It was 10 p.m. Thursday, and the Late Show was just beginning for hunters such as Kirby Layman.
This was opening night of the Missouri frog season. And Layman was loaded for big croakers, carrying a long gig, a flyrod and a .22 rifle with him in his ATV.
He was bouncing down a rutted path through what looked like a corn maze, headed to a remote farm pond in north-central Missouri.
The headlights on the ATV cut through the darkness as Layman followed the faint trail he mowed earlier. Tall grass slapped against the four-wheel drive, and mud flew off the tires.
No one ever said there was a well-marked trail to ponds where daddy bullfrogs lived. But to Layman, the challenge of reaching this pond only added to the adventure.
“This pond is full of big frogs,” he said as he chomped on a cigar. “We saw some monsters when we were fishing here this spring.
“Part of it is that this pond doesn’t get a lot of pressure. It’s not that easy to get to.”
Layman, who lives in Parkville, cut the engine on his ATV and was immediately greeted by music to a frog hunter’s ears: the deep, baritone “ribbit” of a big bullfrog. He grabbed his spotlight and began scanning the marshy shoreline. When a pair of eyes sparkled like jewels in the dark setting, he found what he was looking for.
As I trained the light on the big frog, Layman went into stealth mode, slowly approaching his blinded prey. When he got close enough, he slowly reached out with his gig, then made a quick jab.
What’s for dinner? Frog legs.
“They’re beyond a delicacy,” said Layman, 67, who has been hunting frogs since he was a kid. “I roll the frog legs in ground-up crackers, then fry them in garlic butter, and they’re delicious.”
Layman had plenty of frog legs for the frying pan by the time he was done Thursday night. By 11:30 p.m., he had his limit of eight frogs. He used his gig for the ones that were close to the bank. For those further out, he used a fly rod to dangle an insect imitation in front of the frogs.
Now came the hard part: cleaning his bounty at about midnight. But Layman knew it was worth it, considering the meals that lie ahead.
For Layman, frogging is a summer tradition. And he takes it seriously.
He prepared for opening night weeks ago. He cleared openings at the bank of this farm pond in 10 places, allowing him easy access on a body of water that is otherwise rimmed by tall vegetation.
He even went so far as to wear camouflage so that he can sneak up on the frogs.
“The frogs have different habits in the ponds up here,” he said. “At some of these ponds, where there isn’t a lot of shoreline cover, they’re jumpers. They’ll take off the second they spot you.
“But at this pond, they’ll stay put when you shine that light on them. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that there is lots of cover along the banks and they don’t get pressured too hard.”
Frogging has been part of Layman’s summertime routine for as long as he can remember.
“I got started up at my grandparents’ place in Wisconsin,” he said. “There were millions of frogs up there.
“As kids, we would take our limit, then sell them to a biological supply warehouse. They were used in schools when students had to dissect frogs in biology class.”
That passion continued when Layman went to school at Kansas University.
“My friends and I would hunt in water-filled ditches, and we took a lot of them,” Layman said. “I remember one time taking a bullfrog so big that it had a sparrow in its stomach.”
These days, most of Layman’s frogging is confined to the farm ponds near his hunting and fishing cabin in north-central Missouri. He hunts and fishes there virtually year-round. He hunts turkeys in the spring, waterfowl, deer and quail in the fall, and rabbits in the winter. He also fishes for big bass and crappies in the spring, summer and fall. But he never overlooks frogging in the summer.
“I don’t think a lot of people up here do it,” he said. “But I look forward to it.
“We have a lot of ponds up here, and a lot of them have frogs.”
It’s time to go frogging
Summer is a time when many hunters turn nocturnal and pursue big bullfrogs.
Before you head out, though, you need to brush up on the regulations.
SEASON DATES: Opened at dusk June 30, will continue through Oct. 31.
LIMITS: Eight daily and in possession.
LICENSES: A fishing or small-game hunting license is required, depending on the type of method a frog hunter uses.
ALLOWED HUNTING METHODS: A .22 or smaller caliber rifle or pistol; pellet gun, bow, crossbow, atlatl, hand or hand net, artificial lights.
ALLOWED FISHING METHODS: Atlatl, hand or hand net, gig, bow, trotlines, throwline, limb line, bank line, jug line, snagging, snaring, grabbing, pole and line.
SEASON DATES: Opened Friday, will continue through Oct. 31.
LIMITS: Daily creel is eight, possession limit is 24 after the third day of the season.
LICENSES: A valid fishing licenses is required to take bullfrogs, except for those persons who are exempt by law from having such licenses.
ALLOWED METHODS: Dip net, gig, hook and line, hand, bow and arrow, or crossbow. A line must attach the bow to the arrow and the arrow must have a barbed head.