Porcupine & other animal signs

With some valuable lessons learned, I drove myself to the same spot on the M-M trail as last time, and immediately hiked to the very same Stevens Swamp. I didn't want to waste the entire day looking for a shelter spot (like last time) but I did want to hike all the way around the swamp once to scope out the area.

The amount and variety of animal sign around the swamp was stunning. I saw evidence of moose, porcupine, beaver, raccoon, coyote, deer, muskrat, squirrel, chipmunk, mouse, and woodpecker. And these tracks were preserved beautifully in the ice-hardened snow.

Here is a porcupine den. The porcupine has a pungent odor which I could smell 10 feet from the den's opening.

home base for momma porcupine
The porcupine plows a distinct path through the snow with her belly (thanks to Josh Wood and his tracking class for showing this to me the first time).

individual porcupine tracks in the plowed path
very distinct & well-worn path to den
There was an unbelievable amount of moose sign: tracks, droppings, lays, hair, and even bloated wood ticks.

big ol' moose track

a stunning moose lay - you can see all 4 legs, the head, and even the antlers!

Another moose lay - I found a dozen or so of these

blecch: this blood-filled tick was the size of my thumb's top joint

Another one - there were 10 or so laying around in this spot

needs no description
I spotted two raccoon trails as well. Here is the first.

Raccoon trail leading to the swamp

The unique hand print of a raccoon

Rear raccoon track (I think)

Stevens swamp empties into another swamp to the south, via a small river. Along this river I found one decent spot to cross: a huge downed oak trunk. I was not the only one - a funnel of various animal paths led across the log as well. I noted raccoon, coyote, squirrel, and even deer tracks across the bridge.

The track funnel
Also at this river, I spotted what I can only guess to be muskrat sign. I don't know what other medium sized critter lives in the mud on the shore of a small river that would leave trails like this.

Muskrat path?
Here is a decent coyote track. The near-perfect oval shape of individual tracks and purposeful, direct gait pattern is what suggested coyote to me, though I am not expert enough to be 100% confident.

The perfect oval compression of a coyote

Note the purposeful, straight line of the coyote trail. I think a domestic dog would be zig-zagging all over the place.
I put all this tracking & sign material in this post because it relates to food (well, and it's just really cool). All these tracks and signs revealed themselves while I was hunting for a shelter location. If there was sufficient time after I got the shelter up, I'd come back to one or more of these spots to set up a snare or deadfall. Maybe, if I was lucky, I'd have an animal to roast for breakfast the next day.


The most promising spot for a snare seemed to be the porcupine den. This was the freshest sign, and I imagined the animal would have to come in and out of the den at least one more time before the next morning. A little nervous, I set about installing a snare right in the den's entryway.

I was unsure of how wide to make the noose, or exactly where to place it
I didn't get a picture of the trigger mechanism, but I used a similar version to that posted here. I tried to set it up as quickly as possible and get the heck out of there, so as to not leave too strong a scent.

I'd read about a deer snare made from a branch and paracord, but never set one up before. I don't know enough about deer's habits or about this area to place a snare in just the right spot. Nonetheless, I figure it would be good practice to set one up, even if chances of it working are next to nothing.

I lashed a sapling across 2 trees and draped a large noose over it.

zoomed out
This snare struck me as cruel when I first read about it. Supposedly, though, when a deer gets snared it panics and strangles itself in a few seconds. Survival is cruel sometimes I guess. I have mixed feelings about it.

The next morning, after breaking camp, I checked the porcupine snare. Nothing. The porcupine had simply pushed the noose to the side before entering/exiting the den. It appeared she did not try to put her head through. I was fascinated to discover that the paracord itself had taken on the musk of the porcupine just from briefly touching her, still strong days later at home.

The noose was apparently pushed aside
I was ambivalent about my lack of meat. On the one hand, I was really hungry and a little frustrated by yet another snare failure. On the other, I'd have been really sad to have killed a porcupine. And, on the other OTHER hand, this was by far the closest I've ever come to snaring a critter as big as a porcupine.

I don't know for sure what a better noose placement would look like in this case. Probably it should have been smaller, and more thoughtfully placed. How can I predict where exactly the porcupine head would be on exit/entrance? Food for thought, haha.

I didn't find any surprises near the deer snare either. No fresh sign. I don't think a deer passed within 100 meters of that snare while it was up. I think to have a better chance of working, this would need to be placed in an area not only with heavy deer traffic (I did that) but also such that deer have to travel through a narrow opening. It will be a while before I figure this one out.

Every snare information source says snaring/trapping is a numbers game. I know this, but I just did not have any time to put up more snares that night. I wanted to put a snare or two around the animal track funnel (pictured above). That seemed promising, but I did not have time to hike over there. I barely got back to my shelter before dark as it was.

I've said this before, but I will need to stay out for 2 nights to get sufficient traps and snares up. That way, the first day is focused on shelter. That evening, trap and snare parts can be carved and de-scented in the fire. Then the entire next day could be spent setting up a dozen traps. It's going to have to wait for summer vacation I guess.

In the meantime, I've signed up for a Massachusetts basic trapper education course. Perhaps I can get proficient at trapping with modern tools. That would enable me to focus on the details of good trap placement, without getting hung up in constructing primitive trap components.

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