Find the best places to hunt Porcupines in Canada and discover the Porcupines' Physical Description, Range, Habitat, Food Source, Breeding Habits, and Status. 

Provinces with Porcupine Hunting

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Northwest Territories






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New Brunswick



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Prince Edward Island Present  
Newfoundland Present Labrador

North American Porcupine - Erethizon dorsatum

Range - Distribution and Habitat of the North American Porcupine:

 Porcupine Range Map of Canada

Porcupine Range Map of Canada

Original map of canada: By Nzeemin [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Modified By:

From the very large family of porcupines the North American Porcupine occupies the northern range of North America.

Here in Canada, it is a native non migrating year round resident that occurs in most of Canada. It can be found almost anywhere in the provinces of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and essentially the Yukon. It also occurs in the southern most areas of Quebec, Labrador, and the North West Territories. However, it is not found neither in Newfoundland nor Nunavut.

This species of porcupines can be found in many varying climates, and at most elevations. They can also utilize a broad variety of habitats that includes dense forests, shrub lands, tundra, and grasslands with a preference for coniferous and mixed forests.

The North American Porcupine demonstrates its adaptability by utilizing the available cover and structure of its surroundings. For example: In deciduous and coniferous forests it is primarily a tree dweller but in grasslands it is a mainly a ground dweller.

Denning sites for this species can be anything from a rocky outcrop to a hollowed out tree either standing or laying on the ground or even residential outbuildings.

Description of North American Porcupine:

 North American Porcupine

 North American Porcupine

North American Porcupine - Tim Lenz - Flickr


As a hunter you may have or should I say your hunting dog may have had a run in with a porcupine and we all know about pulling out the quills from the dogs’ muzzle.

The quills of the porcupines have an elastic honeycomb-like core with a dense outer shell that resists buckling and there are about 30,000 of those spines or quills that cover the porcupine from head to tail on the back side of the animal. These quills are normally 2.95 inches (75 mm.) long, 0.08 in. (2 mm.) wide, and have small barbs that are naked to the eye on the tip of them. The barbs hold the quills in the flesh of an attacker (normally the facial area) and muscular movements by the attacker only make the quill embed them selves deeper into the skin/flesh. I personally know of a case of a Lynx that died from a porcupine attack, in that the quills prevented it from eating and it probably starved.

Evolutional development has given this species adaptations for living in trees.. These adaptations include four long front claws (with a remnant of a thumb) and five long rear claws. The palms of each claw are bare with a granular like surface that allows it to easily cling to small tree branches and have an acute sense of touch. These palms also help the porcupine with night time navigation in the trees and allow it to anchor itself on a tree branch with its rear feet while feeding with its forearms.

The tail of this species has a denser concentration of quills on it and is used primarily as a defensive mechanism in that it will primarily present its tail to any would be attacker first. But the tail with this multitude of quills is also used as a stabilizing anchor while climbing in trees.

The porcupine has a prominent space or gap between its two front teeth that allows its lips to be drawn in while chewing. Like other rodents it has unique chewing muscles that help them chew more efficiently.  It does not have canine teeth and it has a dental pattern of 1/1, 0/0, 1/1, 3/3. 

The belly of the porcupine is covered with a dark fur and the rest of its body is covered with dark brown to black coloured spines mixed in with some yellow quills. Also some quills have a white tip to make them stand out against the dark fur underneath. This is white on black colour is perhaps to serve as a warning to would be predators that this potential dinner is not to be messed with.

As far as North American rodents go, the porcupine is only outsized by the beaver. Male members of the species are generally larger than female members with individuals of both sexes ranging from 23.6 to 35.4 inches (60 to 90 cm) in body length, a tail that will measure 5.7 to 11.8 ins. ( 14.5 to 30 cm), and weigh between 11 to 30.9 lbs. (5 to 14 kg.).

Communication is accomplished through a mix of sound, odour, sight, and touch.


  • Males try to establish superiority over other males with aggressive vocalizations.
  • Females express their willingness to mate through vaginal discharges, scent marking with their urine, and high pitched vocalizations.
  • When threatened, porcupines will attempt to warn would be predators by chattering their teeth and discharging a chemical odour.
  • The porcupine gives a visual warning to perceived threats by turning its back and displaying its white on black markings thus warning predators of its quills.
  • The sense of touch is used between mates, mothers and their young.

The life expectancy of a wild porcupine is actually quite long in that they can live upwards of 17 to 18 years. It is thought that this lifespan is limited by the length of time that they can maintain their teeth.


Diet and Foraging Strategy of the North American Porcupine:

Porcupine Feed

Porcupine bark damage - Robert Lemke

The porcupine is primarily considered to be a non-hibernating, nocturnal herbivore, although it is not unusually to see one during the day.


ts produce additional nutrients during the night and the porcupine feeds primarily at night in order to take advance of this metabolic process.

The type of plant material and the rate at which it consumes plant material will vary from winter to fall as it reacts to changes in plant chemistry. Leaves; roots, tubers; wood, bark, stems; seeds, grains, nuts; fruit and flowers are only some of the seasonal parts of a plant that it will digest.

High protein foods are available throughout the spring and summer months and feeding periods are reduced during this time.  However winter sees an increase in feeding rates as energy reserves are lower and the porcupine becomes nutritionally stressed during this period.

In the northeast part of the country it prefers hemlock and sugar maple. While in the Great Lakes it prefers stands of yellow pine.


Winter finds this species in the tree canopy foraging primarily hemlock and sugar maple. They may feed so heavily on a single tree that it causes extreme damage or death to the host tree.

Winter foods are primarily the bark, cambium (the layer of material between the bark and tree rings), and phloem (the vascular tissues in plants that conducts sugars and other metabolic products downward from the leaves).


Springtime finds this species foraging the buds of maple tress because they are a good source of protein. This bounty does not last long for once the leaves of the maple open the porcupine is faced with the issue the leaves contain large quantities of tannins that are toxic to the porcupine.

Their focus then shifts to the cambium of basswood, aspen, and young beech trees. This is because the cambium contains a good amount of protein and small amounts tannin. Ash trees are also selected because the rough texture of their bark makes them relatively easy to climb in comparison to the smooth bark of a beech tree,


As summer time comes into its own a pantry of plant roots, leaves, berries, fruits, and seeds become available and prime for the taking. The porcupine will begin and continue to forage on these items until the fall arrives.


In order to get ready for the winter the fall sees the porcupine dramatically increase its rate of foraging. Oak acorns and beech nuts become available in the fall at this time. The best opportunity for the porcupine to get these nuts is to get them directly from the host trees before the mast falls to the ground and then most of the mast is taken by deer and squirrels.

Studies have shown that the production of mast by nut producing trees has a direct influence on this species.

Breeding and Reproduction of the North American Porcupine:

North American Porcupine

North American Porcupine - USFWS - Flickr 

This breeding cycle for this species occurs only once a year in the months of October and November.

It is the female porcupine that initiates the mating ritual by advertising her period of readiness about 8 to 12 hours ahead of her time of ovulation.Vaginal secretions, urine marking, and high pitched vocalizations are a few of the tools that she uses to attract as many males as possible in order to compete with each other and determine their dominance.

Males will come to the female, but the males must assert their dominance and defend the willing female for 1 to 4 days before she will choose a mate for breeding. The competition for females by males occurs in the trees and consists of loud vocalizations, violent biting, and each one uses their quills as a weapon. Typically larger males have better odds of being selected than do smaller males.

This method of selection by the female is referred to as “defense polygyny” and makes sure that the "best" male sires the female's offspring. It is not uncommon for a dominant male to breed with a number of different females, but only when the female is receptive. Also, unsuccessful males may not mate at all.

Breeding occurs at ground level and involves a ritual where the male will spray the female with his urine. The urine showers continue until the female accepts both the shower and the male. The breeding pair will then mate for several hours. There is an enzyme in the males’ semen that creates a vaginal plug in the female. Once that plug forms the act of copulation by the chosen male or any other male is stopped.

The female then undergoes a lengthy gestation period that is 205 to 217 days long (average is 210.25 days) following which she will generally give birth to a single offspring and litters of more than one are rare.. The young are born weighing in at 0.88 to 1.15 lbs. (400 to 520 gm.), in an advanced state of development and are able to feed themselves almost immediately.

The youngster is taken care of solely by its mother and will be nursed for about 127 days. For the first six weeks the mother remains close at hand generally sleeping in a nearby tree during the day. The baby hides in a ground nest or depression while the mother returns to the youngster at night to nurse it.

At about six weeks of age, the baby begins to follow its mother around. At first it follows the mother to the tree in which the mother is feeding and waits at the base of the tree for the mother to return. But over the next couple of months the youngster and mother begin to show signs of separation in that the distance between the pairs’ sleeping nests and foraging sites begin to increase. However, the mother continues to meet up with the youngster on a nightly basis until mid-October. It is somewhere around this time that the youngster looses contact with its mother and it is now left to fend for itself.

Although the young are fully independent at about 5 months of age female porcupines but are not sexual mature until 25 months of age and 29 months of age for males.

Porcupines tend to create and maintain territories that they defend. Female territories are generally smaller than those of males and the female will defend it against other females. Male territories on the hand are usually larger and are found to overlap those of several females. The territory of a dominant male will seldom overlap another dominant male’s territory and the male's territory usually gets larger throughout his lifetime as his size and dominance grows.

Status of North American Porcupine

The North American Porcupine was listed on the Red List as a species of least concern (2008). Justification for this listing status is because it has a large stable population, a wide distribution, and no known major threats.

Even though the porcupine is covered with sharp quills there are some predators that will forage on the porcupine. Known predators of the porcupine are mainly fishers and mountain lions. The Fisher uses a frontal attack in order to gain an opportunity to flip over the porcupine in order to get to its fur covered underbelly. The mountain lion on the other hand uses the direct approach and deals with the quills later. Other predators like the lynx, bobcat, coyote, wolf, wolverine, and great horned owl also take the odd specimen.

 Porcupine Scat

Porcupine Scat

Porcupine Scat - Rob Routledge, Sault College,




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  • North American Porcupine - Tim Lenz - Flickr
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