I set off into the forest early, but not too early. I’d picked a place on the Roosevelt National Forest and downloaded a few quads to my Avenza. I need to take a quick break here and talk about the virtues of Avenza. We use it all the time in wildland fire, but it is just as useful for anyone who recreates on public lands. You can download maps of anywhere for free, and this app will let you pull them up, show you where you are, and record your points of interest like where you parked and if you find a hotbed of animal activity that you want to come back and hunt later.
Okay, now that’s done, back to the hunt. I didn’t really pick a quarry for this hunt. I knew there would be pine squirrels and I’d be fine taking a few of those home. But what I really wanted was snowshoe hare. I’d just picked this hunting location from a map due to its proximity to where I lived and its distance from where I expected other people to be–no idea what I’d find out there.
I was nervous when I first got out there. It had been a couple years since I’d been hunting and I was definitely feeling rusty. But it seems to me like every time I go out I just gain more knowledge, nothing is ever lost. I wandered off into the forest away from all trails and out toward nothing, crossing slippery frozen streams and wide, clear aspen stands full of crunchy snow.
Once I felt I was far enough away from roads and trails, I got into the still hunting groove. I walked slowly a ways and then stopped and listened, my hat pulled up over my ears to hear the slightest movements. In this case, pulling my hat over my ears was unnecessary, as a chickaree called out quite loudly from nearly overhead. Within a couple minutes I had located it in the tree and dropped it to the ground. The nerves were gone. I wasn’t going home empty handed, so now I could relax.
The next few hours I wandered the woods, exploring and not worrying about whether or not I found anything. I found some squirrel dens and areas of snowshoe hare activity and marked them on my avenza map. The hare activity I found was unsurprisingly all in the aspen and willow stands. The shoots of aspen and willow make good fare for the snowshoe hares during the winter, and the brush is easier to hide in than much of the surrounding forest.
In one of these clearings I startled my first hare. I was moving too fast and not paying nearly enough attention and then suddenly there was a flash of white and it took off away and around a log. But then it stopped and looked at me. It just sat there and stared at me while I lifted my rifle much too quickly, much too eagerly, and shot right over the top of its head. This time it didn’t stop and quickly disappeared into the woods.
I spent the next few hours stalking this area. It was all willow and aspen long a mostly frozen creek. I startled up the same hare a couple times while trying to track it as slowly as I could, but each time it was too far off and too fast for me to try shooting at it.
As soon as I’d given up on hares and decided to go back to the animal I knew I could bring home I stumbled upon another, which this time startled me as it shot out of the brush in front of me and disappeared. As much as I wanted to again give chase, I’d have to save that for another day.
The rest of the day was spent with my attention divided. I would decide to hunt squirrels for a while, but then I would stumble on fresh looking hare tracks and follow those, but then I would hear pine cone scales hitting the ground and I’d have to find the squirrel dropping them.
At the end of the day I’d gotten as many squirrels as I cared to bring home and hadn’t seen another hare. I struggled through the skinning and cleaning of the little things, something I’ve never been particularly adept at. Every time I try the easy squirrel skinning techniques I’ve seen and they have not once worked for me. If I ever figure it out I will be sure to share my findings.
A bag full of squirrels ain’t bad and will make a nice stew, but I sure wish I’d brought home a hare as well.