William Clunie of Dixfield ranks as one of the most serious whitetail hunters in my circle of acquaintances. It’s an opinion, but my case for Clunie’s dedication to the sport proves difficult to refute after hearing the particulars.

My main argument revolves around a pair of Clunie’s closely related rifle models — a big-bore centerfire and a .22 rimfire. He chose the two for hunting most four-legged critters in Maine’s regular firearm seasons, and his sole reason for selecting the rifles begins with his desire to improve shooting skills on live game. (He also uses a black-powder rifle and bow and arrows in those special seasons.)

Here are the facts about Clunie’s pet rifles:

He hunts big game with a Marlin Model 1895CB .45-70 Government that shoots 385-grain, flat-nosed, cast-lead projectiles. This lever-action includes an exposed hammer and a ghost peep sight, the latter nothing more fancy than a peep with the target disk removed.

So far, Clunie’s large-bore rifle offers nothing beyond the ordinary.

Lots of Mainers own .35- to .45-calibers that shoot huge projectiles capable of generating incredible momentum, and the open peep sight helps shooters get onto deer quickly in dense thickets.

Clunie has a concern, though, involving the Marlin 1895CB. Because our regular firearms season for deer runs just 25 days and offers a one-deer limit, he gets limited shooting practice at live game with the big-bore rifle. Each fall, according to Clunie, he hunts deer with the .45-70 about 20 days in the regular firearms season, and in some years may also grab it for a few days bear hunting in late summer.

The second rifle gives us a definitive clue as to how seriously Clunie approaches hunting sports. He selects a Marlin Model 39 .22 rimfire for hunting varying hare, often called rabbits in Maine.

This choice strikes me as genius. To remedy the limitation of not getting practice with the Model 1895CB in such a short season, he has chosen a Model 39 with its undeniable similarities to his deer rifle.

The much smaller-bore rifle has a lever action, exposed hammer, peep sight and similar-length barrel and pull. In fact, Clunie claims that both rifles handle alike in the mount, hold and sighting.

Hares grow abundantly where Clunie lives, and the Maine hunting season for them lasts from Oct. 1 to March 31. With the lever-action .22, he gets shooting galore each winter, particularly since he owns a snazzy little rabbit hound to keep the bunnies hopping.

“Wherever there’s a frozen, swampy area up here,” Clunie said, “there are so many rabbits that I can use a .22 rifle or even a handgun to make it more challenging.”

Many Maine hunters chase hares with a shotgun, which throws a few hundred lead pellets in a wide pattern with each shot, offering increased shooting efficiency. This choice comes with a negative, though. Diners must pick around pellets in the meat. With a .22, folks only deal with one projectile that often exits the small animal — another plus for a rifle.

Clunie admits that he doesn’t always take running shots with his beloved .22. A fleeing rabbit often stops in an opening to look around, and that gives him a chance to tip it over for the pot.

I know Clunie well enough to know he’s extremely honest. During my interview, one frank answer popped my eyes wide open. When I asked if he liked eating rabbits, he quickly responded, “No.”

He then explained that the meat tastes more like cedar as winter progresses, evidence that lowlands in Clunie’s area grow lots of cedar.

This man and his family do eat hares, though, and a recent favorite braising recipe of the Clunie family includes a sauce made from small, canned chunks of tomatoes with typical Italian seasonings.

On the other hand, I relish varying hare, but the recipe must include a slow cooking time to tenderize the meat, which often runs toward tough.

I’ve mentioned jugged hare here before. (“To jug” is a verb that means stewing slowly in a bean pot.) This cooking method creates an excellent solution for turning wild meat into a delicious dinner.

The recipe — found on the Internet and in fancy cookbooks — always calls for cloves and a rich red wine sauce that conjures images of 17th-century noblemen with a foot propped on a pillow, suffering from gout.

Serve jugged hare with pilaf, brandied carrots, crusty French bread and Saint Emilion or Pomerol, or for those who can afford it, Chambertin.

For the more patriotic, try a California vintage gamay or pinot noir. 

Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at:

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