If you’re a keen rabbit hunter, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll feel a real draw to get a hare, they’re wily, faster, bigger and pretty much a super charged version of the rabbits you’re used to.
I would see them randomly, sporadic at best, except for one that I saw every morning in Summer on a property I’d frequent, I even named him, Morgawr, after the Cornish sea serpent, don’t ask me why. Every morning at around 6:40am he’d pass through, east to west on the same path and each night he’d come back. That was enough for me, I laid up one morning about 60 or so metres back from his usual run and waited. Sure enough, right on schedule, he showed up, albeit from the other direction. My heart was peaking at this point, because unlike all the other random times I saw him, this time I was ready and focused, just on him.
He ran across the neighbouring field, down towards the land I was on, it was a dry, brown landscape at this time of the year and I expected him to follow his usual route, across that field, through the fence, under the small coppice of trees, across the adjoining field that I was in and then away into the long grass beyond. I quickly backtracked on myself so I would be able to head him off as he went across the second field, I did a big semi-circle from where I was and came out behind an old elm that gave me a panoramic view of the field. It only took me about 30 seconds to get around, but when I made it there, no hare. Had I missed him in that small window, or was he still in that coppice of trees that was half way? It did have an old, big apple tree and the dried up, windfall apples that laid beneath it now might have been a good reason to stop. I was about 50 metres away from where he could be, so I started across the field to get a better view of that spot, if he wasn’t there, he was gone and I’d have to try my luck again another day. Getting up early and sitting in the dark while you wait for a hare to “maybe” make its usual, quick paced trot across a field in front of you so you can perhaps get a shot at it isn’t for everyone. What made this compelling for me was that this was a new species, I’d been keen to get a hare for a long time and I was pumped to get this one.
I made my way to about 30 metres from the coppice, no sign of him, if I stalked in another 5 or 6 metres, I would have a good view of the longer grass beneath the trees that hadn’t been grazed, if he wasn’t in there, I was out of luck.
I managed to get closer and view the whole area, my heart was pumping like I’d just ran a 100 metre sprint and my mouth had become dry and pasty, though sure enough, I could see his head and elongated ears poking up where I thought he’d be, just above the grass line. He seemed to be staring right at me and I half expected him to bolt at any second, from where I was, I had a small shot area that was about the size of a mobile phone. Although I was only about 22 metres away from him, I had to make it a head or neck shot as his body wasn’t visible from where I stood, it was now or never. I nocked an arrow and raised my bow up, my 20 metre pin was resting right on his neck, I paused breathing and released. The arrow whipped through the air and just as quickly, I heard that familiar thump sound that would indicate a direct hit. He recoiled back and then up into the air, and for a brief moment I thought I’d missed and just spooked him.
I ran to where he was and I realised I’d hit him directly in the neck, I grabbed him, held him up and took him out with one hard blow to the back of the head. I couldn’t believe it, my first hare, he was a magnificent specimen, long, sleek and with a clean coat of brownish grey fur. This guy was going to feed me and my family for at least three meals and for that, I said a thank you to him and his spirit as I walked back. There was over 12 months of waiting and watching in the grip of my hand then and I only gained more respect for him when I gutted him and saw the (literal) size of his heart.
Once he was in the kitchen, I knew he would be too tough for a quick fry so I ended up poaching him for a good 5 hours on the lowest gas setting. First in water and salt (brine) for about two hours, than chicken stock with a few garlic cloves for around 3. Then I took off all the meat (it pretty much just fell off), made a few schnitzels with the larger pieces and a good sized *cottage pie with the smaller, shredded pieces.
I’ll always remember that day, and that hare.
*Cottage pie is traditionally made with beef and shepherd’s pie with lamb. I’m not sure about the correct pie title for one made with hare, field pie?