This is a picture of a lone porcupine quill. Just one of, literally, thousands of identical quills your average porcupine carries around on his backside every day of his life. But what’s remarkable about this single quill is where it came from and what it represents. But first, a little background.
I just returned from a road trip, during which I hunted in both Nebraska and Montana. And at every stop along the way, the dogs and I encountered porkies. In Nebraska, it was on a stylish, photogenic point that I was sure would result in a sandhills prairie chicken. Instead, I got a great point on a Cornhusker porcupine. Luckily, Jenny didn’t break as I was trying to flush my non-existent chicken, and when I realized it was a porcupine hidden in the grass, we were able to pull the dogs off it.
Although we have quite a few porcupines where I live in northwest Oklahoma, this was Jenny’s first encounter with one, and the number one lesson I took away from it was: Jenny really likes to point porcupines. Pointing dog owners can generally tell when their dogs are mousing or pointing trash versus pointing game, but my dog’s porcupine point is, unfortunately, cover shot-worthy. This would shortly come back to bite me in the butt and lead me to lesson number two, which is: don’t send your dog into cover if you suspect it may contain a porcupine.
A few days later, in Montana, I was hunting one evening with Pheasants Forever Online Editor Anthony Hauck and his awesome little English cocker, Sprig, when Jenny again went on a staunch point on the side of a coulee from which we had just witnessed a group of sharptails fly. Thinking that’s what Jenny was pointing and thinking there may a few stragglers hanging out in the brush growing on the side of the coulee, I walked up, failed to flush anything, and released Jenny. Big mistake.
She dashed into the brush. I heard a growl, followed by a yelp, and seconds later Jenny emerged with a mouth and muzzle now decorated with porkie quills. Not many, but enough to cause a bit of blood and pain. I carefully pulled the quills from her mouth and nose, washed away the blood, took one last look to make sure I hadn’t missed any, and continued hunting. No harm, no foul, and lesson learned.
As porcupine encounters go, it was about as gentle as it gets. At the time, I considered Jenny’s encounter to be a great stroke of luck, because she’d now know porkies are bad news, and in the future avoid them.
Which segues nicely into lesson number three, which is: don’t ever blithely assume anything about your dog’s lesson-learning ability. Or yours, for that matter.
A day later, several of us were once again hunting when one of the other hunters’ dogs got into a porcupine, this time badly–a full-on tailsmack–with far too many quills embedded far too deeply to extract in the field. About that time the “Dog On Point” alarm on my Garmin Alpha (more on that to come) goes off and I find Jenny, again staunchly pointing the porcupine that had just smacked the other dog. So much for her lesson learned. If I hadn’t managed to pull her off I’m quite certain she’d have gotten the same.
So it’s now apparent that at least one of my dogs has a persistent and unhealthy interest in porcupines, and some avoidance training is in order. Interestingly enough, a day after Jenny’s last encounter with a porcupine, and three full days after first getting quilled, I was doing a routine check for burrs and stickers when I felt a sharp jab on the upper side of Jenny’s muzzle, right behind her nose. A tiny point was poking up through the skin. I gently pulled, then pulled some more, and eventually extracted this intact, inch-long quill from Jenny’s snout. I had apparently overlooked it a few days earlier and it had migrated from the roof of her mouth upward, all the way through to the skin above.
Which leads to lesson number four, which is: once you think you’ve got all the quills, look, look, and look again. And keep on looking for days afterward, because those vicious little bastards have a way of surprising you. They really do travel and migrate. Jenny had shown no outward signs of discomfort or swelling. She hunted hard, ate well without any difficulty and was her usual self. I’m keeping this quill on my desk as a reminder to be more careful and observant in the future, and to remember the lessons the whole encouter taught me.
Anyone else have a porcupine horror story?