The showshoe hare (Lepus americanus), also called the varying hare, has a home range spanning across all of North America. Snowshoe hare have evolved to become well adapted to their snow covered environments. Hare’s have the amazing ability to shed their brown summer coats and grow white winter coats that help them better blend into winter environments. As summer approaches, the brown coat replaces the white, allowing the hare to hide better in the earthy tones of its summer habitat.
The name snowshoe comes from the hares second incredible adaptation, its sizeable hind feet, appearing almost too large for its diminutive body size. The animal's large hind feet help it from sinking into the deep snow when it walks and hops. Snowshoe hares also posses heavily furred feet and ears shorter than most other hares, both critical adaptations designed to protect it from freezing Maine the temperatures.
Mostly crepuscular (creature of the dawn and dusk) and nocturnal (night time dweller) snowshoe hare do a majority of feeding at night. Hares feed on a wide variety of plants such as ferns, buds, twigs and grasses but will also less commonly feed on dead animals such as mice.
During the day, hares do not rest in burrows but instead prefer to conceal themselves from predators by hiding in shallow depressions under heavy spruce thickets and brush piles.
Prolific breeders, hares may birth between up to 30 young per year. Females (does) have the ability to become pregnant by males (bucks) while already pregnant with young (kits) because female hares have two uteri. Typically the hare breeding season begins in March and continues till around June. The gestation period lasts an average of 37 days, with birthing of kits starting in April and stretching into late July.
Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is another name for the snowshoe hare?
2. What is the home range of the snowshoe hare?
3. What trick of camouflage has the snowshoe hare evolved to better evade the sharp eyes of predators?
4. How have snowshoe hare adapted to their cold environments?
5. Do snowshoe hare eat meat?
6. Do snowshoe hare dig burrows?
7. What are baby rabbits called?
8. How many young can snowshoe hare birth in a single year?
9. What are female rabbits called?
Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. A snowshoe hare is also known by the name varying hare.
2. The home range of the snowshoe hare stretch across all of North America.
3. Snowshoe hares have evolved to evade predators by growing white winter coats and brown summer coats to better blend into their natural environments and fool the sharp eyes of predators.
4. Snowshoe hare have adapted to their cold environments by having short ears and feet covered with thick fur.
5. When food is limited, snowshoe hare have been documented eating meat.
6. Snowshoe hare do not dig burrows, instead the prefer to conceal themselves from predators by hiding in shallow depressions under heavy spruce thickets and brush piles.
7. Baby rabbits are called kits.
8. Snowshoe hares can birth as many as 30 young per year.
9. Female rabbits are called does.
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Thursday, February 5, 2015
A Friends First Coyote Hunt
I remember fondly one particular evening a few years ago when I had the distinct pleasure of taking a friend out coyote hunting. This particular outing, it was an impossibly frigid January evening but my friend as excited and I aimed to please. Heading out the door, I noted that the thermometer on the deck read -17 degrees F, cold enough where we needed to use extreme caution exposing any flesh to the elements for fear of frostbite. A brilliantly bright full moon cast eerie shadows throughout the woodlands making my eyes swear they could see movement even when there was none. The short walk to our set-up location did precious little to warm us in the brutal cold but that meant little as I looks at my friend and he was grinning.
After 15 minutes of sitting on a high granite shelf overlooking the edge of an expansive frozen swamp with the sounds of wounded snowshoe rabbit blasting on the electronic call, a chorus of several excited song dogs started howling LOUDLY west of our position. Immediately after this auditory barrage a very concerned friend, his adrenaline pumping and nerves slightly frayed, slowly turned his head in my direction and whispered "WE are going to DIE!" This comment was soon followed by a remark inquiring about how many rounds of ammunition I had decided to bring and how fast I could work the bolt action on my rifle.
As my friend was only along to watch and was not carrying a firearm as a true “friend”, to further frazzle his already frayed nerves, I cranked the electronic call to its highest volume and hit "lone coyote howl". My poor, poor friend immediately flinched violently in his seat, his eyes expanded to the size of dinner plates and I am fairly certain he released something from his lower intestine in an uncontrolled fashion. I had all I could do not to burst out in hysterical laughter. Repeating the call several more times I could tell the old boy was at the end of his proverbial rope and I whispered, "that was me" lest he attempt to run for it. Thankfully, my friend has an incredible sense of humor and all I received as a through description of where I could stick my electronic call instead of the physical beating I probably deserved.
While it is enjoyable to target each of these animals with game calling, another popular method is the placing of bait. Bait piles containing road killed deer carcasses frequently draw all four of these furbearers, making morning and evening sits especially exciting as the hunter is never sure what critter might suddenly appear. December marks the beginning of the coyote night hunting season and dedicated sportsmen not afraid to subject themselves to the fury of the Maine winter are typically richly rewarded. Constructing warm shelters, for sitting in on cold winter nights, is mandatory for hunters to be able to hide movement and remain comfortable for long hours when the mercury plummets. These shelters range from drafty old retired ice shacks to well insulated, propane heated condos with lazy-boy recliners and bunks. With the trick to killing more coyotes, directly tied to spending as much time as possible on a bait site, comfort certainly pays huge dividends.
After investing over a hundred hours last winter sitting on bait sites, I can tell you that the most important consideration is having a comfortable chair. On a calm still evening, were even the smallest sound is amplified, a chair that allows you to sit practically motionless for 6-8 hours in absolutely critical. Maintaining “baited sites” is a labor-intensive process and hunters employ a variety of methods to attempt to keep sites refreshed with bait and active. Hungry critters can wipe out an active bait site fairly quickly, leaving hunters with nothing more to hunt over than skeletons. To battle this problem, many employ filling five gallon buckets with meat and water, freezing them solid. This allows critters to smell and dig at the bait, only extracting small morsels at each visit. This keeps predators hungry and coming back often to check on the site. Another method, I employed this previous hunting season is taking 4 large logs, nail them together in a square shape and cover the top with chicken wire, bait is then place under this chicken wire frame. Predators are able to see, smell and dig at the bait through he chicken wire but it is extremely difficult for them to eat more then a tiny amount at each visit.
Several laws exist dictating the placement of bait. These include proximity rules related to distance from dwellings, campgrounds and roads. Bait sites must also be labeled with a clearly visible 2 by 4 inch tag with the name and address of the baiter. Bait sites are subject to Maine’s litter laws and must be cleaned up when requested to do so by the landowner or within 20 days from the last day the site was hunted over. It is illegal to place bait on ice of waters that serve as municipal water supplies, or their tributaries. Before determining where to place a bait site, hunters should become thoroughly familiar with these laws and limitations. Individuals without direct access to public land will find that many opportunities exist where hunters can place bait on the edging of frozen lakes and ponds.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
Electric Ice Augers, Cusk and Lake Whitefish through the Ice
After suffering a back injury, battling blizzards last December, I realized that if I wished to have any hope of continuing my passion for ice fishing, I needed to find a better way of hacking a hole through the ice. My old gas powered ice auger, had been a valuable workhorse, in my ice fishing arsenal, for over 20 years but its imposing back breaking heft and ability to shake the fillings out of my mouth had me searching for a more viable option.
A year ago, I would have scoffed at the prospects of an “electric” powered ice auger but the Ion Electric Ice Auger is an amazing piece of equipment. Powerful, fast and QUIET, the 8 inch ION will drill up to 40 holes through 2 feet of ice on a single charge. At just 22 pounds, the ION is just shy of half the weight of my old gas powered ice auger and boasts special blades that create smooth breakthroughs and no jarring stops. Add the ION’s ability to reverse its blade and flush slush down the hole and it’s plainly obvious that this auger should be on every anglers most wanted list.
Now suitably equipped, why not try out your new ice auger on the hard waters, chasing the elusive and often underappreciated cusk. Although perhaps a less glamorous fish to pursue than the prized salmon and trout, these freshwater members of the codfish family are one of the finest freshwater fish to consume. Bearing an eel like resemblance and broad head with an enormous mouth, cusk have a strange appearance that has unfortunately caused many an ice fishermen to leave this odd looking fish on the ice for the scavengers.
Those individuals, who specifically fish for cusk, will profess that they having a delicious firm white meat and delicate flavor. Cusk are even sometimes described as the poor man’s lobster. Primarily nocturnal bottom-feeders, cusk are rarely caught during the day by ice fishermen, further adding to their misunderstood nature.
By the end of February, however, cusk begin leaving their deep-water hideaways to spawn leaving them decidedly more vulnerable to anglers. At this time, cusk can readily be taken during the early morning or late afternoon, near dawn and dusk. Cusk can be jigged quite easily using lake trout lures (Silver Leadfish or Swedish Pimples) or phosphorescent light emitting jigs, sweetened with chunks of sucker, minnow or shiner. Since cusk locate food by smell, for increased success crush the bait slightly to allow the oils to better disperse in the water. After dropping your jig on bottom, slowly lift the lure and bait up to 6 to 10 inches and let it drop to bottom again. Cusk will normally grab the bait as it sits motionless on bottom, just before the upward stroke.
Maine fisheries biologists report that Maine cusk average 18 inches and 24 ounces in their eight year of growth, 20 inches and 32 ounces in their tenth year, and 24 inches and 62 ounces in their thirteenth year. The largest angler-caught cusk recorded in Maine was 18 pounds 8 ounces. Well-known cusk fishing lakes in Washington County include: East Grand, West Grand, Pocumpus and East Musquash. Outside of Down East, healthy cusk populations exist in Sebago, Chesuncook, Pemadumcook, Brassua, Spencer and Musquacook.
While these two species share the same deep, oxygen-rich waters, whitefish congregate in large schools and aren’t “slope-oriented”, tending to instead prefer “flats”. For anglers, this means that by carefully drilling holes in the right locations and using the correct lures and presentations whitefish can be specifically and successfully targeted.
Whitefish prefer depths in the 40 to 60-foot range. While whitefish are bottom dwellers, feeding primarily on larvae found in the lakes muddy substrate, they will frequently strike lures jigged well above where they are schooling. It therefore pays to begin your jigging well above where fish are congregating on the bottom and work the jig in slowly. Proper jigging technique for whitefish is critical, start by pointing the rod tip toward the hole, then slowly lift, pause, let the lure fall under controlled slack, pause, gently shake the lure, pause again, then repeat the entire sequence. Popular jig include the diminutive half ounce C60 Williams Whitefish Spoon and the #6 Swedish Pimple. Both lures can me made more attractive by adding a small piece of florescent glow tape that can be periodically recharged by anglers with a small flashlight. Whitefish have keen senses of smell and taste, so jigs should always be tipped with a small piece of shiner.
Maine ice anglers will frequently have an old wrench or other heavy instrument on a long piece of fishing line that is typically used to stir up the mud on the lake bottom. This simple trick simulates a school of whitefish feeding and will sometimes whip a group of whities into a feeding frenzy. Every February, a large village of ice fishing shacks appears in Junior Bay on West Grand Lake, as dozens of anglers vie to chase whitefish. Those interested in trying their luck fishing for “whities” would be well served to follow the lead of these long time angling experts.
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