Ah, summertime. The kids are out of school, the sun shines brightly in the sky, and our world turns a lush green. It’s a season of bikinis and beaches, of cold beer, fireworks, and barbecues. Summer is everyone’s favorite time of year…well, almost everyone. For hunters, summer can be a season to simply suffer through, with the knowledge that those first frosty mornings of autumn are drawing closer every day. But summer doesn’t have to be that way. For the ambitious and creative hunter, summertime offers several unique opportunities to not only scratch the hunting itch, but to practice and refine some of our skills for the fall.
Note: Most of these “hunting” opportunities are performed around water and at night. Check your state’s regulations before attempting any of them.
I still feel a little bit excited whenever I hear the deep bass croak of a bullfrog. It was the sound of my childhood. One that would draw my brother, cousins, and I out to the pond on my grandfather’s farm, flashlights and gigs in hand. We’d be out there most of the night and then come back soaked and covered in mud, but with a bucket full of frogs. We’d snatch a few hours of sleep before we ate them with biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Hunting frogs requires very little equipment. All you need is a good flashlight and a gig or net. I prefer using a gig, since it’s hard to find a place to keep a live, struggling frog. Gigs can be purchased or even made by straightening out some large 6/0 fishhooks with a pair of pliers and attaching them to a pole. For the non-initiated, frog gigging may sound simple, but it can make for a very challenging hunt.
Frogs are wary game, with the ability to either leap away from danger or vanish beneath the surface of the water in the blink of an eye. To hunt them properly, shine your lights over the water and on the edges of banks, looking for the reflection of a croaker’s eyes. Once you spot a target, you need to be stealthy, moving slowly and with purpose on your approach, and then act quickly and decisively, sticking or netting the bullfrog once it is in range. Once you have your fill of frogs, cleaning them is easy. On smaller frogs you can just trim off the back legs and peel the skin with pliers. On larger, meatier bullfrogs, make a quick cut just behind its head then take a pair of pliers and peel the skin off its entire body. Toss’em in flour and a bit of cornmeal and then fry them up. Nothing tastes better than fried bullfrog.
If you find sitting on the bow of a boat with a carton of worms and a case of beer just isn’t for you, then bowfishing might be right up your alley. What’s more is that if you’re a bowhunter, bowfishing presents an opportunity to hone your shooting skills for the coming season. Most states only allow bowfishing on non-gamefish, such as the various species of carp and gar, all of which spend most of their time in shallow, weedy estuaries and back-bays.
To hunt them, simply stand in the bow of a boat equipped with a trolling motor or wade slowly through the water looking for targets. Although it’s best done with a boat at night, it is possible to bowfish on foot and during the day as long as you have the right type of shallow, slow-moving, or flat water required to successfully wade or stalk on foot. Once a fish is spotted, aim low, below where you want to hit the fish in the thickest part of its body. You can’t aim directly at the fish because light refraction in the water distorts the position of the fish, meaning the deeper the fish, the lower you aim. A good rule to follow: Aim three inches lower for every foot of depth. Though the action can be fast and frantic, generally bowfishing requires a lot of patience and extremely precise shooting to be successful. It’s the perfect summer activity to get you ready for your time in the tree stand this fall.
Spearfishing and noodling
Spearfishing and noodling are perhaps the most unworldly and thrilling types of summertime hunting you can do. Like stepping off a ship onto another planet or following a dragon into a cave, you are in the dark, out of your natural element, hunting on your prey’s home ground, armed with either a pointy stick or your bare hands. Though it varies from state to state, most do allow underwater fishing in one form or another. Spearfishing is generally done in saltwater, though a few places allow freshwater hunting. Being scuba certified and having the equipment is helpful, but a heck of a lot of fish hunting can be done with just a snorkel and flippers.
You can find a number of well-made spear guns online, but a simple one can be made with a foot-long section of PVC pipe, some surgical tubing, and a couple of fish arrows with no fletching. Attach the tubing to one side of the pipe and then pull it through. Nock an arrow on the tubing and then pull it tight. Grasp the arrow and tubing in one hand until you have stalked close to your target fish or it swims within two or three feet, then raise up and let fly!
Unlike with spearfishing where you have a multitude of species to target, when you noodle you’re only hunting one thing: catfish. In the early summer, catfish move into holes in the bank, crevices in rocks, and even hollow logs to spawn. During this time the fish are quick to attack anything that invades their spawning space. This is when noodling becomes effective. It is an act of utter bravery, to stick your hand inside a dark hole in the water with hopes that something will bite it. But it is an incredibly thrilling and effective way to catch catfish. Noodling is best done with a partner for safety’s sake. When you go, look for water between three and six feet deep. Hunt around for potential catfish holes and once you find one, stick your hand in there and see what happens. When a catfish bites down, grab ahold of its gills and pull it out of the hole and to the surface. It may sound simple, but noodling is an act of combat. A struggle between yourself and a 20-pound-or-larger tube of pure, fishy muscle that will rip your wrist to shreds and pump you full of more adrenaline than facing down a charging grizzly. It’s a hell of a way to fish.
Summer can be an arduous time for hunters. Autumn hunting seems so close yet remains so far away. Sometimes the only thing a hunter can do to maintain their sanity is to clean their guns while binge-watching Monster Bucks in their underwear. But for those who refuse to lie down in a sweaty pile of hunt-less misery (or have partners who won’t let them), these aquatic activities offer a glimmer of hope. They’re not only a means to scratch that hunting itch, but they help to make summer into a hunting season of its own.