Hunting snowshoes in the eastern Upper Peninsula is worth the effort
Winter Hunting Enjoyment...
January 01, 2008
Picture this: A beagle leaping high through drifts of snow, enjoying the moment.. .the chase, equally as much as the hunter. As the dog pulls away with only the snowshoe on his mind; all that breaks the silence of the scene is the baying of the beagle.
Even though it is January, hare hunting across the eastern Upper Peninsula remains feasible. If snows are deep, employ snowshoes. A good, in-shape, hound will hold the pace, regardless of the terrain. You can make it somewhat easier on both dog and man by hunting old two-track trails, seasonal roadways, and utility corridors; but remember that your quarry seeks heavy cover.
Snowshoe season closes March 31st, yet good hunting days are still in order. Let's look back to see how the hares change locations from the September opener so no matter when you choose to come north to hunt hares, you will have a better idea as to where you will want to hunt.
During the first month of season, snowshoe hares are more dispersed because cover remains abundant. By late October, many leaves are down as the color change has passed. Snowshoes begin concentrating their activity closer to coniferous (ever-
green) areas where cover remains dense throughout the winter months. Snowshoes begin to molt their brown summer fur in mid-September and in approximately 70 days acquire their white coat. Should snowfall arrive late, they become an easy target.
What terrain to look for when hunting hares across the EUP:
|Snowshoe hares prefer heavily forested areas with dense "under-story" and adequate ground cover. Rick Baetsen photo|
Snowshoe hares prefer heavily forested areas with dense "under-story" and adequate ground cover. In the fall, they are generally common in coniferous or mixed cover and are more or less at home in cedar and spruce swamps. Small poplar stands bearing dense under-story prove well used by hares. There, hares often remain in dense cover during daylight and venture into forest clearings to feed at night. Following fresh tracks from openings or clearings in the morning can lead hunters directly to resting snowshoes. Fall and winter foods consist of grasses; twigs, buds, bark of maple, willow, aspen and hazel; conifer needles; lichens and mosses.
Place To Hunt
Specific hunting sites can be found by locating low-lying terrain while scouting or using a topographical map. Pick up a copy of Michigan Atlas & Gazetter, published by DeLorme Publishing Co. (www.delorme.com) PO Box 298,
Yarmouth, ME 04096. These detailed maps show the lowlands, swales, swamps plus state and federal land holdings, making it an easier task for the first time EUP hare hunter to find adequate hunting lands.
Traditionally, Drummond Island has always been a popular destination for snowshoe country as approximately two-thirds of the Island remains in state ownership. If you are not familiar with Drummond, ferry service is provided on an hourly basis, year-around.
Recently acquired DNR deeryarding areas may be a good hunting choice:
MDNR recently purchased several large tracts of land across the eastern Upper Peninsula from Marquette to Raber/Goetzville areas. These lowlands provide hare habitat. You may wish to check at a DNR Information Center regarding any of the following deeryard units:
Dickinson County: Two tracts in Hiawatha Township total just over 274 acres and are adjacent to state land.
Sturgeon Hole: This parcel is located near Munising along with the Echo Lake Deeryard found north of Marquette. They may or may not as yet have details completed as of this writing.
Dittrich Parcel: A total of 640 acres along the St. Mary's River located near the Gogomain Swamp, west of Raber.
Gogomain Swamp Tract: These 5,100 acres were purchased from Cedarwood LLC for a price of $3.1 million.
Word of caution: The Gogomain Swamp is infamous to say the least. Even DNR personnel remain cautious upon entry. It is extremely easy to get lost as is the issue with the Delirium Swamp out of Raco. Quicksandlike muck exists in certain areas.
Check possible hunt areas on your map: Again looking at a good county topo map will show you several things of interest. An Atlas such as put out by DeLorme, indicates lowlands, swamps or swales. Here is the habitat snowshoes require. The maps also clearly indicate state and national forest boundaries. It is easy to see that you as a hare hunter may want to check out terrain along the Tahquamenon or Manistique River watersheds.
Burned Over Areas
One more point to make: The recent Sleeper Lake wildfire was the third largest recorded for the state. New recurring habitat following a fire, often has strong appeal to snowshoe hares. I have been advised by DNR Forestry personnel at Newberry, that even though the fire occurred during August, into September (2007), the habitat showed good regrowth prior to the winter snows.
Stop in at any DNR office to inquire about specific areas you may wish to hare hunt: State and federal headquarters are listed below:
Newberry, 5100 State Hwy. M-123, 906-293-5131 (DNR)
Sault Ste. Marie, 2001 Ashmun Street, 906-635-6161 (DNR)
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising, 906-387-2607 (Federal)
Escanaba, 6833, Hwy 2, 41 & M-35; Gladstone, 906-786-2351 (DNR)
Sault Ste. Marie (Federal), 4000 I-75 Bus.Spur, 906-635-5311 (Federal)
Naubinway, US-2, 906-477-6262 (DNR)
Cusino Station (DNR), Shingleton, 906-452-6236 (DNR)
Marquette, 1990 US-41 South, 906-228-656; (DNR)
About The Beagle
In 1920, The Beagle in America and England, written by H.W. Prentice was published. A quote describing the beagle follows; "No man ever saw the day he couldn't put up a hare race...during those 19 hours of continuous driving he presented his hare to my view 100 different times...he has always been consistent in his work and clothed in a garb of hare sense, determination, courage, endurance, speed and ability to accomplish, he has stamped upon me his superiority as a hare hound over and above all that have been put down before me..."
And today, the beagle is still the most popular rabbit and hare dog preferred by most hunters; however in speaking with an EUP hunter of snowshoe hares, Charles Newel of Goetzville had the following to say. "My beagle, Belle, is great on rabbits and hares, as well as being a fine pet for my young boys, Joey and Billy. But I have owned many hunting dogs over the years and besides the beagle I enjoyed working behind a male cross beagle/bluetick I once owned. He was a long-legged
hound, great performer once the January, February snows became deep and drifted. Other hunters here in the EUP have preferred Walkers and Blueticks as their hounds of choice."
The Snowshoe Hare
The snowshoe, in common with other hares, is a mass producer of young. They are known to give birth to three or four litters a year.
Adults hares weigh three or four pounds. With their over-sized, splayed hind feet, they give forth the impression of weighing far more. A hare's hind feet serve as snowshoes, supporting its weight atop the snow; thus the snowshoe hare is aptly named.
The animal has a marvelous set of ears, that come complete with a built-in radar enabling them to zero in on the slightest sound which might indicate danger. The hare is often called a varying hare because of his changing coat. Another common name is "Swamp Ghost" for running hounds seem to have him in sight one moment and lose him the next. He ghosts along in front of the hounds, appearing from time to time, then vanishes again into the all white landscape. To further confuse trailing dogs, hares are capable of leaping in high bounds and are blessed with breakaway speeds.
For EUP Hunters
During winter months, snowshoe hares feed on white cedar and black spruce, found in swales and swamps. Snowshoes usually browse on a 45-degree angle and feed on twigs up to a sixth of an inch in diameter. If looking for snowshoe country, keep this fact in mind, looking for those 45-degree angle cuts throughout their habitat.
Another point to consider is the fact that fishers and pine martins are prime enemies of the snowshoe. Certain northern areas of the EUP were planted with these two species, so stop in at say, the Newberry DNR Field Office to check where fisher and martin activity may have taken a toll on these hares.
Something to remember: Hares are night active animals and tend to spend daylight hours lounging in "forms." These shallow depressions may be located in thickets or other types of cover. A snowshoe hare's home range can cover 20 acres. They spend most of their nights and early-day periods feeding.
Every hunter employs his own bag of tricks when hunting hares. Hunters often find a forest opening where they can stand and let the dogs bring the snowshoe back to them as it completes its full circle. However, I strongly feel as though a hare may not always follow this rule. When hounds are hot and heavy in pursuit, the swamp ghost may run flat out instead, simply hightailing it for a cedar thicket where adequate protection can be gained.
Another tip: Watch for tracks...but be sure they are fresh! Hares hide. Check hollow logs, stumps, and other forest floor cover. Observe signs of feeding activity or look for snowshoe scat.
In some states, hares were hunted with use of greyhounds instead of traditional beagles or other hounds. This practice occurred during the late 1800s and into the early 1900s.
The snowshoe remains a "cycle'' or "trough-and-wave'' creature, which means that discernible cycles in population can be graphed over eight-to-10-year periods. As hares multiply profusely, their food source may not be adequate. Parasites and disease can spread rapidly throughout the hare community causing a population crash.
As the hare numbers explode, predators prosper. As food dwindles during the low cycle, wolves, coyotes, fox, bobcats must look again for better range. This completes the cycle as now the predators face starvation and the snowshoe colony slowly rebuilds towards another population peak.
When hunting, keep the above information in mind and inquire from your DNR Headquarters if the hares, where you hope to hunt, are in the up or down cycle.
A inquiry to the Newberry DNR Office at the time of this writing, presented the following information: "Snowshoe hare populations are presently down somewhat, due to cyclic population fluctuations, however, population levels appear to be slowly improving. Declining habitat continues to be a concern in some portions of their range.
There, you have it. Study your maps, make inquiries, do some serious snowshoe scouting, carry along a compass or GPS, hunt hard, enjoy your winter outing in the eastern end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.