Though native to Labrador, Newfoundland’s snowshoe hares were introduced in 1860 as a small game species. For the first 15 years the species was entirely protected from hunting to allow the species to establish healthy population.
The first hunt ran in 1879 and was open season (no bagging limit) for about half of the year. This remained unchanged until 1997 when the limit was set to 40 per day, which still stands.
1.5 million hares are consumed in the province annually. Snowshoe hares yield litters of 1 to 8 kits up to 3 times a year. These kits reach independence in as little as three weeks. “Breeding like rabbits” is not a meaningless phrase.
Snowshoe hares, instead of burrowing, nest in aboveground dips in elevation protected from the wind. To access food, hares travel along familiar beaten paths to conserve energy in the depths of winter snow. These “bunny trails” are tell-tale signs.
Snares are prepared by felling a small tree. The tree is limbed in a section that is placed over the width of the trail. The sides of the path are then lined with sticks to narrow the possible path and ensure the animal moves through the trap. A snare is then tied and placed over the opening in the trap.
It is imperative that the hunter avoids the risk of the rabbit becoming trapped in the snare overnight and consequently freezing or starving. Avoiding this requires proper setting and checking of the trap. Snares improperly tied can come loose from the trap and slowly choke the animal.
Failure to check snares daily could result in a living rabbit, improperly snared, still fighting in the trap for a prolonged amount of time. This is a very sad experience.
Essentially all of reported hunting of hares takes place for personal consumption. In the cases of past commercial hunts, “canned” rabbit sales consumed as many as 250,000 animals per year. The provincial hunt climaxed in 1992 (at 2 million animals) and numbers having since then declined to one year’s low at 82,000. The average small game licence holder bags 32 animals per year.
Preparing these animals is a great introduction of game preparation. It can literally be done by hand. The animals hide is very easily removed with a few incisions near the anus and will literally peel away. The kidneys, heart, and liver are all great additions to a rabbit dish. My grandmother personally feels that the head is the “best part.”
Rabbit is hard to cook well, yet extremely versatile. The high percentage of well-exercised fast-twitch muscle fibres makes the meat exceptionally tough and the size of the animals can make deboning a tedious exercise.
With mine this year, I parboiled the meat in salted water. Then I sautéed until brown in butter, removed the pieces, deglazed the pan with red wine, reduced, added more butter and dark chocolate, then served with almonds and raisins. Shout out to Mike Coffen for the idea.
In Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry he tells of how his first experience killing and preparing rabbits made his realize the extreme importance of using animal ingredients to their fullest potential and never wasting them. Waste is massive disrespect to life itself. Just let that stew with you.