fter the close of the waterfowl season, most Kodiak hunters and shooters drift into a state near hibernation.
Starting in February, I get serious about hunting snowshoe hare. I won’t claim my score is all that high most years, but I sure put a lot of time into the hunting and enjoy every minute of it.
For me, it’s as much about being in the hills as putting sweet meat on the table. Sure, the fresh meat is welcome, but I can have perfectly enjoyable days even when I come home empty handed.
It’s certainly more fun for me to be out and about when almost everyone else is home, but there’s more to it than that. I enjoy the challenge of matching wits and shooting skills against the wiles of the hares.
There aren’t as many hares around in February as are on hand when I start hunting in November. Hungry predators and previous hunters have thinned their ranks considerably.
The hares are generally pushed further back from the road, and they’re lots wiser. They’re also spookier. You have to walk further for them, and you have to hunt more carefully if you hope to get within range for a shot before they scamper.
On days with crunchy snow crusts you’re best off with a shotgun if you’re really intent on hare for dinner. Their big ears seem especially attuned to the crunching footsteps of an approaching hunter.
I certainly enjoy shotgunning hares, especially with a good dog.
But I have lots more fun trailing and stalking close enough for head shots at sitting hares.
In years past before my hands pronounced they were too old for the sport, I did a lot of archery hunting for hares. After my first experience using bow and arrow in snow, I limited myself to days
or locations without snow.
Virtually every arrow I shot in snow disappeared beneath the surface. I eventually recovered all my arrows weeks later when the snow retreated. But it was more like an Easter egg hunt backtracking through the brush looking for them.
Once my hands started bothering me, I switched to handgun hunting for close-range hare hunts. I relish using super-accurate .22s in single shots, revolvers and semi-autos. If there’s a single round best suited for hare hunting, it has to be a .22.
But in truth I enjoy shooting centerfire handguns as much or more.
I could certainly use full-power loads, since I take only head shots. But the noise and commotion of magnums runs counter to my frame of mind on hare hunts.
Being a reloader, I work up reduced-velocity loads with cast bullets. If I was not a reloader, I’d opt for the lower-power factory rounds that also work in magnums, such as .38 Special wadcutters in .357 Magnum revolvers, .44 Specials in .44 Magnum guns and .45 Colt in .454s. They’re a lot more fun to shoot, usually very accurate, and not nearly so hard on the ears.
You won’t find similar pairings in factory ammo for centerfire rifles, but time spent at the reloading bench turns your favorite big game rifle into a superb small game gun with cast bullets.
Careful load selection will drop velocities down near those of .22 rimfires in your big guns as noise levels also drop. You’ll be startled nearly speechless at the kind of accuracy such loads can deliver in your rifles, too. Head shots are no problem at all to surprising distances.
Best of all, you’ll be getting lots of field time and marksmanship development with your big game rifles. In a single season I get more shots at snowshoe hare with my big rifles than I manage in decades of hunting big game.
Your shooting skills improve dramatically as a result, especially your offhand shooting.
I’m also a fan of “antique” rifle calibers such as the .25-20 Winchester and .32-20 Winchester. In days of yore both were considered ideal small game rounds. Use one today, and you’ll quickly confirm that opinion.
Factory ammunition for either round is expensive, but if you reload they’re among the cheapest rounds to shoot. Drop the powder charges to launch their bullets at velocities similar to a .22 long rifle, and you’ll never rue the lack of .22 ammo in any future ammo shortages.
There’s an interesting sub-category of “big game” rifles for hare hunting. If you look around, there are high-quality .22 rimfire rifles nearly as heavy as big game rifles with similar handling characteristics. My personal choice is a CZ American, which weighs close to the same as my favorite big game rifle while delivering accuracy as good or better.
Hunting with that fine rifle is for all the world just like carrying a big game rifle, but without the need for reloading ammunition. If I was not a reloader, I’d own that rifle specifically for practice and hunts without the expense of factory centerfire ammo.
In recent years I’ve trended more to hunting with muzzleloaders.
I’ve owned and hunted with modern inline muzzleloaders, and they are indeed great guns. But unknown to most owners, they’ll shoot reduced loads with patched round balls with extreme accuracy.
That makes it feasible to shoot cheaply and hunt lots with arms that otherwise see very little use outside the primitive weapon deer season.
For about the cost of 10 modern bullets and sabots, you can buy a box of 100 round balls and the patches to go with them. Drop the powder charge down to 30 grains, and you’ll get 230 shots from a pound of powder rather than 70 or less.
Talk about cheap shooting!
In truth I’ve moved beyond inline muzzleloaders and only use traditional “side lock” muzzleloaders in both percussion and flint. I get the most satisfaction from using them on big game and small, plus I have the fun of making most of the accessories I use with them.
And talk about economy in shooting!
My little .30 caliber flintlock fires round balls weighing only 35 grains, netting me 200 balls from a single pound of lead. And at 10 grains a pop, I’m getting 700 shots from a single can of powder. That works out to around 4 cents per shot or $2 for 50 shots. Compare that to the current cost of .22 ammo!
But just as I use reduced loads in my centerfire rifles for snowshoe hare hunting, I also use reduced loads for snowshoe hare in my larger caliber muzzleloaders.
Hunting snowshoe hare with a .375 H&H centerfire rifle might sound ridiculous, but how about hunting them with .54 caliber, .58 caliber, and even .62 caliber muzzleloaders!
The same principal applies.
Reduce the powder charges to drop velocities to that of a .22 rimfire or slower, and they’re superb small game rounds.
If you do a little historic research, you’ll discover that’s exactly what our hunting ancestors did, too.
Most only owned a single gun, but they used it for everything from small game to deer, big game and warfare. All they did was adjust their powder charges up and down the scale to match the needs of the day.
Certainly you’ll relish any snowshoe hare you bring home for the table. But more than that, hunting them will get you out of the house at a time of year when there’s not much else to do.
Best of all, you can have more hunting days and shooting fun in a single season than you can manage in years of hunting deer or other big game.