Working with the Hare Crew

When the hare crew asks for volunteers in the snowy season, you’d better be prepared for an entirely new experience – one that involves tight quarters, expansive panoramas, and single-digit temperatures. My own introduction to the crew and what they do was a fairly last-minute mashing together of information and packed essentials. The main recommendation from the crew leader was to bring “food and lots of winter clothes”. Nothing like jumping right in, eh?

The week before I came out, the weather had been unseasonably warm and the hares, in their lack of snowy habitat, were painfully conspicuous. Many were roughly 80-100% complete with the molt into their white coats, but they still persisted in believing they were invisible despite much evidence to the contrary.

The following weekend however, the morning revealed 3-4” of snow the first night, and a good 5-6” of snow the next. Those hares that were dangerously visible only a few days ago now blended in to the landscape seamlessly, only identified by their large brown eyes or twitching ears. Nearly all the hares this time were 100% coat whiteness, all transitioned and ready for a long snow-filled winter.

As painfully obvious as this hare is to a passing hiker--or predator--it still acts as though it's entirely invisible.

As a temporary member of the snowshoe hare crew, I was allowed to tag along with—and help when needed—Tucker, Ashlee, and Alex as they tracked down the 15 remaining hares via telemetry receivers with frequencies tuned to each hare’s individual radio collar. And so we trekked tirelessly (to a degree) up and down the forested hills that these snowshoe hares liked to inhabit, following the faint beeping and clicking of the receivers until we were able to triangulate an area and get a visual on a particular hare. Sometimes they hunched so still and close to the ground we could have touched them with outstretched arms, and yet other times they sprang away repeatedly when we approached closer than a 20’ distance.

The temperature dropped to a low of 2 degrees in the afternoon, so cold that our water bottles froze over repeatedly within a fifteen-minute span. The air was so crisp it almost hurt to take a deep breath in the shade. As for the living quarters? You’d better enjoy close company – literally! To save gas and day light the crew spends Saturday nights in a camper parked on MT FWP grounds nearby the study sites. It was all a great experience though, and the crew themselves are incredibly friendly and easy to get along with. I would definitely be up for another weekend out with them in the future.

~Elena Murzyn