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***