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I asked this question in the Hunting BC forum but so far it hasn't received much attention. I'm very interested in the answer(s) and will cross-post any useful information.

Over the last three weeks in northern BC (google.ca/maps/@55.2044433,-126.2710319,7.25z) the temperature has been rising and a lot of snow is melting. The hare hunting spot that was quite productive for me through January and February (at around 900 metres elevation) now appears to be biologically dead. I'm pretty sure I didn't kill all the hares, so where did they go?? The area has a mix of spruce, pine, and alder and I was finding all my hares in, under, or around the alder. The vegetation hasn't changed but the ground cover has - less snow, more bare ground, and a developing swamp thanks to the snow melt.

I'm aware that the hares are currently changing colour, and it's possible that they're just much better camouflaged than before, but I'm also not seeing any fresh droppings or footprints in what remains of the snow.

I haven't found anything online that describes hare migration through the changing seasons, but in other threads I've seen people suggesting this is the case. I'm hoping someone can tell me...

Do hares migrate to different kinds of habitat as the seasons change, and if so can anyone describe the kind of habitat they're most likely to inhabit in each of the seasons?

  • Can you more clearly define where you are, I assume BC is in the US or Canada but to me it stands for Bucks County and I doubt that's where you mean :) – Aravona Apr 12 '16 at 7:29
  • @Aravona I've never even heard of Bucks Country :) British Columbia, western Canada: google.ca/maps/@55.2044433,-126.2710319,7.25z – tomfumb Apr 12 '16 at 15:59
  • fantastic. I'll update your post :) – Aravona Apr 12 '16 at 16:25
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+50

This page makes it seem like they do not migrate.

Most other plant eaters, like deer and elk, vacate deep snowy areas and migrate to the lowlands, river bottoms, or south-facing slopes that are relatively snow free. Movement through snow, of course, is not nearly so energetically costly to hares as it is to large ungulates, and hares are able to remain in snow-covered woodlands year-round.

Snowshoe hares primarily eat new growth, woody fibers, and small diameter twigs and buds. Check the new foliage growth in your hunting area, if the tree and other plant life are all abundantly budding with new life and none have been nibbled on then your hare's have more than likely moved on to snowier pastures.

They thrive in snow unlike other larger animals, is there an area near by your hunting grounds with slightly higher elevation, or hidden from the elements where the snow may stay deeper for longer perhaps? Such as the north face of the mountain etc. If there is it may be that they move to this location as the weather starts to warm up.

On a side note about the lack of droppings:

Hares also pass food quickly through their digestive system, void fibrous fecal pellets, and eat soft cecal pellets that never hit the ground as hares consume them straight from their anus.

Yum!

They are also nocturnal, and with the snow melting away where they won't have as much cover they tend to become more cautious during day light hours. I assume your hunting them at dusk/dawn?

  • thanks for your input, I'll investigate the higher elevation / north face option. I've mostly been hunting around dusk on the assumption that they're more likely to be active in the evening than in the morning - by dusk it's been a full day since they've really eaten and may be more willing to take risks for food. On your side note: I have previously read about this behaviour but that they will only consume a "first round" pellet. After the second round of digestion it will be left on the ground. If hares are active in the area there will always be droppings. – tomfumb Apr 15 '16 at 16:22
  • having read through the link you provided, and seeing the references at the bottom, this seems like the most likely explanation. Thanks! – tomfumb Apr 15 '16 at 16:30
  • A good point! Dusk would be my choice as well. They are quite proficient poopers :P Good luck on tracking them down! – Nate W Apr 15 '16 at 17:11
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    I think I solved the mystery - I saw two hares well below the snowline yesterday. Their fur is still in transition so it's patchy white but mostly light brown. I think they're smart enough to know that this makes them stand out more in snow than in the thick bush and they've moved down the mountain to where there's no snow (and also more new growth) – tomfumb Apr 18 '16 at 3:44
  • That would make sense! Happy hunting! – Nate W Apr 18 '16 at 14:53
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I don't think rabbits migrate.

It might not be a change in migration patterns. It might be a population crash. Rabbit and hare populations can crash by as much as 90% just from disease. If the disease crash is coupled with a high predator population, the remaining 10% is under severe hunting pressure.

If there is an alternate prey species for the predator, pressure can keep the rabbit population at very low levels.

Locally I see a rabbit, possibly every 2-3 years, but we have a high coyote population, which is maintained by high field mouse and pocket gopher populations due to large areas of pasture and woodland. In the city of Edmonton, some mornings every third lawn has a rabbit on it.

Hares & rabbits are subject to tularemia. Population rises for several years (5 to 9 typically) then crashes when the population gets high enough for the disease to be transmitted from rabbit to rabbit. This cycle has been documented through the harvest records of the Hudson Bay company's fur buying records. (Rabbit fur was used mostly for lining other garments, but lynx predominantly preys on rabbit, and the rabbit population has a big impact on the lynx population.

This can be exacerbated by predators, along with other cycles. E.g. Recent fire pushes mouse population up (from lodgepole pine seed drop) but food runs out for the mice. The owls have been eating mice. Now owls are putting on greater pressure on the hares. Lot of hares go to the Easter Bunny in the Sky. The ones that remain are more wary and stay out of open areas.

  • this doesn't seem to address the question in any way :\ – tomfumb Apr 15 '16 at 16:16
  • I thought that was clear. They aren't somewhere else, they are dead. – Sherwood Botsford Apr 16 '16 at 16:40

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