Hunting amphibians in Idaho

Blame it on Duck Dynasty if you want, or maybe on the cacophonous croaking of frogs along the canal I live by, but I have developed an itch for bullfrog gigging.

Gigging frogs is a time-honored tradition for gathering the grub--just not in Idaho. Warmer climates and abundant swampy areas tend to breed frog populations, and the high desert state of Idaho is not known for its swampy conditions. As such, the state does not have much of a frog-hunting tradition, but I wanted to change that dynamic for my family. Mostly because I love to eat me some frog legs.

Frog gigging is considered a summertime pleasure to many of my Southern-born friends. It is a right of passage to muck through the swamp after amphibians. Proper gigging, however, requires special equipment. Most notable is the gig spear tip. Think: the tip of Neptune's trident but frog-sized. None of the local sporting goods stores I called carry any frog-gigging equipment, but, undeterred, I found a four-tined spear tip for $3 online and ordered two. After they arrived in the mail a few days later, I headed to the lawn and garden department of Walmart to buy a bamboo stick. I attached the spear tip and was on my way to find a gigging spot.

First, I had to find out where the city would allow me to do it. My initial attempt at securing a place to gig frogs was a failure. No one was quite sure what to make of a guy calling the City of Boise to ask if I could gig frogs in city limits. My inquiry was met with an awkward silence on the end of the phone line. Fishing is allowed in city limits at the river and various ponds strewn throughout Boise, but the idea of a guy with a gig spear wandering around Ann Morrison Park seemed to have a few people on edge.

So I abandoned Boise altogether and called the City of Nampa. No awkward silences there. I got a quick and easy "go for it" over the phone. As long as I did not throw the spear and was not in a city park after dark, Nampa said that I could gig to my heart's content.

With my DIY equipment and the legal permission granted, four of us--Grandpa, two of my boys and I--made the "past my bed time" trek to a local pond. Frog gigging is a nighttime affair. A hunter first listens for the telltale croak of a bull frog. The croak is a low guttural sound somewhat reminiscent of a bull cow, thus their name.

We could hear the croaking of frogs from hundreds of yards away. I stepped into the pond and my boots sank about a foot into water that smelled like rotten eggs. Our hunting posse split into two teams, each going a different direction around the pond. I carried my younger son through the muck, and we could immediately see frogs.

The normal pattern for frog hunting, developed over thousands of years, is for the hunter to creep slowly and silently toward the beasts while lowering his spear. At the last moment most frogs dart into the water, escaping the hunter. Sure, some don't make it quickly enough, but this stalk-and-dart routine is a well established pattern. Some frogs float out in the water making for harder targets. Other frogs kindly wait on the banks. Some croak loudly and bound across the top of the water to freedom.

The modern flashlight gives the hunter a notable advantage. Frogs cannot resist the power of our Duracells. A frog hunter shines a light across a body of water until he spots a frog's eyes. At that point, he must keep the light on the frog to keep it mesmerized. Removing the light from the frog's eyes allows it to break the trance and duck away. As long as the light is shining on the frog it will stay in one place, giving the hunter and his spear a serious advantage in the stalk-and-dart routine. A quick spear thrust into the frog and then a quick scooping motion bringing the tip of the gig toward the sky should seal the deal. If all goes well, the hunter has just bagged part of a nice meal.

At one point on our excursion, we could see 27 sets of eyes gleaming back at us, entranced. Game time. The bull frogs darted, dived, croaked and in general made the evening a complete success. We missed more shots than we landed. But the number of frogs alone gave us ample picking.

Sixteen frogs later (four for each of us), we walked back to the trucks. Our heaviest frog to date is just less than 2 pounds; he was a total toad.

We took them back to the house and further processed them into the classic of French cuisine--the gourmet frog leg. The legs of these little beasties have a curious culinary history with connections to monks, Catholics and the odd classification as fish rather than meat. With a number meatless days per year dictated by the church, dutiful Catholics in France made the frog leg a national food treasure for the country, if not the world.

In the United States, frog legs often show up in Cajun and Creole cooking, which, of course, both have roots in French cuisine.

However the tradition of eating frogs hasn't really ever hit it big in Idaho. In fact, I get more turned-up noses when I tell people about frog gigging than I get culinary excitement.

But that is not a personal deterrent for me. I soaked the legs overnight in milk to let them expunge the vague sulfur smell of the pond they swam in. Next, we battered them in a little flour and pancake mix recipe I found on the Internet. We then fried them outside on the barbecue burner.

It was a culinary revelation for me. I have had frog legs from San Francisco to Macau, but I've never eaten them fried. This chicken-fried frog leg thing was addictive. The meat was as white as cream and as soft as a poached baby chicken. Not a hint of flavor from the pond came through. It was like a combination of meat and fish that screamed for some buttermilk biscuits and an ear of sweet corn. It was heaven in a bite. Three generations of King boys chowed down on the frogs and made plans for further excursions.

So say grace, frogs, we are coming for you.

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