A sure sign of autumn is the smell of skunks in the yard. If you are fortunate, you get the “skunk from a distance” smell, that many folks, myself included, find to be rather pleasant. To me, the distant smell of a skunk is reminiscent of ‘Triscuit’ crackers.
But if you are not so lucky, somewhere very near you, a skunk has let loose with the best defense it has. There is NOTHING pleasant about this smell. It brings tears to your eyes, it clings to the hairs in your nose, and you can taste it. The taste makes you want to vomit, and if you are lucky, you will only gag…A LOT!
I know a fairly good amount about skunks, and skunk spray. My experience dates back decades. When I was a kid, back when mixed breed dogs were still mutts, we had this cocka-poo… named Roscoe. Roscoe had belonged to my aunt Peggy, and her boys, Michael, and Darrell. He had been left in our care, while they had lived in a place where they couldn’t have pets. I don’t recall all the details, but in the end, when Aunt Peg returned, she decided it wouldn’t be fair for Roscoe to be uprooted. He was very happy with us, and we were very happy with him.
For one reason or another, he kinda sorta became my dog. One game we all played with Roscoe was “Get The Kitty!” Roscoe would smell a cat coming up the driveway, and bark his curly little head off, and race from the kitchen window, to the back door, and back again until he caught somebody’s attention. Once we got up and headed for the door, he stood there wagging his whole back-end in anticipation.
The way you played “Get The Kitty!” was you would go up to the screen door, and open it up less than an inch, and say “On your mark…” then you would pull the door shut. Roscoe would jump for the gap, and then sit when you pulled the door shut. Then you would open it just a bit again, and say, “Get set…” only to pull it closed again. Roscoe rose and sat again, finally you threw the door open wide, and shouted “GET THE KITTY!” and Roscoe would burst through the opened door with a rumbling growl that he emitted all the way to the driveway where he stood and barked at the cat.
He never really left the driveway when we played. For all I know, the cats were gone as soon as his furry little face popped up in the kitchen window, but one night, things were different. One night Roscoe actually GOT the kitty! He snatched it up out of the driveway, and shook it mightily! (Ah yes…Now I recall how it was we came to own Roscoe…He had gone over to a neighbor’s lawn, where they had let their guinea pig roam, and had carefully pulled all its fur off…Didn’t HURT the little guinea pig, just plucked it. The neighbors took Aunt Peg to court for harboring a vicious animal.)
So anyway, I run out, and tell Roscoe to drop the kitty, and that was when it went from a bad situation to worse…Suddenly Roscoe was standing in a greenish brown cloud, and the light breeze we had that night carried the cloud right to me… Roscoe had caught, and killed his first skunk.
From there it was an addiction. Roscoe caught many more skunks in his 18 years. Obviously, “Get The Kitty” was halted…well, limited to daylight hours anyway. But city skunks don’t run away from you, and a walk to the store after dark with Roscoe led to a few encounters, one of which occurred on the front steps of the neighborhood market. Roscoe was not allowed to come with us for after dark trips to that store any more.
Anyway. I have gotten off topic, suffice it to say, I know a bit about skunks. And I will now share that information with you. And I promise, I will try to limit the side stories…try!
The first thing you need to realize about skunks, is that they are really pretty docile critters, and don’t want any trouble. Having them in your yard is actually a good thing, as long as you don’t mind filling in the little holes they dig. If they are digging holes, you have Japanese beetle larvae in your lawn, and they are doing you a favor!
Aside from eating beetle grubs, the skunk in your yard is also eating snails, and slugs along with just about any other creepy crawly slithery thing that roams your lawn in the dark.
The next thing to consider is that a skunk isn’t particularly fond of its smell either! That is why they give all kinds of warnings before they spray…Well adult skunks anyway. I will go into more detail about that in a bit.
Most people live very close to multiple skunks, and don’t really know it, until something bad happens, or unless they are digging up the lawn.
I have them at my place. To my knowledge, I have never had them kill any chickens, they don’t spray the cats, they know the dogs are behind a fence, and can’t get them, and if we don’t realize we are about to encounter one of them, they warn us. Occasionally, we will have one hanging around that HAS had to defend itself, and that is when most of us become aware we have skunk neighbors.
OK…So what do we do if we have a skunk in the yard, and for one reason or another it is a problem, and it needs to go away?
If you live in a rural area, you might decided to shoot it. And that most certainly will solve the problem for each individual skunk you encounter. The thought process on that one is if you shoot it in the head it wont spray. Ask any trapper or hunter, and that is what they will tell you. Unless they happen to tell you that you must shoot it in the back, and break its spine. Everybody knows a back broke skunk wont spray.
Let me tell you this right now, and you can take it as the Gospel Truth….If you shoot a skunk, it IS going to spray! I don’t care WHERE you hit it, if you shoot a skunk, it will release the entire sack of spray it has every time. And since it is an oil the essence will remain on your lawn for MONTHS.
So what else can you do? A lot of folks will tell you to call a warden, or animal control. Nope. Animal Control is forbidden by law or contract to deal with nuisance wildlife. Wardens are just too busy.
What a warden should do is refer you to a state licensed animal damage control agent, or ADC. These guys will come out, and take care of your problem in whatever manner you choose.
Many of them will also take steps to help you keep skunks away. They will close off access points under your garage, shed, porch etc. But that wont stop the skunks that have taken up residency under your neighbor’s garage from eating the Japanese beetle larvae in your lawn.
An ADC will get rid of your skunks, but they are likely to be replaced by the extended family of the skunk you just had removed. And an ADC can be expensive. I’ve been quoted a price of $400 for the first visit.
So what can YOU do? Head over to a farm supply store, and buy yourself a couple of live traps. You can trap and relocate skunks, and remove them from your property, without getting sprayed just as long as you follow these steps.
When I set live traps, I like to be sure that whatever I catch has access to water, so I put one of those rabbit water bottles in my trap. I also like to place my traps in an area that is going to get shade if for some reason I have a trapped animal that will remain in the trap during the daylight hours.
If you live in an area where there are cats, you wont want to use sardines, cat food, or tuna for bait, or you are going to catch a lot of cats. I have had a lot of success with grape jelly. Grape jelly will also catch chickens though, so keep that in mind if you have chickens. Also, anything that will catch a skunk will catch a raccoon too.
OK…So you have set your trap, and sure enough, you catch a skunk. Now what? This is VERY IMPORTANT. You need to get a heavy blanket, that will cover your entire body from head to toe, and will drag on the ground in front of you. This blanket is what is going to shield you from the oily spray if your trapped skunk lets loose. Most of the time, they wont. UNLESS, it is a young skunk.
If you have trapped a young skunk, it may well have sprayed as soon as the trap snapped shut behind it. A young skunk will spray if the wind blows the right way and spooks it. If the skunk is smaller than a cat, it is most likely going to spray. But if you have a heavy blanket that hides you 100%, you wont be affected, if you do as I explain.
Hold the blanket out in front of you with your arms spread wide enough to cover the entire trap, and well over your head. Slowly walk up to the trap, and talk to the skunk in a soothing tone, keep looking around the blanket from time to time, and watch what the skunk does. Initially it is going to raise its rear end, and lay its tail across its back. This is your warning that it is going to spray. Simply stand still until this behavior stops. When it does, move forward again until you are close enough to drop the blanket over the trap. This is when the little skunks are likely to spray. If the blanket is heavy enough, it will contain the spray. Also it will be totally dark in the trap, and the skunk will calm down.
At this point, you can pick the trap up and carry it around with you. You could bring it into the house, or load it into the back seat of your car, you can pretty much do whatever you want, and the skunk is unlikely to spray. To be on the safe side, I recommend not taking it in the house, but you likely could. I suggest strapping the trap to the roof or trunk of your car so you wont get mad at me, if you have trapped the exception to the rule. Then take the skunk for a country drive. You can drive out to a nice hayfield in the country, and set your little stinker free.
Releasing the skunk involves tipping the trap, with the blanket still covering it so that the skunk goes down to the back-end of the trap, so you can open the door. Once you have the door open, set the little locking pin the trap has, so the door doesn’t close again, peel the blanket back about half way across the trap, and move away. It can take a very long time for the skunk to leave the trap, but it will leave.
I have done this dozens of times, and I have never personally been sprayed. And we HAVE transported a skunk in our car without it spraying. Just understand, where there is one skunk, there likely are many more, so when you get home, reset your trap, and be ready to repeat the process!
If the skunk looks sick, is injured, or acts strangely you may decide to dispatch it. You can do this by simply throwing the trap into water deep enough to cover it. If you do this however, bear in mind that skunks are partial hibernators, and can slow their breathing. Leave the trap submerged for an hour to be sure the skunk doesn’t revive. You can also shoot the skunk once it exits the trap.
*** Technically, even on your own land, you are required to have a trapping license to set a trap in the state of Maine. Also skunks are known carriers of rabies. I HIGHLY recommend you contact a warden to be sure they are aware of your intentions BEFORE you set your trap. And if you suspect the animal you caught is sick, you again should notify the warden service.