Every day in the woods is difficult to predict; there are so many variables, so many things interwoven and in constant flux. This hunt I was wildly off in my predictions.
The forecast called for abnormally high temperatures. In Boulder the high for the day was nearly sixty. Up in the mountains above it would of course be quite a bit colder, but given that it had snowed a few inches the day before, this was an unusual blessing.
Given the two items listed so far, I thought it would be an excellent day for a hare hunt. The light snow would make tracking much simpler–last time I was in these woods there was hare sign everywhere, but it was very difficult to tell if any of it was new. And I predicted that since the day before had been sunless and snowy, the warm sun would lure hares out to bask.
This was not the beautiful day of hunting I had hoped. The moment I got out of the car I realized things might not go as I’d hoped. The wind was howling, sending red dust from the parking lot off into the forest in tall whirls.
This was the same patch of woods I’d hunted the week prior, but this time I was intent on hares. Last week I flushed two or three while completely unprepared and wasted my opportunity. I was practically tripping over them–how hard could it be to find them this second time around?
Answer: very hard. I still-hunted every area that I’d recorded hare sign the previous week plus a few more areas with a number of fresh tracks. It is hard to say what influence the weather, the wind, and the time of day had on my efforts, but I know that I walked these woods for seven hours without sight of a hare.
Though I did learn some things about snowshoe hare during that time. I know from reading and experience that rabbits and hares like brushy areas because they provide ample cover. Additionally, I know that snowshoe hares up in the mountains often eat the bark of aspen and willow shoots in the winter when there is little forage. I don’t think it has quite reached that time of year, as the snow is still not deep enough to cover most of the cured grass.
Given that knowledge, I expected to find the majority of the hare sign in marshy areas containing willow and aspen, and in dry aspen clearings that contained significant amounts of grass. This did not prove to be the case. The week prior I flushed two hares along a mostly frozen creek, but with the fresh snow I was able to get a better idea of where they lived, and it was mostly much deeper in the forest than I expected. Lots of the sign was in areas of dense lodgepole pine with little to no browsing material for the hares. They travel much farther than I would have expected to eat.
Around two o’clock I decided to broaden my hunting goals to include pine squirrel as well. An hour and a half later I was hiking back with three squirrels still having not seen a hare.
I didn’t come home empty handed, but I did come home in low spirits. Over the course of the day I stepped through thin ice three times, filling my boots with mud and cold water, I fell hard on thicker ice obscured by the fresh snow, and I tore my first hole in my favorite down jacket.
It was not my favorite day of hunting, but I came home mostly unhurt, with a bit more knowledge, and a little bit of meat to cook a squirrel cacciatore (with a few berries from a Juniperus communis I passed along the way).