Growing up in the 1930 and early 40s was tough times. First, there was the Great Depression, followed closely by the Second World War. For the average family, money was tough, far tougher than today and rabbits and hares often graced the supper plates.
Of course the cottontail rabbit was the choice of the two and much easier to obtain in the wild. To get a hare, you had to be real good shot and for those of us who were providing supper at ages of 13 and 14, hunting the jackrabbit made most of us good shots. On the other hand, to get a cottontail rabbit, it was very easy, if you had a well-trained ferret.
Jackrabbits and snowshoe hares are not rabbits, so to speak, and rabbits are not hares. There is a physiological difference – and they taste different, too.
Those who have hunted hares such as the jackrabbit or snowshoe hare know they are a tough target. Almost instantly they can reach 30 miles an hour (50 km/hour). In a single leap, they can cover an easy 12 feet (3.7 m) and turn on a dime. Their home territory is generally confined to about a hundred acres or less.
Roughly 36 days after mating the hare will give birth up to six young, called leverets. The leverets are born with their eyes wide open, another difference between the hare and the rabbit. The young weigh about 2.5 ounces at birth, but usually double their weight in a single week.
Then there is always the “X” factor, which are the many hazards of a hare’s life. These include predators – flying, walking, and even slithering – add into the picture ticks, fleas, disease carrying flies, protozoan parasites and a bacterial disease called tularemia, that, incidentally is highly infectious to humans. To those who think they are having a tough life, consider yourself lucky.
The hare is known to live up to eight years, but only two in 100 will live five years. Of course the other side of the “X” is the more positive side, as the hare will have up to three litters every year.
The cottontail rabbit is much smaller in size than the hare – and much better tasting. Many hunters have underestimated the kick of a hare or the small rabbit and after a solid kick, in parts not described, many a hunter has found themselves curled up on the ground. I can well remember my first kick from a cottontail that had me curled up on the ground.
Of course we all know that female rabbits are the queens of the female world. After copulating with her selected partner, she immediately throws him out and has three or more partners before settling down for the next 25 or so days to bare a litter of up to seven leverets, each hardly weighing over an ounce.
Almost immediately after delivering the last young one, she is very capable of getting another mate and the whole process begins all over again. The cottontail has been known to have up to five litters in a single year.
In a total life span, a cottontail rabbit may restrict its travel to less than 30 acres. With all the litters of seven or eight leverets each time, one would think we should be overrun with cottontail rabbits, but once again there is the “X” factor, and it’s the same predators and diseases that the hares face.
Hunting the cottontail back in the 30s and 40s was not generally done with a firearm, as most of us had ferrets. We would put the well trained ferret down the underground hole of the rabbit’s house and the rabbit would come almost flying out with the ferret on its tail. We simply caught the rabbit in our hands and end of story for the rabbit.