"Porcupine," by Fiona Bearclaw via Flickr

When Porcupines Attack

It was a cold, rainy Nova Scotia afternoon in December, the last day of the 2014 deer season. So far, my luck had been pretty bad.

I’d been out only once before, for a four-hour hunt that had resulted in one tick bite, one case of Lyme disease, one nasty staph infection, and zero deer. I would like to say I was undaunted, but that would be a lie. A week earlier, I had felt plenty daunted. In fact, I had cornered the market on daunt.

Never again, I swore, as I lay in bed shivering with a fever and bone-cracking chills. Never again would I pretend I was some kind of latter-day Daniel Boone capable of feeding his family from his kills. I would own up to what I was: a middle-aged nerd who had come to hunting relatively late in life, with only one deer kill to his credit so far, and that thanks to the help of my friend, an experienced hunter whom I’ll call Edward.

Edward is pushing sixty years old, and I’ll wager he’s spent fifty-five of those years in the woods. He’s on a first-name basis with most of the wildlife around here, and there is no piece of this part of Nova Scotia he couldn’t hunt blindfolded. Last year he had let me use his blind, which was the only way I was able to get my first deer—a thrilling moment I will never forget, and which I wanted more of. Edward had graciously allowed me to do so again this year, and not only that, but he’d said he would sit with me and help me haul the deer out, too. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

I am still enough of a noob to romanticize hunting. I’d thought Edward and I would engage in manly hunting talk, or at least sit in Hemingway-esque silence, while we formed a spiritual connection with the deer through the ether and willed it to step out of the woods into our shooting lanes. Instead, Edward whipped out a Samsung tablet and began playing Call of Duty, which, in case you don’t know, is a video game where you pretend to shoot people. “This is how I pass the time,” he explained.

Never again would I pretend I was some kind of latter-day Daniel Boone capable of feeding his family from his kills. I would own up to what I was: a middle-aged nerd.

Dusk approached, and with it came “happy hour”, the time of day when deer most often appear. We heard a rustling noise. Edward put down his computer and peered off into the distance.

“Porcupine,” he said.

Sure enough, there was a very fat prickly fellow about seventy yards away, bumbling up the hill in our general direction, in no hurry. By now Edward had been killed—in his game, I mean—so the two of us sat and watched the porky as he came closer.

“Huh,” said Edward. “Looks like he’s headed right for us.”

Sure enough, the walking pincushion was now just fifteen yards away. He was very large, too—larger than a small dog, let’s say. Of course, every time I tell this story he gets bigger, but my readers may rest assured that for the purposes of journalistic integrity, I am constraining myself to the facts.

What happened next is something I’m still puzzling over in my mind, trying to make sense of it the way you reconstruct the details of a bank robbery. I’m sure Edward is, too. The porcupine, who by this time had assumed the proportions of a Great Dane, came snuffling up to the unzipped door of our two-man pop-up blind. Edward, who was sitting nearest to him, commenced to kick wildly at the entrance, and to make a noise that one more commonly associates with panicked five-year-old girls rather than seasoned woodsmen.

Edward’s foot connected with the porcupine. There was a moment of stunned silence from both parties, as if neither of them could believe their own audaciousness. Then the porcupine dove in over the lip of the door and disappeared.

“He’s in here!” Edward—well, I hesitate to use the word shrieked, but such is my regard for truth in reporting that I must be accurate. I, of course, retained a modicum of manly comportment. Or at least I think I did. To be honest, it was one of those moments where time blurs. One moment I was in the blind, and the next moment I was twenty feet away, with no memory of how I’d gotten there. I suppose it’s possible I teleported. It wouldn’t be the first time fear had caused me to become capable of interdimensional travel.

Edward and I spent the next five minutes dancing around, trying every anti-porcupine incantation we could think of, until we remembered that we could just pick the blind up and let the porcupine out. This we did, and he snuffled back on down the hill, looking pretty put out, I must say, but none the worse for wear. Edward and I looked at each other sheepishly. I ventured the opinion that the noise we’d made had probably put an end to our hunting for the day, and with it my deer season.

“He’s drunk,” Edward deduced.

“Not so fast,” Edward said. “Anything can happen.”

Back in the blind we went. Up to Edward’s face went the tablet again. Down the sun continued to fall, as it inexorably must. Occasionally we let out a giggle as we remembered what had just happened. The porcupine was nowhere in sight, and I assumed we had seen the last of him.

I was wrong. Suddenly, about ten yards away, a large black ball came plummeting out of the air—whence it came, I know not—and landed with a mighty thunk! on the humus. The black ball shook itself, produced four legs, and began to walk away, bringing to mind the popular Taylor Swift song ‘Shake It Off’.

It was the porcupine.

“He’s drunk,” Edward deduced. He had realized by now that this was the same porcupine he’d caught on his trail cam eating the apples in the bait pile. Some of them must have fermented, creating a kind of woodland open bar. That was the only explanation for Old Spiny’s behavior. If we stuck around long enough, the place would probably fill up with the animal kingdom’s equivalent of topless dancers and rowdy frat boys. Heck, we were lucky to get in before the cover charge.

At this point, the day was shot. Certainly no deer were.

As the last rays of light left the sky, we packed up our gear and headed out of the woods. I had been skunked, which was a disappointment. But I had something that would last me far longer than a freezer full of deer meat. I had a story to tell—although, as Edward cautioned me, “No one will ever believe you.”

And as I always say—or at least, as I will always say from now on—it’s better to get skunked than quilled.