by Derrick Tapin
Let me start by telling you a little about Alberta hare hunting and the legislation on hare hunting in Alberta. Here in Alberta there are no laws to say when we are allowed to hunt or run our hounds, and no laws to say how many we can hunt and bag per day. In fact the Fish and Wildlife officers are quite surprised when they see we are using hounds to hunt and often end up asking us about how we do it and how it works. As long as we are following all regular hunting laws and guidelines we are usually not bothered. But in one case we came across some hunters that were hunting elk, they proceeded to ask us what we were using the beagles for, and I replied, we are using them for snowshoe hare and then they asked us how it was done, we told them, and they smiled and drove off. Two hours later or so a fish and wildlife constable approached us and asked us what we were hunting, he had said he got a report that we were using beagles to hunt deer and elk, I responded by asking whom did he get this report from, it was clearly someone who does not know much about hare hunting. That’s just a little example of how little people know of the sport here in Alberta.
Here in Alberta our hare hunting techniques are probably similar to those of other hare and cottontail hunters throughout the US and Eastern Canada. We like to hunt in thick spruce and pines, and we usually look for areas where we can see heavily used and well worn rabbit trails. Like most other rabbit hunters, we also look for and set up in spots where we can get off a good clean shot at them when they are crossing the lines. Here in Alberta our lines are everywhere due to all the seismic activity that has been done in the past, so it is real easy to go out into the forestry and set up for a good days hare hunt. Also here we like to set up in low lying areas in winter when the ground is frozen. Snowshoe hares love these areas because there is a lot of great cover, and lots of winter food.
As everyone knows rabbits and hare are very close to the bottom of the food chain. We have a fairly large population of wolves, coyotes, and owls that do the most damage to our hare hunting. Regardless of the many natural predators there is still a decent population of hares to hunt all the time. Even on the worst years with the lowest populations, a person can still get several good, long hound runs per day. I have not really seen to many years go bye that the hare hunting here has been drastically bad.
When we have high and low cycle years, the difference is not that noticeable at all. For example we planned a hunt for the whole weekend in September. We took about 16 hounds and there were five of us with guns. We usually set up on the line or just off the line with our tents and campers and build a fire if weather permitting. Soon as we get there the dogs are all released to run about in the thick spruce. It is not long before a hound strikes and all the other hounds hark in and give chase. It's a great sound when you here all the hounds giving chase on a single snowshoe, but it usually doesn't last for too long, since not all the hounds are use to running together. Most often they will split up into a couple of different packs and run several hares at the same time. Once the dogs start to move the hares to us from the thick cover it is not long before we see four or five separate hares running out of the cover at full speed. Many of these rabbits are not even the one being pursued by the hounds, but they sure think they are the one.
Finally the first hare was shot by a friend and a club member Perry Parsons. We were set up on a "L" shaped line which covered about 50 acres of thick spruce and pine. Three of us on one side of the thicket and the other two on the back side. We were hearing a lot of shots being fired on the back side for about two hours, so many shots that I lost count. We simply assumed that they were missing a lot shots or just warming up. Then all of a sudden it started to rain snowshoe hare. They were coming out across the line in twos and threes and we were hitting most of them. We just could not figure out why this was happening, but we didn’t complain of course. The rest of the day continued like that since there were a good number of hares at this new spot we had chosen. Our hounds seemed to stay busy right through the night, except for a few younger and less conditioned hounds. When we woke up the next morning all the hounds were sleeping right on top of a fellow hunter that fell asleep at the fire waiting for his hound to return. We asked him if he was warm and he replied I had 16 hounds to keep me warm.
We only hunted for about 5 hours the next day because some of the guys had to return back for work and wanted to get organized before hand. The hunting slowed down but not to slow, we were running only 6 dogs this time and they were kept just as busy as the day before. The rabbits were starting to get the hang of it, they were pulling off some wild turns and backtracking. It took the dogs a little longer at their checks, but they still figured it out. We then decided to pack up and head home. We figured the dogs had a great weekend and we even got to break in some younger dogs. While we were packing up, I just couldn't believe we had bagged 48 snowshoe hares in only a day and a half. I then quickly cam to the following conclusion, we were definitely coming back to this spot! Even with all the hares we got, we still saw and even missed several others. As we were driving away, we still saw many hares moving about over the lines and trying to get some order back into their daily routine, after all they had 16 hard hunting hounds at their heals all weekend long -- I guess I couldn't really blame the little devils. The weekend was a success and scouting in the off season months is what really paid off for us. Not a lot of people scout for hares, but if you do and want a day to be rewarding for you and your hounds it’s a great idea.