Doesn’t it seem hunters always have an excuse to get back into the woods? With several species of rabbits and hares in Alberta, you can do just that! Winter is the best time to target rabbits and hares—plan a hike, snowshoeing trip, or family adventure to try and harvest your next meal.
Hunting snowshoe hares is like playing “Where’s Waldo?” Colour-adapted to their surroundings, hares are disguised from a multitude of predators. A hare that has turned white, hidden in a carpet of snow, is a challenge to find.
Try walking down deadfall and bigger logs (safe enough to hold your weight). This can provide an overview of tracks and the local hare raceway set out in the forest. Little details can pinpoint what you’re looking for when it comes to small creatures with a strong ability to stay undetected.
Beds and droppings (clusters of small, fibrous balls) will let you know when you are close. Strain your eyes; look hard to locate the eyes and black ear tips.
Fresh snow is your friend. Tracks in the snow can turn to two or three as you push through the cover. Pay attention, and you’ll figure out which trails they like to travel and why. Make notes. If the habitat isn’t altered, where you find hares one year is where you’ll find them the next. The parkland and boreal regions are great places to find snowshoe hares. Find a conservation site at www.albertadiscoverguide.com.
Walk, stop, visually search your immediate vicinity, then duck and change body position to get a different view. Don’t move until you’ve looked everything over twice. Take one or two steps… and do it all over again! The longer you look at your surroundings, the more hares you’ll eventually find.
Watch 25 metres ahead of you for escaping hares. Flushing hares means you didn’t spot them before they got uncomfortable with your approach. Move slowly and listen for warning thumps.
When searching for hares, think heavy cover for bedding and daytime hiding with lots of small spruce, willow, and alder. Hares often sit in an elevated spot to get a better view. Look into every hole you can see, and double-check under logs, at tree bases, or anywhere a hare could sit out of the elements undetected.
Hares have fine hair that forms a dense, warm coat to keep them comfortable all winter. While shotguns harvest hares clean, the pellets pull the fine fur into the meat and wound channels. A .22 or .17 calibre rifle allows you to exercise your skills as a marksman and harvest your quarry clean with a head shot. The eye is the most visible part of a hiding hare and the ideal aiming point. Fresh meat without having to clean pellet holes will make you want to go after more of Alberta’s overlooked protein resources.