Though many hunters have the week off between Christmas and New Year, it’s not possible for most to make jaunts to the far end of the island for deer.
But there can be terrific hunting that fits not only the short hours of daylight but the demands of family time and kids home from school.
It’s the perfect opportunity for hunting snowshoe hare or ducks.
In truth, there’s a background for the choice, and it works in your favor.
If the weather is rotten, it’s perfect for ducks and terrible for rabbits.
If the weather is fine you’re mostly wasting your time on ducks, but the rabbit hunting is grand.
If you have all day and the weather is mixed it’s certainly feasible, even advantageous to do both. Duck hunting is generally better first thing in the morning, while the later you stay out in the afternoon and evening, the more snowshoes you’ll see.
What about those kids home from the school for the holidays?
It’s a judgement call for you in deciding when your kids are mature enough and fit enough for the rigors of a duck hunt, but rabbit hunts are a terrific starting ground for young hunters.
The short days can work in your favor even if you’re family isn’t involved in the hunts. You can easily put in a full day of hunting while still returning home in plenty of time for family events.
Since duck hunting is better in the morning, I’ll start there.
The more often you’re in the field, the better you’ll be able to “pattern” the birds and anticipate their locations and movements.
What could be better than a whole week to devote to hunts? By the end of the week, your score should soar as each day’s lessons point to better hunting the next.
The late start to legal hunting hours makes for leisurely starts to your day. If you’re jump shooting rather than tending decoys, your start can be even more leisurely.
The Christmas holiday is the usual start of my own jump shooting. Fewer bears are out and about, and in a year with snow on the ground the tracks of the few remaining bears can help you avoid them.
Another factor for me is the reduced number of hunters by Christmas. Most have given up by then, so it’s possible to work with mostly undisturbed birds.
I still work the tide flats and do some decoy hunting with the approach of a big storm, but if I see birds flying inland, I’m quick to abandon the tide flats and search out the smaller waters that are attracting them.
However, I carry two or three decoys and a piece of camo in my daypack, even as I jump shoot.
Any time I jump birds without getting a shot, I quickly place the decoys where the birds came from and hide out for their return.
Even if those birds don’t come back, others in the area are accustomed to seeing birds in that spot, and the shooting can be quite good.
Hunting for snowshoe hare on the nicer days is more casual than duck hunting. At its best, it’s a relaxing walk in the hills, and the more relaxed your pace the better the hunting can be.
Move quickly along with even a little noise and you’ll flush rabbits ahead of you, mostly before you even see them.
But move slowly and quietly with frequent stops, and often they won’t notice your progress or they’ll opt to try hiding rather than running.
Hares are mostly nocturnal and that’s why evening hunts generally work better for me than morning hunts. The long period of dusk is enough to stir the hares from their daytime hiding places long before true darkness.
If you’re carrying a good headlamp for the trip out, the hunting is often best in the final half hour or so of light, leaving you far from your car with a hike ahead of you.
In our long experience, rabbit hunts are the perfect family hunting activity.
You’re moving slowly and can tend to the gun safety training of your youngsters while enjoying the challenge of following and sorting tracks.
Not everyone needs to carry a gun as their slow progress serves to move rabbits along for those with guns to spot.
With other people in the field, I worry lots about ricochets using rifles, so be especially careful about safe shooting lanes and assuring that no one gets ahead of the hunters.
In fact, my rifles and handguns stay home on family hunts. They’re shotgun-only affairs to further limit the chance of a ricochet.
There’s a secret to finding the rabbits that left their tracks in the snow.
You’ll see the most tracks in the bottomlands of mixed brush and grass, but remember that most of that action happened at night.
During the day, most rabbits leave the bottomlands and climb at least a little ways before settling down to hide during the sunny hours.
You’ll still find a rabbit or two that didn’t get the memo and remained in bottomland cover, but most will head uphill before the sun comes up.
As you move through the bottomlands, watch for well-worn trails leading uphill toward cover.
But don’t follow the trail directly uphill!
The rabbits are conditioned to watch their back trails and flee from any predator approaching from below. Instead of doing that, spot the most likely cover above you and circle around to approach it from above.
Not only are the rabbits more likely to hold tight till you’re close, but they’ll also be easier to see as they break and run back downhill. It’s the nature of Kodiak brush that it’s always easier to see into it while looking downhill.
Truth be known, many of our family rabbit hunts didn’t involve guns or the taking of any rabbits.
It’s just great fun to grab the family and wander the hills looking for tracks. Over the course of a hike, you’re likely to see other wildlife, and just adds to the fun.
Be sure and carry a camera, because the nice days that are so good for rabbit hunting are also great for photography. You might even forget to look for wildlife as the great vistas open and change as you walk, calling your eyes and cameras up from the snow and brush to the greater scenery around you.
With or without your family along, sunset is going to occur not long after 4:00 pm, so there’s plenty of time to return home for an evening of family fun.
If your family is not inclined to hunt, or you don’t have family here on the island, that’s no reason to stay home.
Hunts for snowshoe hare and ducks are also great for gatherings of friends.
In my experience, you’ll have trouble talking some of them out into a storm for duck hunts, but you won’t lack for company on rabbit hunts when the weather is nice.
Kodiak is a wonderland when you get out and enjoy it.
But it’s too easy to become stuck indoors when work and family schedules limit your opportunities.
But with a week or more of holidays ahead of you, isn’t it time to start making plans for days and days outside?