Published February 05, 2010, 08:26 AM

Hunting for snowshoe hares

Oscar, the yellow Labrador pup, now 76 pounds, ran behind the couch and chair with his mangled tennis ball in his mouth. I don’t know if it was his tail or rump that struck the snowshoes leaning up against the wall, but they fell with a clatter, thoroughly scaring Oscar. We petted him and he soon returned to normal.

Oscar, the yellow Labrador pup, now 76 pounds, ran behind the couch and chair with his mangled tennis ball in his mouth. I don’t know if it was his tail or rump that struck the snowshoes leaning up against the wall, but they fell with a clatter, thoroughly scaring Oscar. We petted him and he soon returned to normal.

I set the snowshoes back up against the wall and ran my hands over the leather bindings. I was going to sell them years ago but Laurie likes their “decorative look.”

The snowshoes were made in Canada from ash and rawhide along with the leather bindings. They are 59” long, 10” wide, and according to the late John Jobson’s book on Practical Camping, they go by a number of names: “Pickerel, Siwash, Yukon, Trail Runner, Alaska and Eskimo.”

They came into my life in fall of 1975 while I was starting a new job as associate editor of “Wyoming Wildlife” magazine in Cheyenne. I wandered into a sporting goods store in Douglas, and there were the Canadian snowshoes, marked down one-third or more.

Those were good times for me. I had just escaped from a county reporter job where I wrote endless obituaries, wrestled with taciturn county officials for starvation pay and lived in a refurbished attic for $70 a month.

Now I was in Wyoming, writing outdoor features and assisting in editing a wildlife magazine. The move involved a 20 percent pay increase, and I was already shopping for my first house. I was feeling pretty good about my situation, so I bought the snowshoes for about $40.

It wasn’t long before I met Harry, a Finlander from the upper peninsula of Michigan, a Ph.D. in wildlife, who also is a hunting fanatic and a friend to this day. Harry suggested we hunt snowshoe hares in the Medicine Bow Mountains west of Laramie.

“Do you have snowshoes?” he asked.

Did I have snowshoes — YOU BET!

I owned three beagles at the time so we took them on the trip to Woods Landing, about ten miles from the Colorado border.

Today, I dug out the 30+ year old column I wrote about that day, and read about the three beagles baying and chasing snowshoe hares. I made note that except for Bruno, the pup, they used their noses poorly and chased the hares mostly by sight. According to my old column, I shot three hares and missed one with my old bolt-action Hawthorne .410. (I tried to shoot while holding a dead hare in my left hand.) Harry was hunting higher up on the hill and shot four hares, the Wyoming limit in those days. When he returned to the road, he asked if I wanted to keep hunting to get my fourth hare, and I replied that my knee hurt from taking a fall, and three hares were enough.

Harry was wearing a shorter version of snowshoes that was more practical in the heavy cover. They are called “Bearpaws” and are only about 32 inches in length. I remember that Harry could almost waltz on snowshoes, having had a lot of experience on them in his home state of Michigan.

Interestingly, I received a note last fall from Harry in which he said he clobbered a couple blue grouse with the same single-barrel .410 that he was using that day in the 1970s when we hunted snowshoe hares. It is an Iver Johnson Harry has owned since he was a youngster.

It all happened such a long time ago, but it still makes me smile, the thought triggered when Oscar knocked over the snowshoes.

Tags: