Varmints

“Bang!” Silence.

“Bang!” Giggles.

“Bang!” I stopped and checked my rifle as my quarry slowly waddled away. I shook my head because the porcupine walked off after I shot him in vital areas. Three times! My friend held the dog and laughed hysterically…at me.

“Shoot ’em again!” she somehow managed to blurt out between gasps. I could only stomp away in disgust, shaking my head.

At the time, I was fourteen, green to most everything, and more than a little embarrassed. I had NOT missed. Why wasn’t it dead? But soon I contracted the giggles, too, when she imitated my ‘stalking’ the terrible beastie. We laughed about it, and it got funnier in the re-telling.

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One of our realities in ranch country is varmints. Websters’ dictionary defines them as  follows: “vermin; especially a person or animal regarded as troublesome or objectionable”.  Although non-predatory, these critters do belong on the Wanted List.

Badgers are a nuisance. Their tunneling can damage water pipelines and water tanks. Skunks are a bother, and ‘coons and possums, because they get into things, contaminate feed, and love to kill chickens for fun. Snakes are always sent to perdition on sight. (We talked about them in the post “Just Part of It”.) And then there are porcupines.

These “harmless” little fellas are peaceful. They have an extremely slow metabolism (which is why it takes them so long to die, I found out), and keep to themselves in trees or in sandy holes in the ground. Since they’re slow, they don’t run fast enough from danger and therefore were given a defense which is, safe to say, quite effective.

It’s not if, it’s when a dog or a horse or a bovine gets got, ending up suffering greatly from their weapons of, well, suffering. The quills, unlike a cactus thorn, are barbed on the tips with tiny little ridges. When the critter projects them, the quills inflate and the barbs stick out, making extraction miserable. The end of the quill must be chopped off first, then pulled out. If not immediately removed, the barbs help to work the quill deeper into the flesh. Pain, infection, and misery result and usually the animal must be sedated in order to pull the quills out. Most often, they get it right in the nose.

Porcupines aren’t welcome around livestock and particularly around ranch headquarters. As a kid, we could ‘hunt’ them just to give us something useful to do, but in general if we see one, it was just his day to go, otherwise they are left to themselves.

Having wild pets is one of those ranch kid privileges that makes for a joyful childhood. I’ve tried to capture and tame most varmint species. (The glaring exception being skunks!) My sister and I each slept with our baby raccoons until mom put a stop to it because the little critters were a nuisance, especially at night! My “pet” porcupine was sweet, and would eat out of your hand, but petting him was never an option. The ‘possum was banned from the house because mom thought it might not be sanitary for a fifth grader to eat meals with a ‘possum hanging around her neck, even if the little critter did get regular baths. One set of baby mice tragically did not survive to adulthood because I found out the hard way it isn’t exactly good manners to bring them to church. The owl, the jackrabbit(s), the crow (s), and the rat were eventually sent outside as well, but they weren’t exiled because I was sent outside too!

In my lifetime, the only porcupine I’ve ever shot was the one in the above story. The rest were roadkill. This porcupine (pictured above) is one I met a few years ago. I was trying to see how close I could get to him without getting “quilled”. Thankfully, we both survived the ordeal.

The fact is, anyone who has worked to save their suffering animal from a porcupine’s quills won’t balk at shooting one given the chance. Last year, my sister’s Catahoula cow dogs thought a porcupine was a squeak toy. Days later, sore and swollen and sleepless, they regretted that.

porcupine dog
These photos belong to Charity Underwood.

 

Only a week or so after that incident one of my husbands’ horses had a run in with a porcupine too. This horse is the ‘no-touchy’ type, so earing him down and pulling them was out of the question. After being given a sedative, the minor “surgery” was successful. I bet ol’ Yeller never sniffs a fluffy rat ever again!

 

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Livestock (and the dogs, people, and horses that are here to tend them) and varmints don’t always coexist harmoniously. But we know that to rid the range of all varmints would tip the ecosystem out of balance and that would be a price too high to pay in the end. I’m glad to have called a few of these critters my friends but in the end, there are always the realities of ranch life to keep my feet on the ground.

 

 

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