All my life, Maine’s varying-hare season has run from Oct. 1 to March 31, one of the few hunting-season constants when one reaches my age.

When I was 10 to 13 years old, my hare hunting kicked off during the 2½-week Christmas vacation from school and continued through March. (We call hares “rabbits” in northern New England.)

In those four winters, my intrepid hound, Stormy, and I rabbit hunted across dense spruce-and-fir ridges and through leatherleaf swamps around my boyhood home, after school and on Saturdays and vacations. All these decades later, memories of those times flood to mind around the December holidays.

Stormy’s father was a male yellow Lab and the mother a bloodhound-beagle mix, creating a large, long-legged, barrel-chested mongrel with a loud, ringing, melodious howl.

When Stormy ran a rabbit straight at me and aimed that canorous bellow in my direction, it sometimes made my hands tremble, a deafening sound to a kid, particularly on a still day beneath a conifer canopy.

I’d pick an opening in a thicket ahead of the dog and hope the fleeing rabbit would stop there long enough for a shot, and they often did to look around. Such a big hound often ran close behind the rabbit, so the shooter had to be extra careful. No one wants to blast No. 6 pellets into a beloved pet.

A fond memory from childhood includes Saturday morning hunts when the frigid air froze hair inside my nostrils and made toes tingle. I’d have several hours ahead, knowing that the sun would warm the air by 10 a.m. Best of all, a long hunt usually produced one or two hares — if not more.

In December, snow was usually shallow enough for easy walking, maybe 2 to 4 inches, endearing the month to me. Later in winter, snow thigh-high and deeper made snowshoes a must.

Three huge incentives attracted me to rabbit hunting:

1. Varying-hare habitat surrounded my home, giving me superb sport.

2. I liked eating hare in stews, pies or particularly fricassees, the latter a common cooking method in those days to tenderize the meat.

3. Back then, Maine had few winter diversions for me other than rabbit hunting, ice fishing, interscholastic basketball and skating.

Yup, the excitement of the hunt, good victuals, and sometimes old-fashioned boredom drove me to the woods — a fine way to grow up. I often had nothing better to do than go hunting.

In my preteens and teens, even though it was illegal, Maine kids in the country often hunted alone without an adult, and I do mean “alone.”

Two or more children together might horse around and get in trouble, but my parents knew a preteen or teenager without distractions from friends functioned well with a firearm. I never behaved recklessly.

These days, folks look at allowing preteens to hunt alone as insanity, but I hunted by myself month after month, year after year.

In fact, when I was 12 years old, Olin Jackson, the area game warden, once caught me doing just that. I was walking by myself up the middle of Route 105 in Windsor, carrying an unloaded Model 94 .30-30 Winchester.

He let me go, but not without a lecture. He had me shaking until he ended with a cautionary note that made me realize I was home free.

“In the future, Ken,” the warden said, “walk back to your house through the woods — not down the middle of the road like a thug.”

The fact that he knew my name greatly impressed me.

My father, a deer hunter, cared little for rabbit hunting, but he along with my mother and grandmother enjoyed eating rabbit, grouse, squirrel, and of course deer. That was a big part of why they allowed me to hunt alone.

My mother or grandmother soaked rabbits in salted water for an hour or more, and before cooking they wiped them dry. I say “they” because dinner was often a joint effort between the mother-daughter team.

For fricasseed rabbit, they dredged serving pieces in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, and browned the meat and a coarsely chopped onion in medium-hot oil. Then, they added water and simmered the dish for an hour or more to tenderize the meat. Canned stringed beans from our garden, a potato dish and hot tea complemented the main dish.

Sometimes, we had rabbit stew or rabbit pie, which smacks of tradition. This country grew up eating rabbits (and squirrels).

When I was 13, a recidivist from Augusta killed Stormy, so we soon bought a purebred beagle named Holly, a great house pet and companion. She was worthless in a rabbit cover, though, teaching me a crucial lesson early in life — don’t take any pleasure for granted because nothing lasts.

With Stormy, I thought my rabbit-hunting days would never end, but good hounds are few and far between, reminding me of a cliche. We may have good dogs in life, but we’re only allotted one great dog for each sport.

I say “each” because life has given me a superb rabbit hound and an excellent bird dog. Most of my hunting dogs were just average — but fun.

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

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