Ahh…springtime. The time of year when a dog owner’s thoughts turn to porcupines and skunks. I basically have nothing against either creature, but when my dogs are involved, it gets personal.My first porcupine-hunting dog encounter was many years ago on a warm August evening. I took my German shorthair, Harley, for a run in the woods down to a small duck pond. He flew by the pond to explore the ditch beyond, and when I called him to me just moments later, it looked like he had something white in his mouth, a rabbit maybe. It seemed odd.
As Harley ran towards me in the dimming light, I realized what now looked like a Santa Claus beard was actually more than a hundred quills covering three quarters of his face. I didn’t even consider pulling them myself. I leashed him and rushed home to grab the phone and find out what vet was on call that night. Thinking back, even though I now have had some experience pulling quills, I probably wouldn’t have tried it myself. With so many in his muzzle and in his throat, better for him to be mildly sedated and not have to feel the pain for the hour plus that it took to remove them all.
My next notable porcupine encounter was the opening day of ruffed grouse season. Rimfire had been doing an odd point and sprint dance down a wooded hill towards a broad cornfield, not his customary grouse tracking style. Eventually, I saw him locked solid between two rows of still standing corn. Odd place for a grouse, but it was possible an early woodcock was resting there as I had once or twice found woodcock in the corn.
On closer look, I saw the humped brown bristly back of a porcupine. I leashed Rimfire, then dragged him back to the trees explaining that we were after birds and that while I appreciated his varmint tracking skills, porcupine stew was not on my menu.
Two years and several unremarkable encounters later, I was at our cabin with my two shorthairs, one a puppy barely four months old. After unloading the truck and settling in, my eyes caught sight of something big, lumpy and dark trundling across the grass between the cabin and the river. First thought: a beaver – and I am always nervous about beaver and dog confrontations. Then the beaver climbed a tree, thus, not a beaver. It was a huge porcupine.
Until it moved on, we were held hostage. Versatile dogs love to hunt fur or feathers, and the laws of nature predicted a snout full of quills for my 15-week-old puppy. A few stripped tree tops told me the porcupine had been hanging around the cabin for a while. There’s no closed season on porcupines in Maine, so I opted to take it out of the equation.
Some gun dog owners are lucky and haven’t had to deal with quills. Others, like Dave Kuritzky, who owns Riley in the photo here, has had to remove face and mouthfuls of quills over and over. Even with aversion training, Riley still loves to go after those porkies. I guess some days a 20 lb. rodent with a back full of toothpicks is just too irresistible to a hunting dog.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.