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Tracking Small Game in Snow: Determining Rabbit or Squirrel

It's best to figure out if it's a rabbit or squirrel before you get the wrong one in your sites.

Squirrel season ends sooner in many areas than rabbit does, so tracking a rabbit to finally see its tracks end at the base of a tree can be very frustrating. Even more frustrating is if it happens more than once on a cold winter day.

There are a few simple things to look for that will help you determine which is which before you waste your time tracking. Next time you are looking to bring home some rabbit meat, keep these pointers in mind.

1. Track patterns

To help determine whether it is a rabbit or squirrel you are tracking, watch where the tracks are headed in relation to the trees. Squirrels tracks will lead directly to the base of the trees where rabbits tend to run between or close to the base.

Rabbits tend to run from brush to brush where squirrels are tree to tree more often than not. In addition, rabbits will tend to run under large branches on the ground while squirrels will hop over them. A very loose and general guideline with most obstacles would be rabbits go under while squirrels go over.

2. Track details

When a rabbit hops, its front paws land beside each other, but the back legs will be staggered with one often further forward than the other. Squirrel prints will tend to be side by side for both front and back paws.

Squirrels are more "jumpy" than rabbits and their tracks will be more erratic in distance. They can be anywhere from 24 to 50 inches apart. Rabbits on the other hand tend to be more consistent at 20 inches from print to print. This is from a calm pace and can easily change if startled or frightened.

If the tracks are highly detailed, count the toes on the rear feet. Not only will the squirrel rear foot tend to be smaller, but it will also have 5 distinct toes. Rabbits will only have four less defined toes per print.

3. Droppings

If you come across any droppings, then most likely they will be rabbit. Squirrels can poop on the run so their droppings tend not to gather in piles as rabbits' do. Also, squirrels tend to relieve themselves in crooks of branches high up in the tree tops, or in hollows well out of our view.

If you do see droppings, rabbits are round and the size of a small grape while squirrels are pointed at the ends and smaller than a raisin. Squirrel droppings will look very similar to mouse droppings.

Hopefully these points will help you determine whether you should follow those rabbit or squirrel tracks in the snow before you spend several minutes chasing something out of season. Although squirrel is tasty nothing compares to my mother-in-law's traditional rabbit stew and these points have put me in her good books more than a few times.

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Tracking Small Game in Snow: Determining Rabbit or Squirrel