Though Maine’s snowshoe rabbits (varying hare, actually) are legal game from Oct. 1 through March 31, hunters who keep hounds know the long season is short on good hunting conditions. Think about frequent storms that leave every bough and branch laden with snow that restricts visibility to only a few feet. Or periods of subzero, nostril-sticking cold that make hunting more punishment than pleasure. For the most part, however, crusted snow is the culprit that keeps hunters and hounds in their kennels.
More to the point, a snowshoe rabbit weighing only a few pounds can run on crust that a hound will break through, cutting its feet and forelegs on the icy edges. As for snowshoeing on crust, let’s leave it that there’s no better exercise for pulling muscles and stretching ligaments. Allowing that crust doesn’t hold scent for long, it would seem that melting snow would keep a hound on track. But that’s not the case. Actually, scent dissipates as the snow melts. Nevertheless, hunters addicted to hounds don’t let a spell of soft weather keep them from drawing a bead on a meal of fricasseed rabbit. Oftentimes, when the woods are steamy and snow is spongy, hounds take scent from the air after starting a rabbit, thus running with heads up and voices at full volume. Hound music doesn’t get any better than that, pure and simple and as old as the hills.
Naturally, running, bounding and sinking in a foot or so of fresh powdery snow is tiring to a hound. Worse yet, snow that has melted and frozen into granules — what skiers call “corn snow” — chews into a hound’s pads. All things considered, if I were asked to describe ideal rabbit hunting conditions, I’d say give me a day with a topping of fresh snow and a temperature near freezing. From what I’ve seen of it, hounds and hunters seldom “lose out” on days like that.