There are certain things in life that bring you right back to your childhood. It can be the smell of chalk, the theme song of a Saturday morning cartoon show, or even the flavor of a certain candy. It’s different for everybody and some people have many. For me though, the biggest thing that instantly transfers me back to my childhood is hearing the rasping croak of a big summer bullfrog.
When I was around 10 years old, my brother, cousins, and I would don headlamps and arm ourselves with bee-bee guns, spotlights, and my uncle’s old rusty gigging spear and then head out to the swampy pond behind my grandfather’s house to hunt bullfrogs. We’d spend the entire night slogging through the muck and wading chest-deep into the green water trying to stick a spear into a croaking pair of glowing eyes. At sunrise, we’d hike back to my grandpa’s house, covered in mud and bug bites, to clean our catch of bullfrogs which grandpa would cook us for breakfast. He’d fry the legs in a massive cast iron pan and serve them to us with a side of biscuits and gravy which we would devour before passing out for the entire afternoon so we were well rested for another session of gigging that evening.
It was great fun and one of my absolute favorite childhood memories. But when I got older I learned that not everyone had a childhood like mine. Many folks have never experienced the pure unadulterated fun of gigging frogs and if you’re one of them I have to say you have no idea what you’re missing out on.
Long before we realized how slow and easy-to-catch chickens are, frogs were the go-to white meat for much of society. Historical records show that frogs were in almost everyone’s pantry as early as 100 AD. The peoples of ancient southern China listed raising frogs as livestock and Aztec scrolls have been found with hieroglyphics of people spearing and eating frog as well. During the 16th century, monks had frogs officially deemed as fish so they could eat them on days when they weren’t allowed to eat red meat and religiously observant peasants quickly followed suit. This made frog legs a delicacy to be eaten only on special occasions.
Eventually though, as we humans became more “evolved” a certain stigma began to emerge when it came to frog eating. Much like the carp, this had nothing to do with the quality or flavor of the animal’s meat but rather with the environments where the creatures were found. Frogs generally live in scum-covered, muddy, and generally unappealing types of water such as swamps, sloughs, and weed-choked lakes and ponds and so are thought of as nasty creatures. This combined with the horrendous croaking sound they make has turned away generations of carnivores that found animals that live in swamps much less appealing than animals that wandered around clean and pristine meadows and mountains.
So, frog eating fell out of favor in many places of the world, however that doesn’t mean it’s still not done. Countries like Vietnam, Korea, Italy, and of course France, all regularly put frog on the menu. In the U.S States like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, primetime frog season is looked forward to with the same anticipation as the opener of deer or duck season. Though you don’t have to live in these countries or states to get into some good frog gigging. Most states have open seasons for the hopping swamp chickens and very liberal limits. So, all it takes to start filling your freezer this summer with a mess of frogs is a quick check of your local regulations and then making sure you’re prepared for a swampy hunt.
The equipment needed for frog gigging is simple. While you can have luck during the day, frogs are more active at night, making them easier to find and catch. First and foremost on your equipment list should be a good headlamp and a powerful spotlight. These will not only help you find your aquatic quarry but also help prevent you from falling in a hole and breaking your leg which will not only save you money on hospital bills but in prime frog territory it will also prevent you from being devoured by any of the areas other more dangerous inhabitants.
A frog gig isn’t entirely necessary for a successful frog hunt. Many frog hunters prefer using nets or even catching frogs by hand and storing them alive in a basket or cooler. However, I prefer to use a gig because it kills the frogs quickly and efficiently and prevents me from having to dispatch a dozen small live creatures later in the night. If you’re into that, then a quick whack on the head or a shot from a pellet gun between the eyes will work just fine, but that’s always been a little too brutal for my taste. You can purchase a frog gig at almost any outdoor retail store or even find them online.
Aside from the light and gig, it’s also a good idea to have a good pair of waders or hip boots for frog gigging. The small amphibians can be difficult to find and can lead you into some sketchy places, so you’ll be able to stay out there longer and be much more efficient if you remain warm and dry all night.
While there are over 100 different species of frogs in North America the small size of the animals means that there is only one species worth targeting when you’re in search of a meal—the bullfrog. These large amphibians are the largest true frog in North America, often attaining sizes from 6 inches to 8 inches long with some specimens weighing as much as a poound!
Bullfrogs are primarily nocturnal and have a native range that goes from as far north as Newfoundland as far west as Kansas. Additionally, bullfrogs have been introduced to Western states including Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and even California. In many of these states, the big bullies are considered invasive, and many Fish and Game departments actually encourage people to hunt and eat them. This wide range is a beautiful thing if you’re looking to get into frog gigging so long as you know where to find them and how to hunt them.
Bullfrogs inhabit warm water swamps, lakes, ponds, and rivers, usually spending most of their days down in the mud or hiding in thick weeds waiting for night to fall so that they can come out and feed. With the setting sun, bullfrogs begin to move around looking for insects and small crustaceans to eat and to find a mate. Their constant nocturnal surface activity and iconic booming croak make their locations a dead giveaway, making the night the perfect time to target bullfrogs with a gig.
Gigging frogs is very similar to bow fishing. It consists of going out into some froggy-looking water and listening for a croak or scanning the surface of the water with a spotlight until you spot the shining eyes of your quarry so you can make your approach. This can be done on foot or from a boat but in either case, you must be stealthy. One splashy misstep or mistimed rev of a boat engine, and the frog will disappear beneath the surface. Once the bullfrog is fully in the light and you’re within spearing range, strike hard and fast. Aim for the back of the frog’s head with the gig, ideally sticking the gig right into the back of the neck. This will dispatch the frog quickly allowing you to lift it from the water and get it ready for the pan.
Though the back legs are most coveted, there is a lot more meat on a frog than you might think. Large bullfrogs can be cleaned whole, allowing you to get not only the back leg meat but also the saddle and rib meat much like a squirrel. Cleaning them this way is a pretty simple process. Simply cut off the back feet just above the joint with a sharp knife and then make a small cut across the back of the frog’s neck just behind its head. Using a pair of pliers, grip the skin of the frog at the base of the cut and then peel the skin down past the legs like you’re pulling off a pair of pants. Once this is done, take a pair of game shears and gut the frog and then trim off the front legs and head and you’re done.
There are a lot of ways to cook frog. The meat is light and very similar to a chicken wing with a slightly fishy edge. As such you can substitute frog into almost any of your favorite gamebird or fish recipes. They can be grilled, baked, or roasted, but my favorite frog cooking method is to toss them in a bit of flour with a bit of salt and pepper and brown them in a pan with some hot oil.
Frog gigging will always hold a special place in my heart because of the significance it had over my life as a hunter. Bullfrogs were the first animals I went out and hunted and the first game meat that I brought home from the field and shared with my family. It introduced me an aspect of the outdoors that I hadn’t yet experienced and opened the door for me to the hunting world.
I can only hope that when I’m eventually too old to hunt anymore and spend most of my time sitting out on the porch listening to the night, I’ll hear the distant croak of a bullfrog and remember those long nights splashing around in the dark with my family, a flashlight, and a frog gig.