December 10, 2011

Hunting: A father is proved wrong after his son bags snowshoe hare

By BOB HUMPHREY

I sometimes joke that I'll be the first to admit when I'm wrong, if that should ever happen. It finally did, and I must humbly disclose that I owe the snowshoe hare an apology.

My son shot his first hare recently, and I imposed a strict family policy that if you kill it, you eat it. I have to admit I wasn't particularly relishing the thought, based on past experience.

My one and only serious attempt at harvesting a hare came many years back when fellow outdoorsman John Hunt invited me to join him. We hunted in the traditional manner, setting beagles loose in an area occupied by these long-legged lagamorphs.

Most folks mistakenly refer to rabbits and hares as rodents. They are, in fact, members of the order Lagamorpha, which includes rabbits, jackrabbits, hares and pika.

They differ primarily in their dentition. At first glance, their two front teeth look very similar to those of rodents. But if you look closer, you'll notice another, smaller pair directly behind the larger ones -- something rodents lack.

There also are differences within the order. Rabbits are altricial, meaning their young are born blind, without fur and entirely dependent on their parents for the first weeks of life.

Hares, on the other hand, are precocial. They're born fully furred and with eyes wide open, ready to roll, or hop, within hours. They still rely on the adults for care and protection from the multitude of diurnal and nocturnal predators pursuing them.

Hares have evolved several tactics and characteristics to elude predators, one of which is the ability to change color -- another difference from rabbits. During the spring, summer and fall, snowshoe hares -- also called varying hares -- sport a brownish pelage that blends in well with their surroundings. In winter, their coat turns white.

This adaptation comes in quite handy during typical winters in the north country, helping them blend into their snowy environs. But it occasionally backfires when winter snow is late in arriving or early in departing. Then the white bunnies stand out in stark contrast to their surroundings, making them easier prey for both four- and two-legged predators.

Snowshoe hares also have a curious habit of running a somewhat circuitous route when rousted from the security of a hiding place, and this Achilles' heel is often exploited by houndsmen. When the dogs flush a hare, the hunters move into position near the jump site. If the cover is open enough, there's a fair chance the hare will eventually circle back, offering a quick shot. It's not foolproof, but works often enough to be considered a preferred method.

It was just that tactic that John and I employed on my previous hunt, meeting with enough success that we both went home with dinner.

It was here that I messed up. I honestly don't recall the particulars of preparation, but I distinctly remember being less than impressed with the snowshoe hare as table fare -- somewhat akin to chewing on spruce bark, in terms of both flavor and consistency. Thus I avoided harvesting hare on future upland game hunts for many years.

It was not until my young apprentice forced my hand that I again attempted it. Before doing so, however, I consulted several sources for recommendations, the most popular ones involving some variation on slow-cooking in a crockpot. So into the pot the hare went, along with a little red wine and (what else?) some carrots.

Results far exceeded my expectations. I found the hare to be tender and quite mild in flavor, not unlike dark chicken, though without the greasy fattiness.

So I must apologize to the snowshoe hare, not only for my avoidance, but for my derisive comments regarding their status as table fare. And I further vow to include them more often in my dinner plans.

Of course, if they were capable of such considerations, they would probably prefer things had stayed as they were.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine Guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

bhhunt@maine.rr.com

 

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