Tennessee ‘Giggers’ Keep Summer Frog Hunting Tradition Alive

Tommy Peebles shines a flashlight on the bank of a private pond, searching for bullfrogs. Credit: Stephen Jerkins

Tommy Peebles shines a flashlight on the bank of a private pond, searching for bullfrogs. Credit: Stephen Jerkins

It’s nearly midnight, and lifelong friends Tommy Peebles and Bick Boyte are wide awake in a canoe, paddling around private ponds in Fairview, Tenn. This is a bullfrog hunt – known as frog gigging.

“Did you hear that wom, wom, wom?’ Boyte asks. ‘That’s what we want.”

The bigger the bellow, the bigger the frog. Some of the biggest make a sound almost like a dog’s bark.

Peebles paddles as Boyte scans the bank for bullfrogs with a miner’s lamp on his head.

This pair has been frog gigging together for nearly four decades. Boyte now owns Mid-Tenn Ford. Peebles is a real estate lawyer with Waller Lansden. But in the warm moonlight of the summer, they revert to their boyhoods.

“We’re looking for their eyes,” Boyte whispers. “You’ll see that white chest on them facing you.”

Once Boyte spots his target, Peebles turns the aluminum canoe toward the bank. Boyte wields his 12-foot bamboo cane with four barbed tines on the end. He comes within six inches of a dazed bullfrog before he thrusts into the bank to make the kill.

Feeding Tradition

He tosses the one-pounder into the boat with a few dozen others, still half alive.

“That’s a behemoth, Bick,” Peebles says. “That’s a monster.”

This deadly duo has an obligation of sorts. For 38 years, they’ve held an end-of-summer frog leg fry. And to these two, there’s only one way to acquire frog legs.

“I guess you could buy ‘em,” Boyte says. “But we’ve never had to do that. We’ve always gigged ‘em.”

This evening is slightly more organized than the typical frog gigging expedition. It’s an all-night competition organized by a faith-based group called Back 40 Outreach. The weigh-in is held at 3 AM since gigging doesn’t get good until after dark.

When the teams reconvene, they share tales of the one that got away or – in the case of Billy Alexander – sinking their boat.

“Water is coming over the sides,” he tells a circle of worn-out giggers. “And I can’t turnaround. I can just feel the water on my knees.”

Frog Gigging First Date

The stories go back generations for some families in which the art of gigging was passed down from father to son.

The nocturnal sport is hardly a thriving activity, but there is a new generation coming up behind the old-timers.

“We just go have a blast,” says 20-year-old CJ Adams of Mount Juliet. “Kill time and kill frogs.”

For Adams, frog gigging has become a romantic adventure. He and his girl friend Melissa Perinne spend their evenings tromping through ponds together. In fact, their first date was spent frog hunting.

“It was about two years ago today,” Perinne says.

“We was just sitting around, bored,” Adams recalls. “I asked, ‘have you ever been frog giggin?’ She said, ‘no.’ So I said, ‘tonight is a good night to learn.’”

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