While most hunting seasons are over or rapidly drawing to a close, the real action for a few species is just heating up. One group is predators like foxes, coyotes and bobcats. Another, which lasts through the end of March, is snowshoe hares. A good many residents step out the back door and head for the local woodlot come winter, and these little lagamorphs attract a surprising number of nonresidents as well. And when prepared right, these furry forest dwellers make for fine table fare.

Hunting them can be as simple as strolling through the woods with a small bore shotgun or even a .22 rifle, though more serious hunters often use dogs. The snowshoe uses several means of avoiding danger, each of which can be exploited by the hunter. One is to simply freeze. The hare’s all-white coat provides ideal camouflage in the snowy woods, and it takes a sharp eye to pick out their black, beady eye or perhaps the twitch of an ear.

Occasionally nature plays a nasty trick on the hare. Like the whitetail rut and the wild turkey breeding season, the snowshoe’s transition to white is triggered by changes in day length rather than weather or temperature. If snow fails to fall early, as happened this past December, their all-white pelage actually works against them.

Escape is another means of evasion that can be exploited. Rather than walking at a steady pace, pause often and wait. If the hare senses it’s been discovered, it may make a run for it. The solo still-hunter has but an instant to acquire the target and shoot before his or her quarry vanishes into the dense undergrowth it prefers. It may make only a short dash before stopping again, offering a second shot opportunity if you can relocate it.

A more classic hunting style involves the use of dogs, typically beagles. The escape run is often longer when a hare is flushed by dogs, but snowshoes have an Achilles’ heel: They’re reluctant to leave their home range of about 20 acres and will typically take a circuitous escape route.

The action begins when beagles bay, signaling they’ve picked up a hot scent. Hunters strain their ears to determine which way the chase is going, then hastily spread out toward potential intercept points. Guess wrong and you might go in the wrong direction. Guess right and you still may arrive too late. But each close call improves your odds. Adjust your position by looking for fresh tracks or heavy runs. Then hold tight and wait for the throng to circle around again.

The best areas are typically dominated by young growth with a good mix of evergreens for cover and hardwood for food. Snow cover makes it easier to spot tracks, indicating you’ve picked the right spot. Deep snow makes the going tougher, but you can always don your own snowshoes.

Hunting season runs from Oct. 1 through March 31, but the best hunting often comes late in the season. The old expression “mad as a March hare” alludes to the snowshoes’ behavior in the March mating season when bucks, much like young whitetail bucks, drop their guard and move about more and more carelessly.

There are numerous ways to prepare hare, but I’ve found the best to be slow cooking in broth. The tender meat will fall off the bone and tastes a bit like dark chicken.

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

[email protected]

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