Long seasons tend to fall under the radar.
You start off with enthusiasm for the renewed opportunity, but slowly other interests take over.
The season is still open, but you’ve moved on to other things.
And finally, with little fanfare, the season has passed.
Consider silver salmon as a prime example. Hopeful anglers almost literally pace the shores in anticipation of their arrival late in August. Yet most quit fishing for them by the end of September.
Even though fresh, bright silvers continue rolling into rivers until late in November! You can fish for days without encountering another angler.
No season is easier to forget than that for snowshoe hare, which in fact never closes. It’s open year round with no bag limit.
There’s a spike in hunter activity in November and December after the road system deer season closes, but starting in January you’ll meet almost no one in the field for snowshoes.
With no close to the season, what’s my point about the “end” of the season?
In fact the close of my season is more biological and personal than legal.
Snowshoe hare start breeding in late April or early May, and by June the brush and grass are too dense for hunting.
I don’t like to hunt them while they’re breeding, and even less once they have youngsters in their nests. Nothing will cool you hunting efforts like dressing out a July hare, only to discover that it’s actively nursing.
So for me, April rings in the end of the snowshoe hare hunting, and I generally don’t start again until November when the grass and brush are thinned.
As March yields to April snowshoe hare hunting is certainly the most enjoyable of the year.
For one thing, it’s a great outdoor alternative to television and computers when there isn’t much else going on. You can get out into the hills and wander to your heart’s content with little likelihood of encountering anyone else.
It’s also more challenging than hunts in November and December.
Hunters, both the two-legged and four-legged varieties, have taken their toll of the young and dumb, while those that have survived are wary and smart.
You might not harvest a lot of snowshoes in March and April, but you’ll earn and appreciate every one that makes it home to the stove.
There’s one factor that actually improves hunting over what you might have experienced in January and February.
Just look out your window and count the hours of daylight. The days are getting long fast, which means the nights are being trimmed at the same pace.
For a nocturnal critter like the snowshoe, that means more and more hours spent foraging in daylight, whether they like it or not.
The warming of the weather and lengthening of the days also seems to make snowshoes restless. Though the breeding season might not have started yet, they certainly appear to be circulating more and looking for company.
There certainly are fewer hares than in November, but you’re likely to see more of them.
The real challenge of the hunting between now and the onset of breeding is overcoming the experience of the hares you’re chasing. They’ve learned every trick in the book for staying alive, which means they won’t put up with much noise or commotion before launching into flight.
Many are the times I’ve sat on a hillside late in the season and watched hunting companions pass through a brush field below me. It’s downright startling how far ahead of hunters the hares will spook. And how far they will run before stopping!
To score consistently a stalking hunter needs to keep the sun at his back and move as quietly as a deer through cover. The sun over your shoulder helps a little in concealing your slow movements, while silent approach helps overcome those gigantic noise detectors wagging about on top of the hare’s head.
But in fact, there was a good reason for me to be on the hillside above my hunting companions.Hares tend to break uphill from the lowlands if there’s any relief at all to the terrain.
It always pays to have one of your party off to the side and uphill as you progress through rabbit cover below. As hares spook from the hunters below, they’ll often pass within range of a quiet and still hunter waiting uphill.
Hunters in the downhill brush can easily go all day without seeing a single hare jump in front of them, while the one above sees plenty and gets plenty of shots. For sustained friendships it’s always a good idea for hunters to take turns on the uphill position.
In practice this means the uphill hunter should move quietly and slowly to keep just ahead of the hunters below, always watching for the bouncing white ball to appear in front of them.
Hares headed uphill will almost invariably follow fingers of brush or small draws as they climb. With experience the waiting hunter can learn to anticipate the routes taken and be in position to intercept.
As you might guess, multiple hunters in brush fields translate into extreme caution in gun handling and gun safety in general.
We limit ourselves to shotguns for this kind of hunting, both for safety and for the fact that almost every hare you see will be in high gear.
As a rule of thumb we prefer No. 5 shot or larger for snowshoes, because they almost always pass through rather than remaining in flesh where they might become the inspiration for a visit to your dentist for tooth repair.
Late season hunting doesn’t necessarily have to involve hunting parties and shotguns, however.
A solo hunter stalking with a rifle, handgun or bow can do well, especially on familiar terrain where the hideouts and habits of the local hares are well known. If you can anticipate exactly where to find the hares, you can do a lot better job of quietly stalking within sight and range.
In my experience solo hunts are always best very early in the morning, especially on sunny days just before the sun is high enough to reach down into the brush. It appears the hares enjoy a warm sunny break as much as we do, and they’re willing to hang around on the edge of cover in anticipation of it.
You can still find hares later in the morning, but count on them to have melted further back into the cover where sunlight reaches while they are better concealed from view.
If it’s rainy or overcast, and especially if there’s a breeze, it’s generally better to leave the rifle or handgun at home and switch to a shotgun.
It’s also a very good idea to get on the phone to your favorite hunting companions.
You might have to do a little talking to break them away from a glowing screen, but by the end of the day they’ll be thanking you.
And the really good companions will return the favor someday, calling to break you away from your own glowing screens.