Bowhunting Bullfrogs – Yes, you read that correctly—bullfrogs. The North American bullfrog is native to most Eastern states, but has been introduced essentially coast to coast. I have shot them in New York and Georgia, but also in Western states as widespread as Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Idaho. It is simply amazing where you’ll find bullfrogs today. And while they offer exciting bowhunting sport, unlike bowfishing carp archers can also collect some very fine eating. Yes, frog legs really are a delicacy, and no, they don’t taste like chicken!
The first order of business is finding a productive place to hunt, which obviously involves water. The best places include readily-accessible banks where stalking and wading allow covering more ground. Though, I’ve certainly hunted them from boats in water with overgrown banks or steep drop-offs that do not accommodate bank or wade hunting. You’d be surprised where bullfrogs turn up, from the largest rivers and lakes, to tiny drainage ditches and stock ponds. The latter are my favorite spots, as they allow easy access and the ability to cover a lot of ground.
In New Mexico, for instance, we bowhunted endless miles of irrigation and drainage ditches administered by the Corps of Engineers under management of the Middle Rio Grande Irrigation District to supply millionaire farmers with taxpayer subsidized irrigation water. This labyrinth of ditches meant we seldom hit the same places twice, offering full days and nights of non-stop fun. In Idaho we stalk a long list of private stock ponds, hopscotching from one to another. If uncertain that your local waters harbor bullfrog populations, visit them after dark, park and listen. The bullfrog’s deep, guttural mating calls carry long distances, belying their presence. These calls also serve as a foghorn for stalking efforts.
Bowhunting Bullfrogs – I should insert here, that it is always important to read hunting/fishing regulations carefully. In some states bullfrogs are protected game, requiring fishing licenses and including limits and perhaps even shooting hours. In New Mexico, for instance, when we first started bowhunting bullfrogs a license was required, there was an eight-frog limit, and only daytime hunting was allowed. It wasn’t long, though, before state fisheries biologists questioned why an invasive species responsible for the decimation of several native frog and salamander species was being protected. The rules fell away, including no limits, no licenses and no take hours. This opened shooting to more productive nighttime hours.
Daytime Vs. Night
The question always boils down to daytime verses nighttime shooting. The answer depends on what you wish to get out of frog hunting—pure sport and quality shooting practice, or larger numbers of frogs.
Bowhunting Bullfrogs – Daytime shooting is immensely more challenging. Frogs are certainly out and about, but much more wary of overhead predators. Daytime hunting involves glassing and careful stalks. Prowling hunters glass well ahead, slowly and carefully seeking a wet lump or lounging frog. The hunter then ducks behind the bank or available cover and tip-toes (frogs are remarkably sensitive to ground vibrations) or crawls into position for a shot, drawing behind cover and raising slowly to clear cover for a clean shooting window. You then have to hit a fist-sized target at 15 to 25 yards, while also avoiding deflecting cover. It is extremely challenging shooting that will quickly sharpen your shooting eye.
I recall, for instance, attending a summer 3D tournament with my wife, where both of us competed in traditional classes. Wifey had suffered a frustrating day, missing easy targets completely. I suspected she was failing to concentrate fully on picking a fine aiming point. On the way home we stopped to check some frog spots. Wifey proceeded to nail seven frogs in a row with her recurve at 15 to 25 yards—the same yardages she had been missing full-sized foam big game targets at earlier. Zeroing in on live game sharpened her eye and turned her disappointing day around.
Overall, I generally prefer a precision compound while shooting daytime frogs, as ranges are normally longer due to bullfrogs’ flighty nature when subjected to sunshine. This allows me to stalk within view, take a quick laser rangefinder pop, and execute my best shot.
Everything changes with nightfall. Frogs relax, hold tighter and more of them come out of the woodwork. At night, instead of pecking at the edges and seeking longer shots, we wade right into the middle of the action and seek point-blank shots. For this we usually chose our shortest recurves, as shooting is frequently conducted while standing chest deep in water. Also, few shots are taken at more than 15 yards—and you really don’t want to get your favorite compound wet and muddy. I also prefer metal-handled recurves, as they allow attaching flashlights, and more importantly, using an elevated rest (Berger button and FlipperRest in my case) to accommodate waterproof vanes (more on this momentarily).
Nighttime shooting obviously involves artificial light. A powerful C- or D-cell Maglite is carried for spotting frogs initially. Once a target is discovered, the heavy light is dropped in a belt-mounted policeman’s flashlight loop. Shooting involves either a headlamp, or bow-mounted light. Through trial and error the headlamp is positioned so it centers the target while at full draw and anchored. A cheap bow-mounted light can be fashioned by drilling out the rear of a 12-guage shotgun hull, bolting it to a stabilizer-tapped riser and slipping in an AA-powered flashlight. A cheap fanny pack is strapped around the waist to slip bagged frogs into, with frequent trips to the truck made to stash accumulating frogs in a waiting ice-filled cooler.
Arrows are the same as used for hunting, though usually second-stringers, as damage is inevitable, especially around crossings with various rip-rap, rock and steel culvert hazards. Even with recurves we shoot plastic vanes, not only due to inherent waterproof qualities, but because skewered frogs are less apt to jump past stiff vanes as they easily do natural feathers. I always install lighted nocks, as they make recovering arrows so much easier, especially after multiple shots, when arrows lodge underwater or bury in mud.
Bowhunting Bullfrogs – Daytime or night, the right choice of tips is in order. Field points certainly work to pin frogs to the bank, but in soft mud arrows tend to disappear, especially when shooting more powerful compounds. They also impart no shock to tenacious frogs. Spring-arm Judo Points would prove well suited, but during high-volume shoots they are a bit expensive, as some points will inevitably be lost to arrow breakage. Cheap flat-face steel blunts are an improvement, but the absolute ideal is Precision Designed Products (PDP) Game Nabber small game points. They include a blunted face with a sharp nipple and flanged rear cutting edges, and are offered in a wide variety of weights. They impeded penetration in mud, absorb hard hits to stumps and rock without damage and give frogs a serious smack on impact.
The question is then what to do with your take. After the fat rear legs are cut away and skinned, sauté with generous chopped garlic and a dollop of soy sauce, beer batter and deep fry or simply dust with flour, salt and pepper and fry hot. Don’t overcook to turn them rubbery. I guarantee, they’re a real treat that will immediately have you planning your next amphibious adventure!