The backs of my hands felt raw as the raspberry whips slid across them. I kept scanning for fresh tracks as I slid into the next patch of softwood, trying to find sign of one that had been out feeding in the night. Spotting a fresh set, I took off with a renewed sense of purpose, anxious to catch up and maybe see the critter before it saw me. The critter, in this case, was a snowshoe hare. Chasing a hare is one of the best ways I know to get better at tracking deer.
There are only so many days in the fall to chase bucks, and only so many years to get good at it; I think tracking a hare will up the odds of success for every buck hunter. Small game seasons are long in northern New England, and there is snow around for a good chunk of the time. So as part of my off-season training regimen, I track them down.
The skills you end up acquiring are indispensable. A tracker will learn when to move slow, how move sneaky, how to read tracks in all types of snow, and peak through the woods to spot game (keep your eyes low!). This pursuit will enhance shooting, persistence and general woodsmanship for everyone. I can tell you that when you've tracked a hare for an hour and he gets up and takes off, the feeling of shouldering a pump .22 and swinging on him is pretty familiar! With hare season extending well into March in many places, the skill set for tracking is only about six months old when November hits, rather than the 11 months old it would be if you stopped in December.
A snowshoe hare might weigh four pounds, and I figure the average buck is about 200 (live weight, and to keep the math easy!) so we’re talking about a hare doing things on a scale that is about 50x smaller than a whitetail buck. They have similar behaviors. They each prefer to hide to avoid being seen, make loops, run and then watch their back track, run you through other tracks to confuse you, and generally make you feel like a fool. In March, when the hare are rutting, a buck hares will even make long treks where you might not catch up to him in an hour.
For folks headed West to hunt, spot and stalk hunting these hares with your binoculars will be helpful, too! Learning to grid scan an area and look for an animal hiding in cover transfers well to the western hunting approach. The simple act of adjusting the focus on those binos can take some practice and this ends up being a great way to do it. Follow the spotting up by sneaking in and making a good shot with a rifle, like a .22, and you have skills that will help you on an elk or a muley in October!
Snowshoe hare is also really good to eat. I dress them off with the gutless method, like I would an animal I was packing out rather than dragging. I even try to up my cooking game with them; last night was Hare Ragu – delicious!
A bunch of us have time off now, use it to sharpen your skill set for next fall. With kids off, if you have a budding tracker in your midst, this a great way to do physical education!