Today is the 4th Annual Giggin’ for Grads Night, created in 2013 by the DeKalb County Young Farmers and Ranchers Club of Smithville, Tennessee, to raise funds for agricultural scholarships. In case you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, “gigging” is the use of a sharpened implement such as a pointed stick, called a “gig,” to spear fish. In this case, it refers to a bullfrog-killing contest.
Participants pay a $15 entry fee and must hunt in teams of two to four people. First prize, for the heaviest bag of 15 frogs, is 25% of the entry fees collected. Second Prize is 15%, and third is 10%. Frogs are kept for a community frog leg dinner the next day.
While animal rights groups and many private citizens are appalled by this practice, it is a legal, regulated sport in Tennessee. Area game wardens supervise the tournament; giggers must have hunting licenses to participate and are allowed to kill no more than 20 frogs.
That first year, activists called club members, went on the news and posted the local school principal’s number on social media in a bid to get Giggin’ for Grads canceled. As anyone who’s lived in a small town could predict, their approach backfired. The community responded to the outsiders’ efforts by digging in their heels and throwing their support behind the event.
People from nearby counties sent donations, bringing the scholarship total to over $1,000. The number of contestants grew from the expected twenty or so to nearly 100. As a result, many more frogs were killed—harvested, in gigging parlance—and fried the next day. The event has gained notoriety since then. Peaceful protestors return every year and are, by all accounts, treated well by the townsfolk.
One online petition making the rounds today has gathered 136,543 signatures. It includes this oft-repeated statement: “Bullfrogs are cold-blooded and have slow metabolisms, so it takes them a long time to die after being stabbed.” Requiring less energy to survive is a useful environmental adaptation that doesn’t factor in how to live through a fatal stabbing. It doesn’t create Frankentoads or an amphibian GITMO in the gigger’s sack. Dead is dead. But this argument should at least prompt game wardens to remind everyone that the frogs they kill must be fully dead, sooner rather than later because otherwise that’s just, you know, mean.
The petition also states that, in the darkness, participants kill other frogs and toads that may be endangered. The flashlights they carry, the incentive to get large bullfrogs and the team aspect help reduce the likelihood of rogue giggers exterminating entire species or spending their time putting frogs in stress positions. Also, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has no record of any endangered frog species in Tennessee. If there are any there, they are likely to be endangered because they took a left turn in Florida and ended up in Tennessee.
Giggin’ for Grads may a terrible idea for a fundraiser. It has resulted in the death of thousands of bullfrogs. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from a mathematical standpoint. Aside from today’s event, there is a legal hunting season in which a licensed gigger can harvest up to 20 bullfrogs per day, every day…and yet they never run out. That’s no excuse for torture but think for a moment of another cold-blooded creature. When was the last time you cared if a cockroach suffered?
Have a happy Giggin’ for Grads Night, unless you don’t want to. No pressure!