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HomeSurvivalSnares

Snaring Rabbits and Hares

by Rob Bicevskis

 

There are many perspectives on the ethics of snaring rabbits/hares.  The whole topic can be debated forever. To keep things simple, I'm only going consider one point of view.  Survival (mine!).

Also, the focus of this page is catching Snowshoe Hares, also called Varying Hares since their fur varies or changes to white in the winter.  I am guessing that most of what is written on this page is more or less the same for rabbits.

 
Motivation

I spend a lot time in very remote areas in all seasons.  When things go wrong, there is no 911 to call.   My thought was that if there was a "bad moment" then I would be able to snare some rabbits or other animals as survival food.  One winter it dawned on me I've been carrying a roll of brass wire for years and have never used it.  Well, not quite true, I've gone through lots of rolls of wire fixing various pieces of broken gear.  But, I had never used it for its original intention - as snare wire. 

 I considered a parallel experience - that of making a friction fire.  Friction fires take quite a lot of skill/knowledge/strength/muscle learning in order to actually work. It would be completely unrealistic to assume that having read a description of how to make a fire using a bow drill that one would be able to start a fire on the first try, especially in non-optimal conditions.  I believe that setting snares is no different.  Until you have done it, you shouldn't assume that it's something that you will be able to do when you most need it. 

Since snaring was an unverified tool in my bag of tricks,  I decided to give it a try.  The good news - from a survival point of view is that snaring isn't all that difficult.  On my first try, I set 15 snares and got three snowshoe hares the first night.  Results will of course vary with animal densities, terrain, trapping skills etc.  Temperature also seems to be a big factor.  At -30 or -40 C I have found there to be little movement of hares.  When things warm up, they start to move again.

Ignoring the ethical question of snaring, let's briefly discuss the legal side.

All of the documented activities on this page took place in Northern Ontario according to MNR rules:  Snares cannot be used, except by the holder of a resident's small game license for taking varying hares north of the French and Mattawa Rivers with a snare constructed of copper or brass wire between 22 and 24 gauge.  The opening of the snare wire loop must be 10 cm (4 in.) or less in diameter.

Further, the open season for Varying ( Snowshoe) Hares is Sept. 1 to June 15 of the next year.  In the area that these Hares were snared, there is no daily limit, so in theory, one can set as many snares as one wants.

I'm guessing that the reason for the restrictions on wire material and loop size  is based on minimizing the probability of snaring some other animals.  Even if something else were snared, given the gauge of the wire and the material, there is a high likelihood that the wire could be broken.

Now let's catch some hares.

The winter is an ideal time to snare hares.  Hares leave tracks, and best of all, they are creatures of habit.  If you find reasonably fresh tracks, then there is a pretty high probability that the same path (run) will get re-used.  I searched for runs that were naturally funnelled. A funnel is an arrangement of sticks/rocks/material that creates an obstacle for an animal.  All else being equal, many animals (and people) will take the path of least resistance.  Why crash through something when it is much easier to go through an inviting opening?  Some people advocate creating funnels by pushing sticks into the ground.  I figured that the less things are disturbed, the better.

This picture shows hare tracks passing right under a natural "triangle" of sticks.

A close-up of snare set in the above triangle.
Another snare.  One element to consider is where the snare is set with respect to the location of the tracks.  In general I tried to set the loop close to the landing spots for the hares.    Setting the snares mid-stride doesn't seem to be very effective for many reasons.  I set my snares from 4" to 6" above the "ground"  There is lots of debate as to how high to set the snare.  Hares are probably taller than you think!  If the snow is deep, then one might set the snare a bit lower since the hare's feet will be sinking an inch or so into the snow.

The snare loop doesn't need to be very complicated.  Three of four wraps of the wire is enough to secure the closing loop and a few wraps around a nearby branch are all that are needed.

Another example of a natural funnel.  This seemed like the perfect setup.  There was only one way for the hare to get under this branch.  The ground was very trampled.  Clearly this was an oft-used run.
A close-up of the set snare.

Hares are supposed to be most active in the early morning and evening.   During the inactive times what are the hares doing?  Look up coprophagy.

Some people advocate de-scenting or camouflaging snares.  One commonly written up technique is to hold a candle flame under the wire loop.  This is supposed to get rid of any human scent and the carbon black takes the shine off of the wire.  I've never tried this.  Would it help?  I don't know.  Seems like a lot of extra bother.  My snares seemed to work fine without any of this.

Success.

If one is setting a lot of snares, it is a good idea to mark them in some way.  It's pretty hard to remember exactly where one put all of those things.  If one is "harvesting" animals, then it only makes sense that one minimizes suffering and to not waste any meat.  After a few days of setting and checking snares it's easy to forget  a couple.

A close-up.  I guess this is the ideal snaring scenario.  The snare wire is only around the hare's neck.  No feets/legs got caught.  Judging from the amount of disturbed snow, it seemed that it didn't take too long for this animal to pass away.
A close-up of the hare's feet.  It is pretty obvious why these are called "snowshoe" hares.
Another snared hare.  I set this snare more or less out in the open.  There were no funnels.  The snare loop was set just in front of the "landing zone" of the hare.

I never bothered to set any snares that were more complicated than these simple loops.  It is possible that some sort of spring snare might dispatch the animals a bit more quickly, but the flip side is that you will disturb the run a lot more.  A spring snare would also get the animal off of the ground.  On the one hand, this could be a good thing.  It gets the hare out of reach of animals such as martins, but on the other hand, it makes the catch more visible to birds, owls, etc.  I have found snared hares with their heads gone.  And no - the head didn't come off because of the snare, it was another animal that decided that the tastiest part of  the hare was the head.

On the topic of disturbing the rabbit runs, I see two versions.  One is to leave things as pristine as possible.  On the other hand, in deep snow, I have found that the hares will follow my packed down tails.  Hey, it's easier going for them so why not?  Of course one can take advantage of this and set some snares right in the middle of your path.  A very subtle funnel can be created by having a normal width trail narrow down with a snare set at the narrows.

Ready for cooking.

A few notes on cleaning hares.  Hare hides are not very thick.  One can more or less tear the skin off of a hare. No knife is required.  I find that splitting the hide around the belly and then pulling in both directions is the fastest, cleanest was to "skin" a hare.  The hide around the legs gets pulled inside out and the amount of hare hair floating around in the air is minimized.

If you cut your hare up into smaller pieces, take your time, the bone structure of a rabbit is very similar to deer and presents a good learning experience.

Rabbits/hares can harbour all sorts of diseases, parasites and other "nasties."  A common issue with rabbits/hares is Tularaemia (tularimia and other spellings) or "rabbit fever."  Most people recommend using rubber gloves when cleaning rabbits to avoid getting infected.  There is lots of info on the web about tularaemia.  Look it up and read carefully.

I cooked this hare on a spit.  Notice the stick upon which the hare is tied.  A couple of small branches were left attached.  The benefit of this is that the animal doesn't slip around the stick as it is rotated.

Here are the commonly eaten organs of the rabbit/hare.  On the left is the liver, on top is the heart, and on the lower right are the kidneys.

The liver is especially important.  Even if you don't eat the liver (it's quite good), it is common practice to have a very close look at the liver.  A sick animal often shows abnormalities on/in the liver.  A rabbit/hare with Tularimia will show spots on the liver.  Other "nasties" will also present on the liver.  Most references advocate cooking rabbit to "well done."  This in theory will kill off the "nasties." 

Do a web search on rabbit diseases for more detailed info.

Time to start cooking...
A view of the left side of the spit.
A view of the right side of the spit.  Notice again that a branch was left attached to the horizontal stick.  This makes it much easier to turn the spit.

An open spit is wasteful of wood and heat so I'm setting a bad example, but in this case I was more interested in keeping myself warm, so I put myself between the fire and a windbreak.  Also, it was a nice night for a fire!

Done!

How long to cook?  It all depends.  What is the air temperature, how high above the fire is the meat etc.  The usual way to tell is to make sure that any juices run clear.  Cut into the thickest meat when you think things should be done and check for colour.  Rabbit meat is dark, so instead of looking for just the colour, also check for uniformity.  If the colour of the meat changes from the outside to the inside, then the inside probably isn't cooked.

Since rabbits/hares have almost no fat, cooking with "dry" heat - i.e. on spit is not the best practice.  This tends to dry out the meat and certainly doesn't do much for tenderizing it.  Alternatives are to make a stew or simply boil the meat.  Cooking in water is probably also the fastest way to guarantee that the meat is cooked all of the way through.

Another note regarding the lack of fat in rabbits/hares.  There is something called "rabbit starvation" or "fat hunger."  The theory is supposed to be that eating just protein is bad for you.  One element seems to be that the human liver is unable to convert protein to glucose at rate sufficient to keep you alive over the long term.  Another element is that this protein to glucose process produces ammonia as a by-product.  Ammonia isn't good for you.  It seems that most of the references for rabbit starvation point to accounts written by early explorers.  I don't know how real any of this is, so search for something a little more modern if you are considering rabbit/hare (or very lean meat) as a significant component of your diet.

 
I'm sure there is a lot more to learn about this whole process. But this should serve as a good intro.
If you have any "constructive" comments or questions feel free to email Rob.