Survival Foraging & Gardening

How to Remove Porcupine Quills For Fun and Profit

Porcupine quills and hair is sold in small volumes all over the country and driving a market most people never knew existed

If you’ve ever owned a hunting dog that’s received a face full of quills, you hate porcupines. Although mostly disdained, porcupines are symbols of fearlessness, strength, and power among some Native American tribes. They are valued for their quills, which are typically used for traditional bead work and ornate crafts. Some buyers pay up to eight dollars per ounce of porcupine quills, though the long hairs that cover them can fetch more than $20. Opportunists who happen upon North America’s second largest rodent and are willing to bring them to market are the main suppliers of quills and porky hair. Here’s how to skin a porcupine for fun and profit:

young kid kneeling next to porcupine
Kaden Walrath with a porcupine. Toby Walrath
porcupine on the ground
The North American porcupine inhabits most of Canada, and the western U.S. south to Mexico. Populations are high in northeastern states as well. In many states, porcupines are considered pests. Therefore, most harvest methods are permissible, including hunting and trapping, and roadkills are often repurposed. Toby Walrath
kid holding porcupine quills
The process of harvesting valuable porcupine parts begins with removing the long guard hairs. It’s best to wait a day or two to allow the carcass to taint slightly, which loosens the guard hair and quills. Collecting the hair is easy—just grab a handful and gently pull. Keep the hair straight when you pull and be sure to extract the entire hair follicle. Toby Walrath
knife dequilling porcupine
There are several ways to remove quills. One of the best is to gently press the base of the quill with a knife blade right at the skin. Tack the carcass upside down to a board and place a bin beneath it to catch the quills. There can be more 30,000 quills on a single animal. Toby Walrath
kid dequilling a porcupine
Wear gloves and pull the quills with one hand and use the other to press the follicles with a knife blade. Be delicate with your movements to avoid damaging the quills. Toby Walrath
porcupine underfur
During the winter, thick underfur will grow around the base of the quills and since it has no market value, you should remove it from the quills. Toby Walrath
buckets of dequilled porcupine
You can remove thousands of quills quickly and then sort them by hand. Toby Walrath
porcupine quills
Sort the quills by size, then clean and store them someplace dry. Dyed quills are worth the most money as long as they are good quality, and porky hair longer than 7 inches can fetch premium prices. Toby Walrath
sorting quills of a porcupine
Quill brokers, like longtime Moscow Hide and Fur buyer Nick Campagna, has a sharp eye for quill quality. Quills must be clean and free of any underfur. The best porky hair is tri-colored (white, black and yellow). The recent introduction of artificial porky hair (shown in the foreground) has softened the market somewhat, but natural quills remain a preferred commodity. Toby Walrath
porcupine quills
Campagna looks over some skinned porcupine hides. Toby Walrath
man holding up porcupine quills
Not all porcupines are created equal. Campagna shows two porcupine hides from different parts of the country to illustrate how one hide can have more quality quills than another. Toby Walrath
woman selling porcupine fur and quills
Most quills end up in small bead shops where they're dyed and sold to crafters for jewelry work or the honored creation of Native American regalia. Here, Heidy Baker assesses the quills she sells at The Warpath Trading Post in Plummer, Idaho. Toby Walrath
porcupine hair and quills for sell
Quality porky hair is bundled loosely and sold to crafters for making things like traditional roach headdresses. For Native Americans, dyed porcupine quills displayed with feathers, knives and bear claws has a deep cultural significance that's still used in contemporary celebrations. You won't get rich harvesting porky hair and quills, but if you find a porcupine, it's a good way to make use of the animal. Just watch out for stickers. Toby Walrath