Labrador’s snowshoe hare
Those among us who have a close and valued relationship with the land and the many treasures that it holds for us, we are certainly familiar with the snowshoe hare that calls much of Labrador home.
Like any of the animals that live and share the Big Land with us, these hardy survivors are a staple in the diets of other animals that they share the great outdoors with, including the folks among us who seek them out for our table fare as well.
Although these animals were introduced to the island of Newfoundland in the 1860’s, the snowshoe hare is a native species to Labrador.
Snowshoe hares prefer young coniferous growth, black spruce and tamarack as well as the many alder beds that we see on our landscape. These conditions and the growth that it offers, provides good shelter and the food that these animals require.
In the bigger picture, these animals can be found throughout most of the boreal forest across Canada with their distribution reaching as far north as the shoreline of the Arctic Ocean.
Snowshoe hares are animals that use each of the season’s growth to their full benefit in providing the necessary food that they need to survive. They have a varied diet throughout the seasons that include the new growth of the birch and willow trees including black spruce during the winter months. During the warmer weather of spring and summer, grasses, wild plants, raspberries and fireweed make up a steady part of their diet.
These snowshoe hare are in constant demand from the natural world and need to be watching closely from all directions including up. Lynx hunt these hares as the biggest part of their diet. When, through the natural cycle of these animals numbers, the hare numbers are high, so too are the lynx numbers. Foxes, coyotes, wolves, owls and other birds of prey are also natural predators that rely on a regular basis, on the hares as part of their diets.
In the big picture, these hares don’t often have a long life span. With the environment that they have to survive in, and the many predators that they are faced with on a regular basis, there are only a few that live beyond three years.
These hares weigh between two to four pounds depending weather they are mature animals or the young of the year. Their average length is between 16 to 20 inches. They have very large back feet, hence the name, snowshoe hare. Their big feet help them to stay on top of the snow during the winter months. They are darker brown color during the summer months and turn white during the winter months.
These hares usually have two litters of young each year and some years they have been known to have three litters from late April through until August month depending on weather conditions on any particular year.
Their litter size can range anywhere from one or two to eight young. The gestation period is 36 or 37 days. The young ones only nurse once a day and are able to support themselves after only three weeks.
For us folks who enjoy these hares, there is more than one benefit. The pursuit of these animals gives the opportunity to have a great day in the country and get some beneficial exercise as we make our way through the runways of these guys, setting and checking our snares. For many among us, this is a longstanding part of our lifestyle and culture.
A big benefit is when we get home and have them all cleaned and ready for the table. A lot of folks enjoy them bottled but we are only limited by our imaginations. Soup, fried in the old iron frying pan, or in the roaster with a selection of vegetables from our gardens are all ways to enjoy these great little animals. The only way that they can taste just a bit better than they would at home, is when we are at the cabin sitting by the wood stove, with folks that matter the most to us, sharing this great Labrador bounty.
“Snowshoe hares prefer young coniferous growth, black spruce and tamarack as well as the many alder beds that we see on our landscape. These conditions and the growth that it offers, provides good shelter and the food that these animals require.”
A snowshoe hare.
Yum, a hare ready to eat.