How to hunt, clean and cook the great American bullfrog
(Editor's Note: As summer kicks off, we're celebrating frog hunting all week on Realtree.com. This classic from the archives was originally published in spring of 2009. The couples referenced here are all still married to this day.)
A plate of fried frog legs is the best-tasting dish known to man. Anyone who disagrees with that is out of touch with reality, or maybe from up North. I know of at least one contingent of Ohio froggers who grill their game. While it’s tempting to dismiss this as marginally acceptable, I will admit that I’ve never eaten a grilled frog, so I’ll keep my mouth shut, for now.
Secondly, few pursuits can equal frog hunting in romantic appeal. I’ve seen the sport bring smiles, and maybe even a few twinkles of the eye, to more than one happy couple. Since high school, an after-dark frogging expedition on an 85-degree evening has been my double-date activity of choice. There’s much more substance involved than sitting through yet another chick flick, and the final expense tally will likely be cheaper. More on this later.
The methods for collecting the American bullfrog vary slightly by region, often due to varying game laws in different states. Except for a few rogue riflemen who shoot frogs during the day, most all of it is done at night with the aid of a powerful light. Experienced froggers can shine a light around a pond bank or swamp and spot various eyes from one area. From there they can determine which eyes belong to big, eating-sized frogs; which eyes belong to little frogs; and which eyes belong to various other critters, like alligators. After careful consideration, a frogging route is determined and turns are taken at each frog. With any luck, a legal limit of frog legs will be the spoils for the evening.
Some grab frogs by hand. Gigging them with a multi-pronged spear on the end of a long pole is easier and a little more common in many areas. I’ve also used spring-loaded “snap gigs,” which snap shut on contact with the frog. An ultralight fishing rod with a bluegill hook and small piece of red cloth dangled in front of a frog’s nose will entice a strike most of the time, and it’s a fun way to do things. When gathering meat is the sole priority, a good .22 rifle or pistol, loaded with hollowpoints for shooting across a pond and “rat shot” for point-blank shots, is tough to beat for simple effectiveness. Guns work much better if you’re wading or in a boat and can shoot the frog head-on. Otherwise the dead frog is often knocked away from the bank and into the water and finding it can be difficult. A good hit is required as well. Anything that doesn’t hit the frog in the brain or spine is apt to be a wasted bullet (or shot load).
A shadow cast from a hand or gig handle carelessly pulled through the light’s beam will spook a big frog, and is justification for a stern, midnight lecture.
When hunting from the bank, one trick I learned, particularly when using rat shot, is not to aim for the frog’s head (which is more mouth and nose than anything). Instead, aim for the sharp, bony bend right in the center of the back. Done correctly, this shot seems to be a little more forgiving and anchors them every time. Hunting frogs with a firearm, particularly at night, isn’t legal in every state. As always, knowing the regulations is the responsibility of the person participating.
A good light is the most important tool for frogging. Powerful flashlights work well, but headlamps are even better, since they let you keep your hands free. Spot the frogs from a distance with a light, and then keep the beam off of them until you or a partner begins the final stalk. From there, keep the beam directly on the frog’s eyes. A shadow cast from a hand or gig handle carelessly pulled through the light’s beam will spook a big frog, and is justification for a stern, midnight lecture.
Prepping for the Pan
Once acquired, cleaning frogs for the pan is a simple endeavor with the right tools. I like a pair of game shears, a sharp pocketknife and blunt-ended fish-skinning pliers. I snip the hind legs off the frog just above the hip, so they stay together, and make an inch-long cut along the thigh of each leg. It’s then easy to grab the skin with the pliers and pull it free. Some people like to snip the feet off, but there is a tiny bite of meat on the foot. Plus, when I was a kid, watching those feet kick and jump in the skillet was just part of living in the country. If you must snip the feet off, go ahead; mine are staying.
The practice of frog hunting as couples’ therapy should not be overlooked. To date, my wife and I have been on a half-dozen double dates centered around frog hunting. The sport has many factors going for it. It takes place late at night, in the dead of summer, so it’s plenty warm, but no so hot as to be miserable. There are all sorts of harmless critters that make strange noises at night, and it creates the perfect opportunity for guys to act tough without any real fear of consequences.
A man who takes a woman frog hunting is serious about things. It’s akin to meeting parents, or discussing investment of several months’ wages on a tiny rock and ring that will ultimately serve no truly useful purpose.
The potential is there in a frog hunt for things to go wrong, so the relationship needs to be solid. Lots of things bite in the swamp, but if both members come through the experience with favorable attitudes, things just may work out. If the evening ends in bitterness, perhaps some reflection and re-examination of the situation is in order.
One of my good buddies and former college roommate, Ryan McCafferty, is a great example of what frogging can do for a happy couple. Ryan proposed to his girlfriend, Jenny, while on a frog-hunting trip at Land Between the Lakes in western Kentucky several years ago.
“I’d had the ring about a week, but I just needed a romantic setting — like a ditch and a frog hole,” Ryan said with a chuckle. As the sun was setting over a swampy pocket in Kentucky Lake, Ryan knelt on one knee, wearing hip boots, and popped the magic question. Jenny said yes.
“He proposed, and then we went hunting and killed three or four frogs,” she said. “They were wiggling around in his Jeep on the ride home. We fried them up and ate them around midnight. That was my first time eating frog legs.”
Jenny didn’t have a hunting and fishing background before meeting Ryan in college, but she’s a veteran now. She says frog hunting is a wise pick for a date. “It’s just a good opportunity to get out and enjoy the outdoors,” she said. “You can walk, talk and you don’t have to worry about sitting still. It’s also something you can do as a group. It makes a great double date! You can build a fire up on the bank or whatever you want to do.”
So there you have it. Plenty of good reasons to try frog hunting if you’ve never been, or go more often if your gig is getting a little rusty. The sport can be as wild or calm as you choose, from the depths of a cypress swamp to the mowed banks of a golf-course pond. Just remember to bring a good light, plenty of batteries, a friend (even a significant one), and a healthy appetite for post-hunt, golden-fried goodness.
Easy Fried Frog Legs
2 sets frog legs per person
1/3 cup milk
salt and pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
vegetable oil for deep frying
Wash the legs thoroughly, and soak overnight in saltwater. Drain and pat dry. Preheat the vegetable oil in a deep-fryer or skillet to 375 degrees. In one bowl, whisk milk and egg together. In another, blend flour and seasonings. Dredge legs into the milk-and-egg mixture, then into the flour, twice. Deep fry until the meat begins pulling away from the bone, usually around 2 minutes.