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April 4, 2014

You never know what you're going to see on the slopes

The Daily Star

---- — I was skiing at Belleayre Mountain last Thursday. As we rode up the chairlift, I noticed several trees that were stripped of their bark in the upper branches. One of the guys I ski with asked, “What would cause that?”

“Porcupines,” I replied while pointing out tracks in the snow below the lift.

We rode the lift up and skied down several more times before I noticed the quilled rodent high up in a tree not far from the lift. He hung onto the branches and ate, totally unconcerned that people were going by just a few feet away. We made several more runs before he climbed down. He wandered down through the trees with a slow gait, heading toward some ledges he probably called home.

Porcupines are one thing, but deer crossing the trail as you’re trying to ski is quite another.

Several years ago, we skied McCauley Mountain just outside of Old Forge. It was a rather small and inexpensive ski area, which made it a great place to teach our kids how to ski.

The ski area also is a wildlife park and, at that time, they fed the deer late in the afternoon by putting corn into troughs on the sides of the lower trails. So as you skied down, you not only had to dodge other skiers, but you had to miss the deer as well. I presume since it is no longer legal to feed the deer, there are far fewer close calls.

Did you know that the porcupine has only one real natural predator? Not many animals will successfully kill and eat a hedgehog. Their quills make a formidable defense against coyotes, foxes and even bobcats. But a fisher easily can make a meal out of these spiny critters.

Being a very agile climber, the fisher will run up a tree, jump from branch to branch and rip open the porcupine’s belly with its razor-sharp claws. Then he waits. Before long, the porky bleeds out and falls to the ground. The fisher eats just about everything, except the quills, gaining easy access to its victim’s flesh through its belly.

I had an old-timer in Wells tell me years ago that porcupines are really delicious. He said he had eaten many of them over the years while running his winter trap line. I always wanted to ask him what they tasted like, but he probably would have said chicken.

I know some of you probably wrinkled your nose up at that, but they are very clean animals. They eat the layer of wood just under the bark in the winter. They like salty things and do a nice job on ax handles and boat oars as well. Actually, they eat plants all summer, making them a tasty dish when lost and hungry or in a pinch.

While hunting in the Adirondacks one winter day, I carefully made my way through a snow-covered swamp along the Kunjamuk River, looking for a deer that might be hiding in the lowlands. In a small clearing, I came across the carcass of a deer that was probably shot by another hunter earlier in the season. As I approached it, a fisher came up out of the body cavity. It was eating the deer from the inside out. He ran off after seeing me, but I’m sure he returned to eat for several days after that. Things are not often wasted in the wilds.

So with porcupines in the treetops and deer on the slopes, I’m off for another day of skiing. After all, spring has arrived and the snow won’t last too long.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at