Hunting the Snowshoe Hare
By Steve Vose
At 7:00 AM the air temperature was negative two degrees Fahrenheit and as the first rays of morning light filtered down through the tangle of spruce trees it provided little warmth. Using a handcrafted pair of ash snowshoes three of us trudged through the deep snow, every breath of frosty morning air making our lungs ache. It made no difference, however, as the distant sounds of about half a dozen beagles made our hearts race and blood boil.
This was February hare hunting in Maine at its finest and my brother, father and I were working ourselves to various points within a spruce thicket to patiently await the moment when the hounds would stir the snowshoe hares from the comfort of their daytime resting spots. I maneuvered myself slowly into position, at times crawling on my hands and knees until I finally managed to find an opening were I had an area of limited but acceptable visibility.
As the dogs began to work the property, their infrequent howls and barks quickly rose to an excited crescendo as they picked up the fresh scent of hares. About 100 yards to my right, three rapid shots rang out from my Brothers Stoger 12 gauge semiautomatic and I had just enough time to ponder if he had bothered to remove his duck plug when two additional rounds thundered into existence.
Moments later, the sounds of the small collar bells began to mix with the howls and I knew that the dogs would be on top of my position any minute. I readied my Franchi 612 semiautomatic 12 gauge and prepared to ambush the unsuspecting hare by delivering a lethal load of 2 ¾ inch Federal number 7 ½ s. Being my first hare hunt, however, I was unprepared for the sight of a single frantic hare and 7 highly excited beagles that practically ran me over. My composure wavered and belly rolled with laughter and in that instant my chance to safely discharge my weapon vaporized. Insult was added to injury as the last beagle stopped put two paws up on my knee and looked at me as if to say “next time pull the trigger dummy”.
The party rolled off to my left and was quickly out of sight and once again I could only hear the chorus of excited beagles. I marveled at the pitch and cadence of the dogs as it changed and fluctuated as they would lose the hare’s scent and then find it again.
About 5 minutes passed and about 75 yards to my right, I heard the roar of my Dad’s Ithaca model 37 pump action 12 gauge come alive. One shot and then it seemed an eternity passed before the second shot stretched out over the snowy landscape. I listened intently and half expected to hear an excited yell but eventually determined that the snowy thick spruce landscape had deadened Dad’s celebration.
Time passed slowly as the hounds tracked the hares in a giant circle around my position and I finally had a chance to catch my breath and acclimate to my surroundings. The air temperature had started its slow climb from the negative to the positive and rich sunlight filtered down through the tangled spruce branches. I took off my heavy insulated parka and hung it on a nearby branch and used my snowshoes to pack down a small area. These two actions allowed me a much higher degree of maneuverability and I practiced a swing with the shotgun in the tight quarters.
All morning, the tireless hounds moved with speed and agility through the area and at times I would see a quick flash of movement but I was unsuccessful in being able to determine with enough confidence and speed what was dog and what was hare. Frequent shots bellowed to my left and right and I was pleased to know that my Brother and Dad were working overtime to significantly decrease the hare population in Bingham, Maine.
As the sun crept high overhead, the smell of frying onions wafted up the slope and made my stomach rumble. I heard a horn blast from our guide Bob’s Suburban and my thoughts quickly turned from hare hunting to a hot cup of black coffee and a decadent lunch of one of the best outdoorsman foods of all time, the hot dog. Upon arriving back at the road, I was excited to see that Bob had on his Coleman cook stove prepared for us a feast fit for a king.
Slowly, my Brother and Dad appeared out of the woods both rabid with the adventures of the morning, covered in spruce needles and looking like snowmen. As they walked down the road toward the truck, I was more than a little bit surprised to see that neither of them seemed to be carrying any hares. I breathed a barely perceptible sigh of relief, as I realized that their morning of hunting had been as productive as mine and in the end I has saved more money on shells. Through lunch and an impressive desert of chocolate brownies, we relayed to each other our missed shot opportunities. Stories relayed by my brother, included a description of one impressive rabbit that had managed to entrench himself in a bunker of dead logs and somehow narrowly escaped the barrage of lead that rained down upon him. We all laughed until we all thought we better get back to hunting before we completely wore ourselves out.
Fortunately for the hares, our afternoon was filled with much of the same general mayhem and missed shot opportunities that we had encountered during the morning hours. While I finally managed to get one shot off before the hunt ended, I too was unable to harvest even a single hare.
Though the day ended without a single hare to show for our Herculean efforts, we all agreed that we would not have changed a single instant. As we get older, life has a way of adding more responsibilities to young men and as the years have passed it has becomes increasingly harder to manage a getaway with my Dad and Brother. Because of these limitations, I will always hold these treasured moments more valuable than the harvesting of any game animal.