My rabbit hunting gets really serious in March.
There’s no closed season or bag limit on Kodiak, so you could hunt them year-round, but I quit later in April due to the onset of their breeding season. The brush doesn’t thin enough to hunt again until November.
Why am I so serious about March hunting?
Cabin fever is only part of the picture. In fact, the hunting is usually better in March and April than at any other time of year.
We’re aware of the longer days, but we two-legged critters have nothing on hares. They are mostly nocturnal, so they certainly notice the rapidly shortening nights. I think they also start to get restless even a couple of months before the onset of their breeding season.
Whatever the explanation, the snowshoes simply are more active and easier to find in daylight hours this time of year. Even as they’re out and about more, their white coats add to the ease of finding them as snow diminishes. They won’t turn brown again until late April or early May.
A lot of folks do their hunting in November because there are more hares around then than now. Summer litters of youngsters have swollen the population, and they’re totally inexperienced with hunters.
By now, the dumb, inexperienced hares are long gone. Those that are left are smart and experienced. And I like that!
I’ll be the first to point out that you’ll get the hottest hunting with a good rabbit dog. We raised beagles for years, and — weather cooperating — almost any hunt turned into a long session of dressing hares for the freezer.
If you have a dog that’s a good prospect, be prepared for differences if you’ve ever hunted cottontail rabbits over a good dog.
For one thing, snowshoe hares have huge territories compared to cottontails, and they’ll lead your dog on a merry chase before returning to where it all started. Unlike cottontails, which have any number of holes to dive into, snowshoes rely on speed and long runs to shed pursuers.
When it comes to getting shots in front of a dog, you have to factor in that speed. If you’re listening to the dog and expecting the hare to be close, it will have passed you long before the barking returns to your vicinity.
I expect hares to be at least 100 yards ahead of the dog, and often farther. My rule of thumb is to listen to the dog, and the moment you determine it’s turned and is headed in your direction, start scanning the brush for your shot.
Another important point is to keep tabs on where the chase started. In my experience, the hares follow known routes, and their path will bring reliably them back to where the started. The moment you hear a chase start, move quickly to that vicinity.
A final point about hares and dogs is worth passing along before I move on. Hares have those big ears for a reason. And they have great eyesight to go with them. Once you’re in place waiting for the hare to return, remain absolutely quiet and still. If they see or hear you, they’re going to circle around you while remaining mostly out of sight.
But you don’t have a good rabbit dog?
As a matter of fact, we no longer have one either. But that hasn’t stopped our productive hunts.
Second on the list of most productive hunts is to partner with one or more additional hunters. As you move through the brush, you will inevitably spook hares to each other.
Organizing “drives” for snowshoe hare can be wildly successful in the right terrain, but let me refine your notion of how to do it. If you make lots of noise and commotion, those big hare ears come into play again.
They’ll depart the country long before the drivers get near, simply because they can hear them coming from a long ways off. It’s better for the drivers to move as slowly and quietly as they can, doing their own hunting as they progress. They’ll still spook plenty of hares in the process, and those are the point of having additional hunters waiting quietly in just the right spots.
With either dogs or hunting partners, it goes without saying that shotguns are the best choice of arms. Rifles and handguns of any caliber and velocity are simply too prone to ricochets in and around alders.
But what if you don’t have a dog AND you can’t organize a hunt with friends?
That’s where solo hunts come in. And as a matter of fact, I enjoy them more than any other form.
Solo hunting is all about stealth and accurate shooting. If you move slowly and quietly through the terrain, you stand a good chance of seeing any hare that’s present.
Oops! Got a little noisy and spooked it?
Never fear. It didn’t run all that far. Wait a little while to let it settle down, then get serious about following it up.
But don’t bother to move right along the same path it followed. It will be watching and listening to its back trail.
Instead, circle about 100 yards off its course of travel, advance at least 100 yards beyond where you last saw it, then close back in. But this time, be quiet!
I know of nothing better than snowshoe hare hunting to hone your skills for hunting deer up close in Kodiak’s brushy terrain. Deer have big ears, too, and they may be even more effective than snowshoe hare in using them.
I seldom carry a shotgun on solo hare hunts. Instead I like to extend my “deer hunting” practice in my choice of arms.
Any rimfire .22 rifle or handgun is fine for hare hunts, but I choose mine based upon the weight of my preferred deer rifles and handguns. I have a heavy 22 that weighs almost as much as my favorite deer rifle, and it’s dandy for practice on hare hunts without the noise and commotion of the centerfire round.
But I’m also a devoted ammo reloader. I’ve worked up reduced power loads for all my rifles and handguns specifically so I can use them on hares without issues of “too much” power.
I’m also a devoted user of muzzleloaders. Any muzzleloader, whether traditional or modern inline, is likely to give sterling accuracy with reduce power loads. And they’re perfect for head shots on snowshoe hare.
It sounds crazy to be using a 58 caliber rifle for 5-pound snowshoe hare, but with only 30 grains of powder behind that big ball, it’s accurate and effective.
I’m no longer an archer because I wore out the wrong joints in my hands, but in years past I probably did more archery hunting for snowshoe hare than any other form. With “flu-flu” or oversize fletching to slow the arrows along with Judo points to limit their skid on the ground, I had a perfect setup.
Have you had it right up to your “gills” with Kodiak’s wet and dark winter?
Celebrate the next sunny day with a snowshoe hare hunt. Even if you don’t connect, you’ll be glad you did.
If you manage to connect, there are additional reasons to be glad you went.
I’ll tell you more about eating snowshoe hare next week.