I was awakened in the middle of the night by a scratching sound somewhere off in the distance. It sounded like something was scraping or gnawing, but it was still distant. As I became more awake, I wondered what could be making the noise. I then remembered, I was in a cabin miles outside Yellowstone Park in the middle of the Montana backcountry.
At first, I thought it could be a bear. Though a grizzly would be pretty unlikely given the sound I was hearing, even if they are common around Yellowstone. A rodent would be most likely, and with that thought, I remembered that the forest ranger informed us about a porcupine being a nuisance to the previous visitors. My eyes were getting adjusted to the lack of light when I noticed the solid wood door was wide open. The screen door was the only thing I had between me and the Montana wild.
The noise suddenly got louder as the critter started gnawing on the back of the cabin. Of course any animal, is perceived much larger when it’s the only thing making noise in the wilderness. I had set my headlamp and lever action .22 caliber rifle on a stool in front of the door so I was at least prepared for most small critters, barring a skunk at the door. I tried to doze back off knowing I couldn’t do much and didn’t have a chance of chasing a critter into the woods, I had to wait until I had the advantage.
What felt like a few hours of laying there and listening to this terrible sound, suddenly the noise got even louder and started to echo through the cabin. By the echo and direction I knew this critter was on the porch, only feet away from where I was sleeping. It had left evidence of gnawing on the cabin logs, so I knew this was a common habit. I waited until it had settled into its nightly chew, meanwhile I planned my attack. After a few moments, I quietly rose from my sleeping bag. I slipped into my cowboy boots, not bothering for my pants. I then pulled the headlamp over my head and placed my hands around the cold rifle pulling the hammer back so it was ready for action. I called to dad a few times but he didn’t stir. Here I was half naked with a rifle in my hand about to go toe to toe with the wild creature just outside.
I switched on my head lamp and kicked open the door to see a average size porcupine scrambling to get off the porch. I brought the rifle up to my cheek and took aim, first round went off hitting the rodent. It scrambled off the porch and as it did I circled to counter it’s escape. As I was flanking, I was also working the lever action and putting more lead into its thistle like backside. It then ran down the side of the cabin a few feet. When it figured out that it couldn’t get under the cabin and hide, it turned right toward me. Likely the porcupine was either trying to make a break for it or attack me head-on, probably the later as I like to remember. As the gap between us was closing, I knew I didn’t have long to get a final shot in and end the fight. I shucked the empty round from the chamber, felt the lever action grab the next round and I brought the rifle up to my cheek, saw the sights and pulled the trigger straight back. Bang, the porcupine stopped in its tracks.
I may have let out a war cry of the old days, but as vivid as those moments were the seconds after were a little blurry as the adrenaline subsided. I went back inside, set the gun and light back on my “ready stool” and tried to go back to sleep. Remembering the beginning of the trip that led me to this point.