There’s a man and a woman who wait until the waters have settled from the day’s last bass fishermen before they head to their favorite lake. While the fishermen sleep, they gather their gear, readying for the hunt. Under dim moonlight, they are the nocturnal predator, fighting both lily pads and mosquitoes alike as they prowl the lake vegetation with spotlights. She doesn’t bat an eye at the passing water moccasin. A beaver tail slapping the water nearby goes unnoticed; the fright outmatched by determination. The spotlight captures two pencil-eraser-sized reflections floating together among the lilies. He inches toward them slowly. Spear tip is moved into position, about 3 inches from the target. Without warning, she thrusts into the water and pulls out her prey.
Some people will never fully understand why they wade through the backwoods swamps at all hours of the night, but this is of no bother to them. The drive is fueled by one fact, something they know that many others do not: A plate full of store-bought chicken is not nearly as satisfying, and definitely not as tasty, as a basket full of deep-fried frog legs.
A plentiful bounty
I happened upon the joy of hunting frogs while in high school. Curiosity stemmed from nostalgic frog-gigging tales told by my grandfather and father alike. One story included an ex-girlfriend of my uncle’s sitting on his shoulders and holding a spotlight, as he waded through the water spearing amphibians.
The stories were always told for amusement, but they nagged my conscious in a very serious and unrelenting manner . All it took was one summer lull between turkey and duck season that felt like an eternity. A thirst for adventure and something new led me to the lakes I had fished and trapped my whole life — but this time under the darkness of night and with a spotlight in hand. After my first outing, I never spent a summer without a belly full of frog legs again.
Stories of my frogging experiences are usually met with confusion.
“You hunt frogs, here in New Jersey? Can’t you only do that in the South?”
I get this question more frequently than I’d like to admit, by outdoorsmen and nonoutdoorsmen alike. Frog hunting is a fringe activity, not a mainstream hunting pursuit. It is not broadcast all over the Outdoor Channel, and hardly ever will you overhear a man bragging about his night’s frog outing in the grocery store line.
I attribute this to the mythical yet very seriously understood hierarchy of huntable animals in America. Quail hunting will never be as popular as duck hunting, and duck hunting will never be as popular as deer hunting, but my question is: Why does frog hunting hardly even make the list? The lack of nationwide frog hunting popularity is something I’ve struggled to fully comprehend. While frogging may be common practice in some Southern states, there is very little participation in the activity in the North and out West. Whether this is due to a lack of exposure or an unlikely lack of frog leg appetites, the truth is that there is no need to relocate to the Everglades or buy an airboat to have a successful frog hunt.
The American bullfrog’s native range is from as far north as Maine to as far south as Florida, extending westward to Nebraska and the Great Plains. Bullfrogs have also become an abundant species in the West, first introduced unintentionally but now thriving; in part because lack of natural predators like large water snakes, alligators, and snapping turtles. Due to their sheer abundance, bullfrogs are one of the most accessible, and underutilized, game animals America has to offer.
All states in the Lower 48 have some sort of regulations regarding frog harvest, however techniques to legally harvest frogs differ from state to state. Check your state’s local game and fish laws to make sure you are legal and compliant.
While most frogging is done by hand or with a gigging spear, some states allow the use of traps, nets, or even bows to aid in harvest. There are even states that allow the use of firearms, usually an air rifle or a .22 caliber.
As is always the case with hunting, think of ways to be as humane as possible in terms of both dispatch and utilization of the animal.
Despite regulation differences throughout the country, opportunities to hunt frogs are near endless wherever you find yourself. I can recall a summer’s stay in the Hamptons where I found myself neck-deep in a pond no more than 5 miles from the home of Calvin Klein; we clearly have different definitions for the word “luxurious.”
The summer’s lack of hunting seasons has got you in a rut. You’re ready to bring meat home and to the table, deer season is still a staggering three months away, and fishing just isn’t satisfying the void. You realize the ample frog hunting opportunities in your area, and an amphibian dinner starts to sound as irresistible as a prime cut of ribeye. Desire turns into action as you ready yourself for the hunt. What are the keys to becoming a master of frogs?
Determining how you want to hunt is the most important part of planning. Unlike other forms of hunting, there are many methods that can be utilized to fill a sack with bullfrogs. However, your choice is usually boiled down to three tactics: in the water, in the boat, on land.
In the water
Swamp-man style. This strategy requires you to jump right into the swamp, stripped or fully clothed, and search for frogs along the water’s edge and in the lilies.
Pros: The water makes for an easy stalk on frogs, and there is no need to haul any kind of boat.
Cons: You may need to bring a towel. Be prepared to be covered in swamp scum and leeches. And sometimes underwater creature encounters, whether just a brush against your leg or otherwise, are part of the program.
In a boat
This method is pretty self-explanatory. From a boat, you will do all the gigging and retrieval. This can be done in a kayak, canoe, or johnboat.
Pros: You can leave the towels at home.
Cons: The ripples produced by a boat can alert frogs to your presence before you even see them, and this can cause lots of missed opportunities.
Walking on land for frogs can be tricky business. The goal is to circumnavigate a pond or lake, searching for big bulls that have landed themselves in terrestrial vegetation or settled just inside the water’s edge.
Pros: Ease of execution. When you find a water system that allows this tactic, there is no need to bring a boat, and you stay dry.
Cons: Restricted to water systems with sparse vegetative linings.
Now that you have a lake in mind and have decided on a method of attack, you must prepare the essential frog hunting tools. Gear can make or break a frogging trip. Too long of a spear and you cannot get an accurate thrust. Without a proper light, you just become a man getting his kicks in by splashing through swamp water.
If you want a basketful of frog legs, you must take careful consideration in deciding on the gear you use. Here is your essential checklist:
Nothing is worse than frogging with a dull light. (I’ve had the unpleasant experience of being reduced to an iPhone light on one outing. That night’s dinner was slim.) Use a spotlight that has a narrow-diameter beam. The goal is to have concentrated light on the frog’s eyes to impede their vision. You will be cued onto a frog’s presence by their eyes reflecting your light. A layer in the eye called the “tapetum lucidum,” which aids in night vision, causes the reflection: This is the same structure that causes deer eyes to reflect in your high beams. By shining into a frog’s tapetum lucidum, you are impeding their nocturnal vision, and this is the key to performing a close and deadly stalk.
A little extra light for navigating a pond at midnight is never a bad idea.
A gig is most frog hunters’ weapon of choice. These spears can be made in various lengths and styles. Southern froggers traditionally use a cane pole with a spearhead attached to the end. I’ve used everything from a broom handle with a screw-on spearhead to a bamboo pole with four hand-carved prongs fashioned at its end. Choosing a gig is largely dependent on personal preference, but the most important factor to consider is comfort. You must be able to accurately hit a target no more than a couple inches in size, at a distance far enough as to not spoil your stalk.
The use of a kayak, canoe, or boat will largely depend on the designated hunting area. Larger bodies of water may require a small johnboat, while smaller areas may necessitate a one-man kayak. In some systems, you will be better off leaving the boat at home. When using a boat is a must, one of the biggest factors to consider is the stability of the craft while using the gig. It is also imperative to use a craft that produces the least amount of disturbance in the water.
A Reliable Container
Burlap sacks, 5-gallon buckets with lids, coolers, anything that is reliable in keeping caught frogs contained. These feisty critters have a knack for escaping predation even when the game seems to be over, so the biggest factor here is using something that is well sealed.
From pond to table
The nutritional value of a frog lies below the waist, and this is where the cleaning process starts.
Grab the dead frog tightly by both its legs and let gravity hang its body backward away from you, belly side up. The pelvic bone and ball joints will present themselves underneath the skin at the waist, looking like two fingers pushing through a latex balloon. This indicates your starting position. Take your knife and make your starting cut at this point. Work your way around the waistline. You should be left with a cut no deeper than the skin, and all the way around meeting the starting point.
The skin is so thin, slick, and tight to the meat that there is no tool as efficient in “depantsing” a frog as needle-nose pliers. Hold the frog’s body in your non-dominant hand. Take your pliers in your dominant hand and get a firm pinch on the leg skin right where you started the incision. You can now pull your pliers back through the frog’s feet, cleanly peeling off the skin.
Chop the legs off at the waist and cut off the feet. The result: a meal begging to be cooked.
Tip for taste
There is no greater injustice than cooking frog legs in any way other than deep-frying. Add brown sugar to your breading to give your taste buds an extra kick.
Mike Adams is a conservation advocate, outdoor writer, and wildlife technician for New Jersey Fish and Wildlife. His diet is dictated by hunting and fishing seasons, and in the summertime, you’ll likely find him working over a basket of deep-fried frog legs.