Frog Days: Nothing Says Summer Like a Night of Chasing Croakers
The author remembers his best frog hunt ever, with a middle-school buddy, a couple of gigs, and a pond full of bullfrogs—and poo
BULLFROGS START CALLING once the poison ivy is about 4 inches tall and the carpenter bees are buzzing around the rafters of the barn. All of that signals the real start to summer, and it happens in early May around here. But the legal frog-hunting season doesn’t open until later in the month. I think that’s for the best because it forces country kids to have to sit and listen to the barruummphs for a couple weeks before getting after them. Delayed gratification is a good lesson to learn.
That frogs live in the mud, and hunting for them takes place at night and is best when it’s hot, and the season opens just as school is closing for the summer, all seem almost too perfect. When I was 12 years old, my best friend, Dan, and I would’ve camped on a sidewalk full of hippies if it meant we’d get the first jab at a good pond full of frogs.
The best one we ever gigged was tiny, maybe half an acre in size, and it was built for the sole purpose of storing dog shit. Dan’s aunt bred and sold Rottweilers, and when you’re in the 110-pound-dog business, you’ve got to have a place to put the poop. For Dan’s aunt, it was the little pond dug in a woodlot across the road—and it was full of frogs. Dan scouted it out one night before the season opened, in the waning days of the school year. A good rule of thumb, when you go frog listening, is to assume that for every one you can hear calling in a pond, there’s at least another gigging-size frog sitting right next to it, keeping quiet. Dan said he heard at least a dozen and probably more.
“You wait till you see the frogs in my aunt Tonya’s shit pond,” he said. “You can hear them hollering from the road, and I walked in there the other night with my flashlight for a look. Man, they were sitting shoulder to shoulder.”
On the night of the opener, we stayed at his grandmother’s house, a mile down a gravel road from the pond, and struck out just after nightfall. We had no cell phones, no tracking devices, nothing electronic except the D-cell batteries used to power Dan’s Maglite. We were two preteen boys entrusted to walk into the woods after dark, carrying spears, and come home whenever we were finished killing frogs.
It was a long, quiet walk down the gravel road in the dark, but we could hear the male frogs beckoning us well before we reached the woodlot. I carried an old frog gig, with two missing tines, fastened to the end of a broom handle. Dan was packing a spring-loaded contraption on the end of a collapsible aluminum pole that he called a “snap gig.” We slipped through the woods, single file, and then Dan turned on his flashlight and the beam betrayed the glowing eyes of bullfrogs surrounding the shoreline. We started out walking the bank, but we jumped five frogs for every one we killed.
Soon we were daring one another to wade into the water. Partly, we felt it provided a tactical advantage. Mostly, we were 12-year-old boys who’d found a shit pond full of frogs, and there was never much doubt that we’d wind up wading in it. Before long, we were both easing through water and muck up to our chests—but the strategy worked; we were able to shine Dan’s light at the frogs head-on and attack them from the water, like lurking gators.
Dan carried a big survival knife, and we took turns with the gigs. One of us would jab a frog and dig into the mud with bare hands to grasp it about the waist. Then we’d present the frog to the other, who’d use the giant knife to sever its legs at the pelvis, drop them into a grocery sack, and shuck the front half of the frog off the gig. It was brutal work, but we seemed to be made for it.
We walked home in the dark a couple hours later, tennis shoes squishing, both of us soaked from the armpits down in dog crap and blood and frog slime. We had two grocery sacks full of big frog legs too. I can’t remember a more perfect start to the summer.
I haven’t seen that little pond since, and for that matter, haven’t seen Dan in 20 years. But there are lots of other ponds around, including the one across the road from where I live now, which I’d be much happier to wade since, to my knowledge, it hasn’t been used as a turd reservoir. There aren’t near as many frogs in it, but on the warm evenings in early May—exactly when I’m writing this—you can hear a couple of them barruummphing from a quarter mile away.
My 8-year-old son wants to sneak down there right now with his gig, and, let’s be honest, so do I. But we’re going to hold off until the season is open and he’s out of school, because kicking the summer off just right is something you should have to wait for.