The Snowshoe Hare (lepus americanus) is also known as the varying hare, because of its seasonal color change. The distribution of the snowshoe hare is far more widespread than the Arctic hare, and these smaller hares are found throughout much of Interior Alaska. Snowshoe hares are present in Southeast Alaska, but not abundant. Decades ago, snowshoe hares were rare north of the Brooks range, but in recent years they have expanded their range into that area.
Snowshoe hares are found in mixed spruce forests, wooded swamps, and brushy areas. They feed on grasses, twigs, willow and aspen buds and green leaves, and their browsing often leaves signs. Hares nip twigs and branches neatly at a 45 degree angle with their sharp incisors. In the winter, as snow allows them to reach the tender shoots higher up, hares may stand up and clip twigs three or four feet above the ground.
“Hunting hares in Alaska is different from hunting cottontails in the Lower 48,” says biologist Tom Paragi. “Cottontails will jump up right at your feet, but these hares, they move out way ahead of you. You don’t see them nearly as much. If you hunt slowly, you don’t spook them as much and can pick them out.”
Paragi recommends moving slowly through the habitat. “Sneak through woods, move slow, stop and go. In more open terrain, you can use binoculars to scope ahead and look for hares – that’s a good technique for game birds as well. If you spot them, stalk slowly into gun range.”
Several hunters can work together to drive hares out of cover. The “watchers’ should be positioned where the “drivers” will push hares out of the cover into the open – at the end of a long row of alders, along streamside areas with thick willow or alder or where there’s cover next to open country.
“On islands in the Tanana and Yukon Rivers we’d hunt in thick brush or young, thick stands of spruce. The hares stay in that thick cover and don’t go out in the open unless you push them out. You have someone positioned where you think you can ambush one coming by. The guys in the brush doing the drive may not see many, but the guys up ahead on watch will see them run past. You have to be really careful with shots — you don’t want to be shooting back toward the people that are driving.”
Tularemia is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted by hares to people and pets. It can cause wound infections, swollen lymph nodes, fever or flu-like symptoms. Though cases are sporadic, it does occur in humans, especially in Interior Alaska. The situation is very different for pets, however. Dogs and cats commonly acquire tularemia, typically after killing or consuming a sick hare. Cases are diagnosed every summer by veterinarians in Fairbanks and the surrounding area. It is easily treatable with antibiotics if detected early but is potentially fatal if not treated appropriately. Transmission to people usually results from gutting and skinning an infected hare but the ticks that are common on hares and rodents in Alaska can also transmit it. As a general precaution when handling hares, minimize contact with body fluids and the intermal organs (use protective gloves and wash well with antibacterial soap). Cooking will kill the bacteria.
Field Dressing Hare - for eating
To field dress a hare cut off the head. Break the feet at the ankle joints and cut them off. Pinch the skin on the rabbit’s back and pull it so you can cut through the skin, cutting across the back. Hold the hide and pull the skin away in opposite directions, peeling it completely off. Remove the tail. Cut the abdomen open – be careful not to cut into the entrails – grab the heart and lung portion of the viscera and pull backwards, removing all the entrails. Clean out all blood and blood clots under running water.
Depending on how you plan to prepare the hare, you may wish to cut it into five pieces – the backstrap, the two forequarters (right and left ribs and legs) and the two hindquarters. Like chicken, a whole hare will take longer to cook than a hare that is cut in pieces.
Field Dressing Hare - for Taxidermy
The Snowshoe or Artic hare can make for a beautiful first time inexpensive trophy. All small mammals should remain whole - froze solid and taken to your taxidermist. If you are going to send your trophy to a taxidermist, ship frozen and use Next-Day-Air...Let your taxidermist know when to expect your trophy.