Help is on the way for Michigan’s dwindling snowshoe hare
The Department of Natural Resources is hoping that a multi-year Michigan State University study will help bring back snowshoe hares in parts of the state where their numbers have been declining. I hope so, too.
I’ve enjoyed hunting snowshoes for many years, including in some of the places where they are no longer found. In Gladwin County, where my grandfather had a cabin for many years, we could find snowshoes or cottontails, depending on the areas that we hunted.
When we were in college in the Upper Peninsula, a fresh snow meant skipped classes or a couple hours of hunting before class, as it was much easier to track snowshoes when the multitude of old tracks in the swamp were covered up. It was better still if it had snowed through the night and was continuing in the morning while we were out hunting.
Without a four-legged hunting buddy, we’d walk through the brush until a hare had been “moved.” Then, one of us would be elected as “dog” and the others would hold their position while the dog followed the tracks and brought the hare around.
Depending on your preference, the two-legged “dog” would now and then give out a howl, just like a real dog, to let the others know where the hare was going. Some of us preferred to whistle a tune while we were following the trail. No matter the vocalization, the system worked and we shot many snowshoes over the years.
Our dorm room became known for its Friday night fried rabbit dinners, which were popular with the guys, and as a source for “lucky” rabbits’ feet, which were favored by the girls.
The MSU research seems to point to climate change as one of the reasons for hares moving out of their traditional areas, although it is believed that subtle changes in some forest management techniques might help big-footed rabbits maintain their hold in some of the places where they are losing ground. It will be interesting to see how it works out.
Here’s to the snowshoe hare which, besides being a mainstay for any number of woodland predators, is a great source of exercise, camaraderie and nutrition for hunters across the state.