements and works with the infrared cameras at night in the woods. His understanding of the creatures the team hunts comes from extensive research on the internet. Many of the creatures the team investigates come from eyewitness sightings and reports. Background on the different monsters often comes from centuries of folklore handed down over history.

The team of hunters also includes Willy McQuillain. His skills for building traps to capture the creatures come from a strong knowledge of traps used by Native Americans. Willy, along with Wild Bill Neff who is an expert tracker, constructs the devices used to trap monsters without injuring them. Both of these men are skilled in climbing and rigging-skills used during the filming of the show. In one episode, the two men repelled over a steep rock cliff in snow and freezing weather as part of the hunt.

The team is rounded out by Joseph “Huckleberry” Lott who provides security for the team and Jake “Buck” Lowe. Now, if you have watched the show you know Buck is known as the “Rookie” on the team. But, he is the go to guy when something unpleasant needs to be done. Enter a 500-pound trap and spring the trigger so the cage will fall around him. Or the time he ventured into freezing water to bait a trap. Throughout it all Buck keeps a smile and good humor about the whole thing.

The first season’s six episodes were filmed with the AIMS team. The program was such a success, Destination America and American Chainsaws Entertainment ordered 14 episodes for the second season. Filming began in September last year and the final episode was completed in early January in -15 degree temperatures. The cast and crew had very few days off during a season that typically consisted of 12-hour work days. A good deal of the filming is at night in freezing temperatures with snow and rain. During filming of the Bear Beast, which airs this Friday night at 10 p.m., the team not only contends with the beast, but a sudden rain-swollen stream at night puts the whole team in danger during there investigation in Raleigh County.

Trapper explained that the West Virginia Film Commission is extremely helpful in the overall process to film the program. Without the commission’s help the filming would be almost impossible. The show has also been taped in Ohio, Kentucky, and North Carolina.

Mountain Monsters has a following of nearly three quarters of million viewers who faithfully watch to see what new creatures and adventures Trapper and his team will encounter on their next outing. The Mountain Monsters team is based in St. Marys, W.Va.

The question most of you reading this will ask yourself, “Is this the truth about Mountain Monsters hiding in the woods or just good entertainment?” Well, for me it is the truth with a little bit of folklore sprinkled in and a touch of fantasy. Where does one end and the other begin? That is for each of you reading this to decide after watching the show. Legendary creatures have been part of our nation’s history and folklore long before civilization came to the mountains. The AIMS team has dedicated themselves to find the truth that hides in the night.

We tell ourselves there is a logical explanation for all things. Yet, if we venture into the dark and something makes a sound, then scurries away, the hair on our necks stands up while goose bumps rise on our arms. Logic tells us we understand the world around us and there are no monsters in the darkness, yet we jump when something frightens us defying that logic. Trapper and his team are out there in the hills of West Virginia looking for those things we tell ourselves don’t exist. I like to think they are going to find the answers of long ago legends hiding in the mountains of West Virginia. I’ll bet even the most skeptical of us would pay good money to see a Wampus Beast or Hogzilla as we look Through the Lens.


About Craig Woolheater
Co-founder of Cryptomundo in 2005. I have appeared in or contributed to the following TV programs, documentaries and films: OLN's Mysterious Encounters: "Caddo Critter", Southern Fried Bigfoot, Travel Channel's Weird Travels: "Bigfoot", History Channel's MonsterQuest: "Swamp Stalker", The Wild Man of the Navidad, Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries in America: Texas Terror - Lake Worth Monster, Animal Planet's Finding Bigfoot: Return to Boggy Creek and Beast of the Bayou.

6 Responses to “West Virginia’s “Mountain Monsters””

  1. vitamincm responds:

    This show is the worst. It’s even worse than (Never) Finding Big Foot. Every time they show somebody’s video footage, it’s obvious that the “Monster” is a lion or panther, or some other big cat that escaped from somebody’s big cat refuge.

    I’m gonna move to Ole’ Virginny and open a fence business. It’s pretty obvious that there are a lot of fences that need replacing.

  2. Old Philosopher responds:

    Thank you for the background on AIMS. Quite frankly, I was afraid this was another Discovery Channel invention, since that is who carries the broadcast of the show in my area.
    I hope AIMS can maintain their independence and integrity, and not follow the path of Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson (“Ghost Hunters”) into darkness.

  3. Old Philosopher responds:

    My previous comment may have sounded like an endorsement of the program, so let me clarify.

    I do have a lot of trepidation about this gang running around in the dark, loaded weapons, tripping over underbrush and yelling back and forth. They make more noise than Africans beating the grass on a lion hunt.

    I come from the Northern Rocky Mountains. Trapping is a way of life up here. I don’t know any seasoned woodsmen/trappers who spend a day (or more) setting a trap, and then try to drive their quarry into it in the middle of the night. You pick the spot for your set, then stay far away so the animal’s routine won’t be disturbed.

    There also seems to be a distinct lack of follow-up, considering this crew is supposed to be serious. In one episode they were presented with a bucket of dung, supposedly from the ‘creature’. There was no talk of lab tests, or trying to find someone to run DNA tests on it. They poked, looked, talked and described things that could be in any bear scat. Then they proclaimed it “monster poop”.

    I have yet to see any ‘evidence’ produced, other than a few tracks that could be pressed into the ground by anyone’s thumb, and a trail cam picture of what could easily be a guy in a ghillie suit. Another name for a ghillie suit, BTW, is “Yowie suit” named for resembling the ‘mythical’ Sasquatch-like creature in Australia.

    All of these shenanigans, reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, do nothing to enhance AIMS credibility, and one of the reasons I first assumed it was the brain child of some Discovery Corp producer.

  4. Goodfoot responds:


    Spoken like a true city slicker! 😀

  5. zigoapex responds:

    There isn’t research going on, it’s obviously an entertainment show based on the character’s personal behaviors, and it is funny, but last night’s show wasn’t setting a very good example, true or not, you never assume an animal is dead because you believe you hit it in the lungs, and to assume a swelled creek is going to carry away a so called 1500 lb animal? come on!! To call themselves expert trackers, woodsmen, hunters,etc…is like spitting in the face of the true experts.

  6. Old Philosopher responds:

    “…To call themselves expert trackers, woodsmen, hunters,etc…is like spitting in the face of the true experts.”

    That’s harsh, but I agree.
    The Three Stooges x2 may have grown up in the hills of W. Virginia huntin’ squirrels and trappin’ ‘coon, but I sincerely hope the way they hunt in real life isn’t the way they “hunt” for the cameras.

    I just watched the episode on the “Yahoo”. Great entertainment, but I was just shaking my head at the end.
    Whether this was dramatized, or just staged doesn’t matter. What I found humorous what the way they supposedly got decoyed by one critter, while the other trashed their giant deadfall trap.

    I’ve been chasing Sasquatch, off and on, for nearly 5 decades. I’ve been screamed at, had rocks and branches thrown at me, had a barbed wire fence twanged like a banjo string, and exchanged wood knocks. But those critters have had me chasing my own tail the whole time.

    For them to show on their program that one of the creatures was smart enough to recognize the deadfall, and then knock it down with another tree is just classic, to me. ROFLAO.
    They might both be (AIMS and the Yahoo) “hillbillies”, but I can tell you right now which one is smarter.

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