Monday, May 7, 2018

Porcupine Hunt & Field Dressing Tutorial (Part 1)

The North American porcupine is the second largest rodent on this continent. Only the beaver surpasses it in size. This large, tree dwelling rodent is known for its prickly defense mechanism, a hide full of modified hairs that form into a mass of quills that cover most of its body.

Although the porcupine is not an exceptionally fast animal, it doesn't need to be for obvious reasons. This makes the porcupine and great survival resource for those who live in areas where this large, pokey rodent is located. Over the past couple of years I  have shot a few of them.

As you can see, they can get quite large and they are very prolific my my area. This photo was from the same location later winter last year.

It's interesting to note that once the heads and tails are removed from the carcass, it's very difficult to tell which of the animal is which!

The following hunt is the final winter/early spring hunt I went on. Well last in the fact that I consider it the last true winter of the past season. Winter's icy grip lasted for a very long time here this year, but more on that later.

My father and I went after some snowshoe hares again. It was a nice day and we were hunting around one of my favorite haunts. I have killed much game in these woods over my lifetime and many deer, grouse, rabbits and other critters have filled my freezer from this area of the forest.

We walked our regular loops and had seen some rabbit sign and we got on a few fresh tracks but never seen our quarry. I spotted a nice fallen cedar that had a decent hollow under its boughs that I thought would be a great place for a rabbit hotel. I investigated the hollow and seen nothing hiding it but I was sure a hare was nearby.

Sure enough. I took one more step at the end of the fallen tree as I was leaving that spot and a hare exploded out from some unseen nook almost out from almost right under my snowshoe! I got 3 quick shots off that didn't connect before the hare bounded off to parts unknown. Right after my encounter, I heard my father ask if I wanted to bag a porcupine, for he had just spotted one up in a white pine as he was coming towards my location. We made a hasty search for the hare and tracked it for a ways but we never found where it had went. It may have just disappeared down another hole somewhere for all we knew. We backtracked to the tree the quill pig was at and I set up to take my shot.

Porkies aren't really hard to hunt, but they can be hard to kill. Precise head shots are a must. This one actually took a number of hits to the head before it toppled out of the tree. To be honest, I was surprised it took the hits that it took and it still somehow managed to hang on up in that pine.
Soon it fell to earth with a deep *THUD* making an impact crater into the snow.

A ton quills were left behind in the crater where it landed.

More meat than a rabbit.

Now that we have our porky in hand, we need to to go about the task of processing it to get it out of the field without perforating ourselves.

If you don't feel competent enough to clean one on the spot, you can always tie some cordage around it's head and drag the creature out so you can take your time processing it at home.

I always like to collect some quills from porcupines I shoot. Having a pair of pliers or a Leatherman makes the job more pleasant. Lucky for me, I forgot to take my Leatherman with me that day so I had to do the plucking the hard way.

If you have never handled a quill pig before you should know that the quills are amazingly sharp. It takes almost no pressure for them to be driven into your skin. They also contain microscopic barbs that make them incredibly hard to remove. Removal of the barbs is quite painful and infection usually sets in after a short amount of time.


Inevitably you will get some quills in your hand if you pluck them. It's also interesting to note that the barbs on the quills have a spiral pattern, so every time a quill is moved or the flesh that it's embedded in moves, the quill turns a little bit and works it's way deeper and deeper into it's victim. Eventually it can pierce vital organs or cause mass infection that will lead to a painful death. Nature!

Now on to the main task at hand. First roll the porcupine onto it's back. The belly of this beast contains no quills. Fishers (wolverine's little cousin) who are the porcupines only major predator, will attack porcupines from the underside while trying to flip them over. Once it kills one, they will eat them from the belly side out leaving just a spiky shell of hide behind. We will take our cue from the fisher and start there.

First make an incision into the upper abdominal area, by pinching some skin with one hand and lifting it up. Once the skin is lifted up you can safely insert your knife point into the skin while avoiding any organ puncture.

I then work the knife down to the groin area while carefully using my two fingers to separate the skin and hold it up so I can cut into the abdominal cavity with out puncturing any of the viscera. Remember there are no quills anywhere around the belly area so we can do what we want without fear of a poke.

I then work my knife back up to the throat. After the incision is made the whole way I can now start to remove the viscera. Porkies are about 60% stomach so there is a lot to remove for their size.

Here I am cutting into the diaphragm area to get at the pulmonary organs and heart. The diaphragm separates two internal areas all mammals. The area below the diaphragm will have the liver, kidneys, stomach and intestines, and the area above it will have the heart and lungs. The diaphragm must be severed where it follows along the sides the body cavity in order to easily release the internal organs. This is true for any mammal that you might field dress. The damage to the bottom "chin" area was not from me making a cut there. That's what a 22LR hollow point does to flesh. A competent man with a 22 can last a long time anywhere on earth with a box full of shells and a rifle.

Diaphragm cuts above

Stomach, intestines, and bladder removed.

Cutting out heart and lungs above. Now it's time to start the tricky part. Below you can see that I start skinning away the hide from the body.

I continue to skin along the other side now. I also make an incision down the legs and skin them out as well. You can see how the hide is starting to "unfold" off the body.
***To Be Continued In Part 2***

Friday, April 20, 2018

Successful Hare Hunt.

I spend a lot of time each winter snowshoeing and hunting. I love being in the woods on snowshoes. If you have enough snow in your A.O. and have never tried snowshoeing and hunting I highly encourage you to do so. It will open up a new season of hunting opportunities for you to pursue.

Strapping on 'shoes.

I found this coyote den. The hole looks small but the tracks around it were form a 'yote. If you look above it and to the left, you can see it brought a fresh killed rabbit home just that morning. The blood is visible on top of the snow along with some rabbit hair.

Blood that dripped from the coyotes kill as it walked along this deer trail returning home with it's prize.

Coyote scat.

We walked along through some tag alder and cedar swamp edge. It looked like a great area for hares. I seen some sign that rabbits were in the area so I had high hopes. 

My dad and I flanked each other about 20 yards apart. I noticed a very fresh set of tracks and told him to stay put. I figured he jumped this hare but didn't see it. Hares are notorious for running in loops when pushed and often circle back to where they were first pushed. I figured if my dad stayed put I might drive the hare to him.

No sooner had I taken up the track I spotted my prey! I took a quick shot and paid for my haste with a miss. I must be getting rusty. The hare took off and started bounding back to my left. I started gunning at it and I struck it on the run. It stopped and then it tried to make a few hops. I didn't have a clear shot but my dad did and he made a nice 25 yard off hand shot to the neck, dispatching the hare where it stood.

It's a young one, but we'll take it!

We jumped another hare not too long after that but we never got a shooting opportunity. You can't win 'em all.

All in all it was a fun hunt.

Thanks for taking a look!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Spring Ice Fishing on Lake Superior.

Winter comes early and stays late in my land. If a person doesn't partake in wintertime activities up here they may get stir crazy waiting for "spring" to arrive during this time of year.

  A couple of weekends ago my uncle called me up and asked if I wanted to go and try for some burbot fishing the deep water offshore on Lake Superior with him and some of his friends. Burbot (Lota lota) go by many names, eelpout, lawyer and lingcod are just a few of the aliases that this primitive fish goes by. They are the only cod-like fish that can be found in freshwater and their flesh has been likened to that of a "poor man's lobster" when it comes to its quality as table fare. I have never fished for them so I welcomed the experience.

The evening before my fishing trip I made sure I had enough line on my tip-ups. My tip-ups were primarily set up for northern pike and walleye so I needed to make sure I had lots line to get the bait down to 50 plus feet of water and to be able to have extra to play out after a fish takes the bait. I packed up my gear and a few snacks. Then it was off to before dawn to reach the "big pond" by day break.

We got to the lake just at sunrise and headed out a via snowmobile. We would be a couple of miles out on the ice.

I love being out on Lake Superior in the winter. Being out on the ice makes me feel like I'm somewhere in the Arctic or some kind of exoic adventure. The ice, like the lake, has many moods. Sometimes there is a lot of pack ice which piles up and makes huge impassable formations. This year in the area the ice stayed as a nice, relatively flat sheet that spanned for miles and miles. The ride out was easy.

We reached the first area we wanted to fish and set up shop. We drilled a number of holes with the ice auger and noticed the ice was still about 18" thick. Plenty of ice for safe travel. Onc the holes were all drilled we set up 2 tip-ups each and used our 3rd hole for jigging. We used recycled smelt for bait. By recycled, I mean they were smelt taken from the belly's of previously caught lake trout. The lines were baited and I spooled my rig out making sure my baited hooks stayed only a foot or so off the bottom.

Next, I set up my jigging pole with a hefty jigging spoon and began pounding it off the bottom. I would work the spoon with erratic movements and would jig it about 10 feet up in various intervals and then I would work it back down to the lake bottom. My hopes were that I could draw the attention of not only some burbot off the bottom, but also the resident lake trout that were cruising around just above it. It didn't take long for the first member of our party to hook into a lake trout.

Not long after, my uncle hooked into a burbot while jigging. He fought the eel like fish to the hole and landed it onto the ice.

The eel like fish squirmed around as it was being unhooked.

I investigated this fish that I have never seen before. 

A while later and the action slowed. The other people from our party started to focus more on lake trout and they moved further out into water that was deeper yet. Soon after they headed out, I noticed the flag up on my uncle's tip-up was triggered and after a decent tug-o-war, I gaffed the fish for him. We now had two of these prehistoric looking fish on the ice.

This was a larger specimen that what was previously caught and was quite portly. I couldn't stop marveing at their odd appearance. It's neat to see new creatures, especially when you can do it as a hands on experience and this fish was no exception.

They have a toothless mouth and a very large tongue. They must inhale their scavenged food and prey items much like a bass.

By this time I took a short break in the action to check out an old, froze over pressure crack. These rifts zigzag for miles.

I had been jigging for over an hour and had a few hits and I lost one fish that I fought for about 30 seconds before it became unhooked. I was starting to zone out and was jigging in zombie like meditative state when I finally had solid hit off the bottom! Fish on!

It only took about a thousand jigging motions to hook one and I didn't want to loose it, The fish fought surprisingly hard for an eel like bottom feeder and my jigging pole bent and bobbed with the strain. After a couple of minutes of bringing the fish up from almost 60 feet of water, my uncle was able to get a gaff into it.

At last I had a new ichthian species under my belt! It felt good to get that monkey off my back and finally get a fish on the ice.

After this fish was on the ice, we packed our gear up and headed further out to meet back up with the rest of our group. They were further out near the edge of the old ice. The old and new ice shelves are separated from each other by a narrow gap. When the shelves move they bump and grind into each making the ice rifts. This is a dangerous area to fish. If the wind switches and happens to blow from the south, the whole ice sheet can quickly separate and start drifting off towards Canada. About 7 years ago a rouge wave hit a much thinner ice sheet in this same spot. The wave shattered the sheet and marooned a number of fisherman who were instantly trapped on a series of rapidly forming ice flows of varying sizes. These flows started to drift into the open water and local search and rescue were called into retrieve the hapless fishermen. Everyone was rescued but a few men lost their ATVs and other gear. A sacrifice to the lake in exchange for their lives, so to say.

Needless to say, I stayed on the south side of the giant open crack.

Seagulls had finally started to return and they were hanging around the only ribbon of open they could find in the area, which was the crack. It was my first sign of spring this year. I also seen a few greater Canadian geese fly along the crevasse too.

The seagulls eagerly awaited any handouts from the human intruders that were upon the ice. You can see the separation of ice behind them.

A few more lake trout were caught along with a nice sized whitefish. 

The ice out here was about 10" thick. Still plenty safe to walk on.

I had one Lake trout hit and it was hooked for only a moment before it got off. I'm guessing it was a body strike because there was a number of trout scales impaled onto the hook of my jigging spoon.

That hit was the last of my fishing action. We cleaned the burbot and packed up the other fish, and gathered our gear.

My equipment load out for the day

With everything packed up, we got back on the sleds and headed for shore. It was great to be out on the the lake's ice and it's always an experience to be remembered even if a person doesn't catch a fish . Catching a new fish species just made the day that much more special to me and I look forward to catching more of these unsightly, but delicious fish in the future.

Thanks for looking!