If you find yourself in the wilderness with no food, you will need to act. It’s just that simple.
A bow is a great survival tool that can help keep you alive if things get tough. Even in the dead of winter, with help from your trusty bow, you can find food, especially in the form of the snowshoe hare. I speak from experience….
The varying, or snowshoe, hare, true to its name, is camouflaged for all seasons as it changes from a summer coat of brown to a winter coat of white. The snowshoe rabbit, as it is referred to in my neck of the woods, provides a great winter alternative. Like the whitetail, the snowshoe rabbit relies on its acute hearing, sight and smell to warn it of danger. The white rabbit’s habitat and territorial range is a scaled down version of the whitetail’s. Both the hare and the deer eat the same types of food. Alder thickets and conifer-clad swamps, with their dense undergrowth, provide both food and protection from the elements and predators.
The average white rabbit is around 20 inches in length, eight to nine inches tall at the shoulder and weighs an average of two to four pounds. The tracks of the varying hare stand out from all other tracks because of the wide snowshoe form of the hind foot. The “snowshoe” on this rabbit looks out of proportion but serves its purpose well by carrying the hare over the snow on which its predators can’t travel, at speeds up to 30 miles per hour or about 44 feet per second!
A snowshoe rabbit habitat has a trail system just like whitetail deer have their common trails through preferred feeding and bedding areas. Hare trails in winter can become ruts in the mounting snow that can hide all but its eyes and ears. If you happen into the same cover in the absence of snow, you will find the same trail ruts in the ground. Whitetail tracks reveal a creature of habit that travels between food, water and bedding. These worn trails indicate repeated activities. So does the network of trails of the snowshoe rabbit. The varying hare feed mainly at night, but they are also very active on dark, overcast days. These are the best days to track and hunt as the diffused light of the overcast sky gives much better definition of the shadow and shape of tracks, as well as the white rabbit’s outline against the snow.
- Keen sight and smell
- Good camouflage
- Hind foot with snowshoe design
- Runs at speeds of 30 mph
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
Tracking this white rabbit with its five-toed front feet and four-toed hind feet enlightens you to the design of the ultimate snowshoe. Long guard hairs over dense-haired feet serve a variety of purposes in both design and function, including prevention of heat loss, support in deep snow, good grip on ice and reduction of body scent in the tracks by not allowing snow to stick to or build up on their feet.
Man-made snowshoes have evolved from early northern woodland Native American designs like the Ojibway, which are constructed of flexible wood frames webbed with twisted bands of basswood or the slippery-elm inner bark. I have always been a stickler for tradition when it comes to snowshoes. I have worn the oval semi-bear paw design for hunting brushy cover and the long narrow pike design with its long tail for covering ground in open timber. Unlike the ski, the snowshoe is not made for speed. But designs in recent years with durable metal frames and flexible webbing, featuring a swiveling harness with cleat tracks allow the winter woods wanderer to cover a wide variety of terrain as well as climb steep inclines with ease.
VICTORY AT LAST
It was partly cloudy that February day when I suited up in my father’s World War II snow parka and my 21st-century snowshoes and headed into the evergreen swamp with bow and arrow. As soon as I entered the cover, fresh rabbit tracks in the newly fallen snow indicated a busy night of feeding. It was quite time-consuming, following the hare trails and thrashing covers with my snowshoes. I was afraid my opportunity had come and gone when I missed the rabbit. But I truly enjoy following fresh tracks, any tracks. My afternoon was winding down, and I wasn’t gaining on the rabbit that I had shot low on. As several tracks intermingled, I paused.
My eyes followed a lone set of tracks that left the dense surroundings of the swamp. In long strides, the prints headed toward a tall blue spruce 35 yards away. At the outer limits of a low-hanging bough, my eyes locked on a snowshoe rabbit sitting in the classic crouched pose, convinced of its security. The varying hare was slightly quartering away from me. It was a shot waiting to happen. But this time I made a quick check with the rangefinder.
The snowshoe rabbit was just within my bow range. It was just that the white lump of rabbit didn’t resemble the 35-yard bull’s-eye I can hit in my yard. To clear some limbs, I knelt down, drew the bow, and launched. The 485-grain arrow arched toward the rabbit.
I have to admit I was more than surprised when the arrow hit the hare. My first snowshoe rabbit with a bow and arrow!
- Focus on back tension and bow arm angle
- Use a thin or relaxed bow grip
- Come down on target when you aim
- Practice long-range shots
- Hook the trigger with finger
- Cut off the head and the lower half of each leg
- Peel back the skin at the neck and grasp one of the front legs by the muscle, peeling off the skin
- Starting at the neck or just below the rib cage, cut through the belly as far as you can, then cut between the hind legs to expose the end of the small intestine.
- Remove the guts and the greenish gland embedded in the liver, making sure not to puncture it, so the bile doesn’t taint the meat.
- Chop the rabbit into pieces for easier cooking.
The easiest way to cook your hare is to pan fry it; you can bread it first or just fry it up plain. Adding vegetables and liquid to it can make for a nice stew if you cook it for a couple of hours. Add in some vegetables and you’re in for a real treat.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the Winter 2013 print issue of American Survival Guide.