Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For December 18th, 2009 Edition.
Traditions of all sorts abound within the scope of the great out-of-doors. We who live here in the Northwood's have more than our share, some of which are well known others not so well known. For many decades the time immediately after the traditional gun deer season, before the snows of winter became too deep, groups of eager nimrods often gathered for a snowshoe hare hunt.
Once one of the north's most abundant and popular small game animals, the hare population has been in a low ebb across much of the region for nearly two decades. There are various opinions as to why this is true, mine being as the population of predators increased the hare population deceased. In my humble opinion the major enemy of the hare is the fisher, a relentless killing machine! After fishers were reintroduced to Northern Wisconsin sometime around four decades ago, as their numbers skyrocketed, the wild hare population began a steady downward slide.
Add to the equation a drop in fur prices, which allowed coyotes, fox, mink, raccoon and weasels to prosper, all of which prey on small rodents of all kinds, including hares, especially young ones.
I bagged my first snowshoe when I was nine, and from then throughout my formative years in grade school and high school much of my winter's entertainment was spent on snowshoes in pursuit of the basic ingredients for hasenpfeffer. Often I hunted solo, except for the companionship and assistance of a curly haired black cocker spaniel named Pat. He and I enjoyed 14 years together as best of buddies. Pat not only chased hares past my waiting single shot .410 shotgun, but also was responsible for helping put grouse and ducks on the family table.
When I was 13 one of my uncles, Bud Jorgensen, outdid Santa Clause at Christmas time and presented me with a double barreled 20-gauge Stevens shotgun. I often wonder how many rounds of ammunition I fired through that gun! Eventually our son, Chris, and oldest daughter, Cherie, began their youthful hunting careers with those same two guns. I still use the .410 occasionally to pop a pesky red squirrel and Cherie has inherited the 20-gauge.
During my high school years there were frequent winter hare hunts with my pals and classmates. The three Dean boys, Jim, Tom and Gary, Roger Stoeckmann, Phil Franke, Wilmer Weber and an assortment of other local kids often joined the weekend festivities, along with several dogs to do the chasing. Part of the fun was getting our parent's two-wheel drive trucks stuck while trying to reach a remote swamp. Ah yes, those were the days my friends!
I've penned numerous stories and tales concerning the wintertime quest for hares. One memorable adventure spanned two winters! While snowshoeing one winter day in 1951 Roger Stoeckmann and I discovered a set of giant snowshoe hare tracks. We assumed we had crossed paths with a rabbit the size of Harvey, (a giant rabbit of Hollywood fame). All through the winter of 1951-52 Roger, Pat and I attempted to bag the maker of the huge tracks, which we had somehow named "Slewfoot." But our efforts were in vain. Slewfoot outsmarted us on every outing even though he left his calling cards liberally spread throughout the two local swamps the two of us most frequently hunted.
The following winter we once again discovered Slewfoot's telltale tracks! Every weekend through the months of December, January and February our hare hunts continued, but Slewfoot evaded our every effort to bag him or her. But on our very last outing in late February Slewfoot's luck ran out.
Roger, Pat and I crossed Slewfoot's tracks as we were trudging home amidst a serious snowstorm. The smoking fresh track was unmistakable and we concocted a hurried plan. I'd block the one and only exit hares used to vacate the swamp and Roger volunteered to follow the track and push our yet unseen quarry out into the open. And by what was probably divine intervention - the plan worked.
Upon bagging the hare with huge feet we were somewhat disappointed to discover Slewfoot was rather scrawny, actually downright smallish as hares go. We decided the hare must have used too much energy growing big feet, which stunted its body size.
My addiction to hare hunting continued on into my adult life. Early winter hare hunts with neighbor, friends and our own kids continued to be a popular pastime well into the 1990s. For many years, beginning in the 1970s, a friend of mine, Ed Petras from the Chicago area, and his family, annually came north in early December to spend a weekend hunting hares. Ed, his wife Marilyn plus their two boys, Doug and Kenny, were avid hare hunters. When the Petras Family and the Anderson Family joined forces for a hunt the local hares headed for cover!
To insure success while hare hunting it's a good idea to include a good "rabbit dog" or two in the group. I've had three different beagles, Bunny, 1971-83, Freckles, 1982-95 and Bugsy, 1996-2005. We also had a beagle/lab mix, Piddles, 1974-86, all of which were excellent hare and rabbit chasers. The deep throated yowl of a beagle hot on the trail of a hare echoing through a snow covered thicket is a wonderful sound -although not for the hare!
But, as the hare population dropped dramatically, the annual hunts including my small army of hare hunters came to an end. Presently, the annual early December outing generally consists of Eddie, our son Chris, Steve Clemens, myself and two black Labs, Belle and Bonnie.
Over the past five or six years our hunts have become shorter, and the bag much lighter. We feel lucky to bag two or three white bunnies and eventually savor the flavor of a German style hasenpfeffer, boiled potatoes and red cabbage dinner - which always brings back memories of what once was.
And don't say "yuk" unless you've tried it!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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