Frogs extend hunting season
GATEHOUSE NEWS SERVICE
SPRINGFIELD — Buddy Wyatt of Palmyra is a hunting aficionado.
When deer season rolls around in the fall, Wyatt is out hunting. Turkey season? Wyatt is out hunting.
Frog season? Yes, Wyatt is out hunting. Well, not hunting. The correct term is frog gigging.
“Palmyra is kind of a small, hick town, and it’s definitely something to do,” said Wyatt, 22, who has been out to ponds gigging with a group of friends several times this summer. “And I don’t know too many people down in that area that don’t enjoy frog legs.”
Frog season began in Illinois on June 15 and continues through Aug. 31.
Although frog gigging doesn’t have the same effect on Illinoisans as, say, deer season, it does have its niche among avid hunters such as Wyatt, who has been gigging frogs since he was 16.
“I’m definitely into hunting and the outdoors,” Wyatt said. “I like fishing, but fishing is a lot of sitting. This way (with frog gigging), you kind of have that thrill. You got to sneak up on them and spot them before they spot you. For me, it’s kind of the thrill of that hunt.”
To catch a frog, the hunter first zeroes in on one by listening for its call. After spotting it, a hunter will shine a flashlight into the frog’s eyes. The frog typically freezes in place.
The primary method for nabbing the frog is to jab it with a spear — called a gig — usually five to 10 feet in length. The gig generally has three to five equally spaced prongs at the end designed to pierce the frog’s thick skin.
The gig is never thrown, nor is it pulled back before being thrust. Rather, it is held a few inches above the frog and thrust down.
Frogs also can be hunted by hand, with a bow and arrow or with a lure and line in a fashion similar to fishing. Some states — but not Illinois — even allow hunters to use a .22 caliber rifle to hunt frogs.
Bob Bluett, wildlife biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said hunting frogs was projected to be a bit more challenging for giggers this year. Frequent rainfall in central Illinois in mid-June caused water levels in ponds to rise.
Higher water levels make for a more difficult hunt, Bluett said.
“It’s easy to find the frogs when the water is down and they’re sitting on an open mud bank or an area that they can’t conceal themselves very well,” said Bluett, 49, who has been frog gigging for almost 30 years. “With the high water, they tend to be back in the weeds or the willows, or
water vegetation is there.”
Wyatt said the frequent rain hasn’t slowed him down, and that he and his friends have had a good season. They just have to work harder to get to the frogs because of the high water.
“You’re expecting the frogs to be sitting right on the edge of the bank and the water,” Wyatt said. “Well, the bank is much higher this year, and we actually have gigged quite a few frogs to where we’ve had to get out of the water and go up four feet onto the bank.”
Gigging can be performed solo or in pairs. But Wyatt goes out with a group, hunting frogs with an organized method. A couple of hunters patrol the pond in a boat, searching for frogs with a spotlight. When a frog is spotted, one of the giggers working the bank will spear the frog and pass it off to one of the people in the boat.
Joe Candioto, 21, of Glenarm, also hunts frogs with a couple friends. Candioto said he started gigging with his father when he was 8 years old. Joe shone the light in the frogs’ eyes while his father speared them.
Although Candioto now attends college in Idaho, when he returns home to Glenarm for the summer, he makes sure to plan some gigging outings with his friends.
“You go out and just have a good time with your friends,” he said. “It’s just like anything else. People go golfing and have a good time their friends and all sorts of other stuff. It’s just a little thing that we always did.”
Candioto said a good night of gigging often ends up supplying a few laughs in addition to frogs.
“There’s sinkholes and everything else, which means you’ll be wading around in the water and in creeks and all of a sudden you’ll fall into a sinkhole and your light goes flying up in the air, and everybody is laughing,” Candioto said. “It’s just a good time.”
Ponds tend to be the best places to hunt frogs, Bluett said. The DNR does not track bullfrog populations in Illinois, so determining how many frogs are in a given area is an inexact science, he said.
So deciding which ponds to hunt comes down to a game of wait and listen.
“The best thing is to go out, sit near a pond and listen for them calling. It can be spotty,” Bluett said.
“It kind of depends on fish populations, too. If there are a lot of big fish in the pond, they of course are going to be eating tadpoles and fewer make it to adulthood. In other places, you have lots of young frogs and not many old ones. But you can tell by parking near the pond and rolling down the window and listening.”
So why do hunters wade through water, tromp up muddy banks and put up with mosquitoes in search of frogs?
For Bluett, the answer is simple.
“Eating them,” he said with a laugh.
Hunters usually fry the frog legs for a meal. Frying frog legs is a lot like frying fish, Bluett said. He applies fish batter, puts them in oil and tosses them in the fryer.
Three or four good-size frogs — sometimes more if you’re really hungry — when combined with a side dish can make for a good meal, Bluett said.
“It’s an adventure, and you have something to show for your adventure when you’re done,” he said.