The search for things that scream, roar, howl, grunt, screech and sometimes kill in the Appalachian night has been a monstrous success for the six West Virginia-born hunters and trappers who form the cast of Destination America's “Mountain Monsters” series, now back for a second season starting at 10 tonight.
By blending their search of the dark side of Appalachian folklore for critters that may be more than mere legend with high-tech gadgetry, inventive traps, and down-home camaraderie and humor, the “Mountain Monsters” Mountain State cast struck a chord with viewers across America.
Last year's six-episode debut season turned out to be the best series ever among all key demographics for Destination America, making prospects for a second season more than just a shot in the dark. The show's cast and crew recently completed shooting 14 new Season Two episodes, all but three of them filmed in West Virginia.
“It's going to be one heckuva season for our viewers,” John “Trapper” Tice of St. Marys, the leader of the “Mountain Monsters” team, said in a telephone interview Thursday. “You'll see plenty of scary situations — the phrase 'Who's hunting who?' kind of sums up the season. And you'll see some big, awesome traps. . . . As far as catching something this season goes, I'll just say you probably don't want to bet against us this year.”
Tice said the show came into being after personnel from the “Mountain Monsters” production company, American Chainsaws, came across the website for Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings (AIMS), an organization Tice co-founded several years ago with fellow cast members Jeff Headlee and Willy McQuilian, to look into reports of eerie backwoods creatures that make Bigfoot seem tame.
The show follows Tice, McQuillian, also of St. Marys; Headlee, who now lives in Waterford, Ohio; and fellow AIMS members Jake “Buck” Lowe of Palestine, Wirt County; Joe “Huckleberry” Lott of Mineral Wells, Wood County; and “Wild” Bill Neff of Birch River, Nicholas County, as they investigate reported sightings in West Virginia, for the most part, but also in Ohio, Kentucky and Georgia.
Tice, a football standout at St. Marys High School in the 1960s who served in the military during the Vietnam era, spent decades investigating regional reports of mysterious creature sightings before co-founding AIMS.
Headlee is the show's chief researcher and technology expert, who operates thermal cameras during night hunts. Lott, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, is in charge of security and safety during the hunts, while McQuillian designs and builds traps used in the show. Neff, another Marine veteran, is McQuillian's right-hand man when it comes to building and setting traps, and is also an expert tracker. Lowe, who joined the cast in mid-season last year, is the balance-challenged youngest member of the crew, also known for high-energy enthusiasm and a quick wit.
After searching the hills and hollows of Appalachia for Mothman, Wolfman, Grassman, Devil Dog, Wampus Beast and Lizard Demon last season, the AIMS crew starts the new season in Eastern Kentucky, attempting to capture the Hellhound of Pike County, a quarter-ton canine predator said to menace area farmers, in a bamboo trap. On April 11, Tice and company return to West Virginia, where they search for the Grafton Monster, a creature believed to stand up to 10 feet tall, minus its head, which is carried at chest level. The largest trap in the show's history is used in a bid to capture the beast.
Other searches taking place this season include quests for the Yahoo of Nicholas County, the Werewolf of Webster County, the Fire Dragon of Pocahontas County, the Sheepsquatch of Boone County, the Shadow Creature of Braxton County, the Bear Beast of Raleigh County, the Snallygaster of Preston County, the Cave Creature of Greenbrier County, the Bloodless Howler of Harrison County, the Death Cat of Cherokee County, Ga., and Hogzilla of Hocking Hills, Ohio, Tice said.
Despite the long list of paranormal predators covered in the first two “Mountain Monsters” seasons, Tice said many more remain to be stalked. “With our rich history of mountain legends, we're a long way from running out of monsters,” he said.
Tice said he hopes the show boosts West Virginia's image by showcasing its natural beauty and demonstrating how much its residents love living here.
Being on a nationally televised program has not affected the way people in his hometown treat him, Tice said. “My family settled here in 1820, and everybody around here has known me since long before the show started,” he said. “People will stop and tell me they like the show, and I guess a lot more people are calling me “Trapper” now, but I don't think I'll ever be a celebrity here.”
On April 24, Tice is scheduled to appear at Sam's Uptown Cafe during an airing of a “Mountain Monsters” episode featuring the Werewolf of Webster County.
“Mountain Monsters” airs weekly on Fridays at 10 p.m. on Destination America.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5169.