South Dakota winters were cold in the 1960s of my youth, but that never stopped us from tromping the corn stubble and plowed fields surrounding town. We were on Arctic adventures, Jack London stories in the making. Howling wolf packs could have been just beyond the horizon. But jackrabbits were closer, and we pursued them doggedly.
Jackrabbits, North America’s big hares, get no respect. Denigrated as having the texture and flavor of boiled boot soles, the big bunnies are either ignored by hunters or cussed by farmers who sometimes suffer locust-like swarms of the voracious lagomorphs. You could do them and yourself a favor by hunting a few.
To energetic boys in love with outdoor adventure, jacks were big game and, after the close of pheasant hunting, about the only game in town. Or close to town. We could start jumping them a hundred yards from the last house at the edge of the village limits. And they’d keep jumping as long as we kept trudging. Mile after mile, we tried hitting them with 40-grain hollow points sent out at 1,200 fps from a variety of single-shot, bolt-action, lever action and autoloading rifles in various stages of malfunction. It was a great way to learn how to hit game on the run, though we missed more than we tumbled.
Despite our poor success rates, we pursued jacks nearly every weekend from late December to late February, piling on the miles, strengthening our sinews for bigger game, bigger hunts to come. Today’s kids seem to have missed their chance. I haven’t seen a teenager afield in search of jackrabbits in years.
More’s the pity. A solitary hike through any winter wonderland builds confidence. Builds character, too. Maybe that’s why there are so many characters in the rural Dakotas.
Jackrabbits, whitetailed and blacktailed, range across most of the West. When the snow lies deep, they stand out, often clustering around isolated clumps of trees or sage. They are still exciting, hard-to-hit game and, properly prepared, quite delectable. Hasenpfeffer isn’t a popular German dish for nothing.
Do yourself and your kids a favor. Make a jackrabbit hunt this winter. Break out the recipe book and try something different. This is Americana, locavore, all-natural living at it’s best. And maybe even an Arctic adventure.