190224_PECK

The Gazette outdoors columnist Ted Peck and his dog, Whipsaw Jack, with a rabbit they hunted.

There is only one sure cure for cabin fever: get out of the cabin!

Recent significant snowfall has made negotiating the outdoors somewhat challenging.

There is no app to improve this situation. Our ancestors solved this problem long before Wisconsin was a state, let alone electric power.

Early snowshoes were made from ash, woven willow and leather strips from animal hides. They were heavy, cumbersome and certainly didn’t slide on like moccasins—but often functional works of art.

Modern snowshoes are smaller, lighter and easier to remove. They are also tremendous tools for sneaking through deep snow in the quiet woods.

Only a handful of days remain in rabbit season. Hunting rabbits is a primal joy.

Even the swiftest among us can’t run down a rabbit wearing snowshoes. Hunting for cottontails is a lot like hunting mushrooms. When you let your eyes do most of the walking, the wonders of nature are often revealed.

Rabbits aren’t overly eager to expend energy busting out of cover. They like to soak in February sun, hunched up in their forms, observing everything as they “rabbit.”

Cottontails know you are coming before you’re even in rifle range.

Two days after snow, cottontails will already have well-established escape routes between brush piles and other heavy cover, with at least one “rabbit hole” as their ultimate Alamo.

“Walking with your eyes” from a distance prior to moving in and humiliation from previous attempts to harvest rabbits in familiar territory are solid strategies. A small pair of binoculars is a great tool.

Hunting is most efficient with a partner, either canine or human.

The pinnacle of rabbit hunting is heading out with an experienced beagle. There is something truly special when these little hounds find scent and give voice.

Rabbits delight in evading beagles, often hopping slowly ahead of the baying and howling in a big circle which often brings the bunny back along those well established trails in the snow to where the chase initiated.

Beagles are wonderful pets, great with kids, happy to snuggle up at your feet and come immediately when you call.

But let them get a whiff of rabbit out in the woods and you can scream until your lungs bleed. The hound will only return when the hunt is complete.

My border collie, Whipsaw Jack, isn’t much of a hunting dog. He doesn’t like the sound of guns, but will tolerate noise from a .22 if there’s a good chance he’ll get to fetch a squirrel or rabbit.

These small game species have an innate sense that canines are a threat, however not much of a threat. Positioning quietly where you can scan likely escape routes will often reveal rabbit movement before the quarry bolts toward different cover.

Dressing in snow cammo and not moving is a good way to blend into the landscape. Negotiating through heavy cover is best accomplished with hands free. I’ve carried a Ruger .22 pistol in a shoulder rig since trapping days back in high school.

My first Ruger Mark I only cost $49 new. The price has increased tenfold over the past 50 years. With good sights, a crisp trigger pull and no recoil, an average shooter should have no trouble hitting a playing card size target at 20 yards with a little practice.

Parboiled then pan-fried rabbit with gravy served over rice is the ultimate late February feast.

When rabbit season closes next Thursday, the first day of spring is less than three weeks away.

Hang in there! A month from now ‘snow’ won’t be a four-letter word.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at tedpeck@acegroup.com

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