If you are what you eat, then I am mostly snowshoe hare. Or at least I was while living in the frozen wilderness of the Northwest Territories on Season 7 of the History Channel's show "Alone." Snowshoe hares are good eating,, and they taste even better cooked over an open fire with the smell of wood smoke in the air, wolves howling in the distance, and the Northern Lights dancing overhead.
I harvested some hares with my bow, but relied on a trapline as my most steady source of calories. Traplines can be more efficient than active hunting because once set, they're working for you around the clock while you actively hunt, fish, gather firewood, or just sleep. To give you an idea of the cost-to-benefit ratio of this technique, I set almost a hundred snares along one trapline-they're that simple to make and maintain once you get the hang of it.
Whether you're surviving off the land or just bringing home wild meat for your family’s table, these tips apply to snaring snowshoe hares and rabbits of all kinds. Additionally, setting up a trapline is a good way to get outside, improve your tracking skills, and get more familiar with the habits of these ubiquitous creatures.
Getting to Know Your Prey An old saying advises that one should only kill rabbits in months with the letter “R” in them: September to March or April. While you really can harvest rabbits anytime of year, there are a few benefits to a winter harvest. You’ll be able to easily see tracks in the snow, and their coats are thicker during this time of year so they're ideal for clothing, fly tying, and other uses.
Additionally, there are fewer ticks and fleas in the winter months. These parasites can infect rabbits with tularemia, a disease that can pass to humans. Always make sure to check the liver for white spots and cook your catch thoroughly.
Perhaps most importantly, rabbits have their babies in the springtime, so this hunting heuristic provides insurance you won’t catch a nursing mama, ensuring that there will be plenty of rabbits for everyone to harvest, human and non-human alike, for years to come.
Where to Set Snares To get started, you need to find an area with abundant rabbit or hare sign. Get to know their tracks and other markings to identify runs and feeding areas. A good place to look is in an ecotone—a transition zone where two biological communities meet—like where a forest transitions into a field.
Once you find a run, where rabbits are moving regularly, you’ll want to look for a natural choke point between trees or under a log. That will be a great spot to set a snare. If there are no natural choke points, you can make them by rearranging brush to create a funnel towards your snare.
Understanding rabbit track patterns is key to the correct placement of your snare. In their typical bounding gait, all four of their feet register in a cluster with the back feet in front of the front feet. This is because once their front feet touch the ground, the hind feet swing around, landing in front as if they’re playing leapfrog with themselves.
To ensure that you catch the hare around the neck and not the waist, place the snare in front of the cluster of four tracks, not behind. You won’t always be able to see this kind of detail in the substrate, but it’s helpful if you can.
How to Set Snares Rabbit or hare snares are meant to unexpectedly catch the animal around the neck. They're typically not baited because you are placing them along a run and catching them off guard. One can make snares out of natural fibers, animal sinew, fishing line, or inside strands of paracord, but wire is most effective and efficient.
Take a piece of wire, tie a simple loop knot in one end, running the other end through it to make a slip loop and attaching the opposite end to a tree, root, or stake. This is the simplest way to make a snare.
The size of the loop and how far off the ground are going to vary depending on what animal you're trying to catch. For rabbits, you want your loop opening to be big enough to fit four fingers through it. Place it so the bottom of the loop is four fingers off the ground.
If predators discover your trapline, you'll often have to modify by adding a spring pole or lifting pole. You can achieve this level of stealth by incorporating a sapling into the snare that swings rabbits or other snared game high up out of reach of predators or scavengers. If you're in a very cold environment saplings will freeze, so you'll want to figure out a different spring mechanism.
Be sure to check your local regulations before you set any snares. Some states don't allow any kind of trapping and most others regulate it heavily. Be aware that domestic cats can get caught in snares so be sure to take this into account when choosing locations.
Rabbit Rope Even if you're not in a survival situation, utilizing as much of the animal as possible is not only practical, it's moral. Rabbit hides are warm and extremely soft, but the skin is also very thin, which makes tanning difficult. To avoid tearing the hide in the tanning process, rabbit hides were traditionally case-skinned and then cut into a spiral, creating one very long strip of hide. This strip is then twisted to make “rabbit rope.” Traditional cultures then tied off the rope between two trees (or in my case, across the rafters in my shelter) so it could dry taught. Once dry, you can weave the rope into very warm and cozy garments.
While I was truly living off the land, hares were my bread and butter. No matter how many I caught, I was always deeply grateful for the meal. I sang songs of gratitude to all the hares I killed. Whether my life depends on the calories or not, for me, gratitude is an important part of killing. Snowshoe hares and their relatives are incredible creatures. I hope that you enjoy getting to know them as much as I do. As always, may your fingers be fatty and your toes be warm.