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Anyway, I snowshoed around the woods for a couple of hours and finally found a hare sitting atop a snow-covered mound. Assuming my best FBI combat crouch, I held the gun in both hands and took careful aim at the disinterested bunny. After emptying one full magazine of 10 rounds and the better part of the other, I finally rolled that rabbit. When I made my way over to check him out, I discovered that he’d been hit exactly once – not the best of averages for a classic target handgun!
I have better luck with a .22 rifle or shotgun, and so I usually take one or the other on my January hunts. If I’m hunting without dogs I’ll use the rifle, and if I have some beagles on hand, I’ll go with the shotgun. Snowshoe hares are rather sedentary during the day and will sit tight if you are walking by, but if you put the dogs on them you’ll have somewhat faster (and more challenging) shooting. I’d be willing to bet that a snowshoe hare in high gear is probably one of the fastest creatures in the woods. At least I have had the distinct misery of emptying my Browning A-5 shotgun at fleeing hares (in front of guffawing witnesses) more than once, and I am a pretty fair shot most of the time. During my salad years as an upland hunter, I could take a dozen partridges on the wing with a box of 25 shells, generally considered phenomenal in grouse-hunting circles. But, if I could take four or five rabbits with a box of shells I was doing great.
Of course, bowhunting hares is a challenge at any time. Some hunters prefer to walk along woodland trails and try to spot hares as they sun themselves in open alders, while others take a stand as if they were deer hunting and wait for rabbits to come out to feed. Few archers try to hunt with hounds because it’s difficult enough to arrow a hare that is sitting still, but shooting a running rabbit with archery gear is nearly impossible. It can be done, but not often enough.
The real point of January rabbit hunting is getting outdoors and seeing what’s going on in the winter woods. Sure, you’ll find rabbits, rabbit tracks and other sign, but there is a lot to see and learn out there; I have yet to come home from a winter ramble and not have something new, unusual or surprising to report. Anything that takes place on the ground will be revealed in the snow cover, and much of what the “real world” is about is written on top of the snow. For example, one day I got to following the dainty tracks of a field mouse as it wandered from one grassy clump to another. I rather enjoyed seeing how the little rodent spent its time in winter, stopping here to disappear under the snow and pausing there to dine on a weed seed. It was a little bit shocking and distressing to see the tracks end suddenly with the swirling, sweeping imprint of owl wings all around. I had to remind myself that nature is a 24-hour business, and just as I was in pursuit of a rabbit for the pot, some hawk or owl had the same plan in mind for the meandering field mouse.
There is no law that says you have to hunt rabbits this winter, but it’s as good an excuse as any for getting outdoors and away from the humdrum of daily life. The important thing is to get out there and participate – regenerate your mind and spirit while you look for rabbits, squirrels, or tracks in the snow. I always come back with a story to tell, but I also come back with a renewed spirit and a fresh outlook on life. Whether I come home with a rabbit or not, I still win. What could be better than that!
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