It's Skunk Trappin' Time!


When you live in a rural area, your dog will occassionally get sprayed by a skunk.  It happens, especially since dogs are too stupid to leave those stink-critters alone.  When our dog gets sprayed, we give her a bath with hydrogen peroxide or make her sleep outside until we can get around to giving her a bath.

Recently my dog had been getting sprayed a lot, as in several times a week.  It had also been too cold most nights to make the dog spend the night outside (we were still getting below-freezing temperatures through the end March), so no matter how late it was when we let the dog out “one last time before going to bed” and she came back in smelling like a skunk, we gave her a bath.

One night in mid-March while I was doing chores, I went back into the house through the backdoor to get something.  I came out a few minutes later and saw the backside of a retreating skunk with its tail up.  I ran back into the house and retrieved a rifle.  There was still snow on the ground, and in the snow was a trail which the skunks had worn between our side yard and Andy's old wooden shed.  I stood in the shadows near the skunk trail and waited.

I didn't have to wait long before the skunk came back, but I spooked it when I took the safety off of the rifle and it retreated before I could take aim.

I made my way to Andy's shed where I saw the skunk peering out from underneath.  I could have shot it, but I wasn't 100% certain it wasn't a cat, so I hesitated, and it disappeared out of sight.

I laid down on the snow and shined a flashlight under the shed, but I couldn't seen any critter.  On the other side I found another trail leading to Andy's old workshed.  I peaked into the collapsed doorways, but all I found was another skunk which already been dead for a while (it was embedded in a shallow sheet of ice frozen from the daily snowmelt).  These two structures were probably built in the Early- to Mid-Twentieth Century, and are in such disrepair that the wind has blown some of the roof off of the workshed.  These kinds of places tend to harbor skunks.

Knowing Andy, I don't think he would be upset with me shooting a skunk on his property, but I thought it wise to tread no further, so I returned to the skunk trail in my yard.  I waited another half hour, but the skunk never returned, so I gave up for the night.

The next night, just after sundown, I went out with the rifle to await the skunk.  I started out sitting on the patio stairs, where I had a good, elevated view of the dog food positioned near the backdoor, but after a while I got sore from sitting still, so I moved to a standing position near the skunk trail.

After an hour the skunk had not shown up and I ran out of patience, so I went and did night chores.  The dog didn't get sprayed that night.

Come Friday, circumstances kept us from getting to bed until well past midnight.  We then let the dog out one last and she got sprayed by a skunk again!  It was an unusually warm night, so we made her spend the night outside.  The next few hours were punctuated by the dog barking on the porch, the dog barking on the patio, and the dog inducing skunks to spray the house.

I finally let the dog in so that she would quiet down and closed the bedroom door so that her stink wouldn't come into the bedroom, but the skunk scent had already found its way in through the walls.  There was no way I was going to fall back asleep, so I went and sat at the computer.  I think it was 4 AM, and I had gotten at most two hours of sleep.

I spent some time looking at buying a live trap on-line.  I was tempted to buy one and pay for expedited shipping, but I decided to hold off since it's never a good idea to spend money while in an addled state.

We're getting ready to build a new home, as our family is outgrowing this tiny, old farm house.  To cut down on costs, my wife has started jumping on deals listed in the on-line classified ads; things like “We bought the wrong kind of windows,” or “We bought too many tiles,” or “We remodeled our kitchen and don't need these old cupboards,” and people are selling them cheap, hoping to quickly get back some of their money on them.

On Saturday we needed to go on a several-hours drive to retrieve some windows and floorboards.  Such a long drive is rough on the kids, so we thought it best if one of us stayed home with the them.  Our four-year-old daughter has recently taking to bursting into tears if my wife goes out the front door without her, even if it's just to say goodbye to a visitor, but with my two hours of sleep I was no good for a long drive, so we tempted the kids with a promise of going to the library and park with Dad.  That did the trick and my wife was able to depart alone without any fits being thrown.

While the kids and I were in town, we stopped at the lumber store, where I bought a two-cage live trap set.  It came with a 32" x 10.25" x 11.5" cage and a 24" x 7" x 7" cage.

On the way home I dropped the kids off at a neighbor's house, then took a 40-minute nap.  I would have slept longer, but Warren was coming over at 5:00 to help me castrate a pig.  (We ended up not doing that because the pig looked like he needed a couple more weeks for his testicles to drop.)

After Warren left, I could have gone back to bed, but it was late enough that if I got another nap I would end up with another night of insomnia, so I spent the rest of the evening working until I left to pick the kids up.

My wife got home at about the same time I returned with the kids, around 8:30.  I hadn't done night chores yet, so she decided to do them after dinner.

Upon checking on the goats around 9:30, my wife discovered that Caramello (a goat) was not only in labor, but appeared to have been struggling for several hours, so the kids and I took an arm-length glove out to her.

After reaching elbow-deep into the mama goat, my wife found that the first baby was trying to come out sideways, which of course wasn't going to happen.  She eventually found its feet and, with some struggling, pulled it out.  Two more babies soon came out more easily after that.

The kids and I went back in the house and my wife stayed out for a few more hours to make sure the baby goats could nurse and that Caramello didn't have any other problems.  (We've had other goats get sick after kidding.)

The barn floor was wet and gross because the goats had pissed all over the straw bedding throughout the winter, so after the baby goats had had their fill, my wife brought them in the house for the night and put them in a towel-lined box near the heat vent.  (A couple of days later we bought a truckload of fresh straw bales and replaced all the gross straw in the goat barn.)

At some point in the evening I had baited each skunk trap with a cup of dog food, then set the big trap by the fence across the skunk trail, and the small trap by the dog shelter where the dog food usually is.  (I took the dog's food bucket into the house.)  I didn't go to bed until my wife came in, which was sometime after 2 AM.  With my two hours of sleep from the previous night, a 40-minute nap, and getting bed so late, I was dead tired.  I didn't have any responsibilities the following Sunday, so I didn't set my alarm.

My wife woke me up 20 minutes before church started and told me there was a skunk in a trap.  Still in my pajamas, I ran outside to check, and sure enough, each trap had a skunk in it!

Skunk Trapping Tip #1:  Attach a long line to skunk trap if you want to move a live catch without getting sprayed.

You'll notice in the above photos that I have some old bailing twine tied to each trap.  I thought that if I dragged the traps to the middle of the pasture then shot the skunks that would reduce the amount of stink next to the house.  I started by dragging the small trap away from the dog shelter.

Skunk Trapping Tip #2:  Attach your drag line to the bottom of the cage so that it doesn't tip while being dragged.

I had gotten the cage maybe 30 feet from the house when it tipped over.  I didn't realize that the small cages are designed to allow a critter to escape when tipped over (so that a handler can easily release a feisty critter without getting bitten).  Holy cow, that skunk burst out of the cage and put its tail up, and looked left and right like a pissed off, little, stinky Ash Williams.  I had left the rifle in the house because it was raining lightly and I didn't want to expose it to moisture unnecessarily, and the skunk was between me and the house, so I ran into the pasture.  After a moment, the skunk got its bearings and ran off toward Andy's shed.  As soon as the way was clear, I went and got the rifle, but by the time I'd returned, the skunk was out of sight.

I decided to dispatch the second skunk where it was rather than risking another escape (even though the larger cage had an anti-release mechanism).  Before opening fire, I observed my surroundings to make sure I wasn't endangering any bystanders, then unloaded about 10 rounds at the skunk, as several shots were deflected by the bars of the cage.  Then a few neighbors drove by and probably saw me standing in the light rain in my pajamas, holding a rifle.

I didn't want to go to church smelling like a skunk, so I left it in the cage for the time being, hoping the smell would subside a bit by the time I returned.

After church, I returned to the trap to discover the skunk still alive and moving around!  Those critters are resiliant.  Years ago my wife shot a skunk by the chicken coop.  When she returned with a shovel to pick up the dead skunk, she found it still moving and had to finish it off with the shovel.

Anyway, I retrieved the rifle and unloaded another 10 rounds as, again, several shots were deflected by the cage bars, but this time I was certain the skunk was dead.

I think I had changed out of my Sunday best and into casual attire, so I guess this didn't look too unusual to the neighbors who passed by on their way home from church, what with this being a rural community; folks are often shooting skunks, snakes, or coyotes 'round these parts.  In fact, one of the local teens recently on two occassions shot a mountain lion!

I proceeded to pack the dead skunk into old feed bags (four layers to help contain the smell), but when I dropped it in the first bag I must have knocked something loose because suddenly the smell was so bad that I almost threw up.  The wind was almost non-existent, so the cloud of stink not only remained like an invisible presence, but it seemed to very slowly migrate through the pasture.  Hours later, I unexpectedly crossed paths with it several times while doing night chores.

I reset the traps, and the next morning I had caught two more skunks!  One had actually escaped unseen from the smaller cage, however, evidenced by the turned-over cage being void of bait.  The skunk in the large cage tried to spray me when I approached, but it didn't, ah, position itself properly, so the “skunk juice” came out less like a spray and more like a burbling waterfall, and it was bright green!

Again, I fired a few times from afar, stepped closer, realized the skunk was still alive, and fired a few more times.

After disposing of the dead skunk, I reset the large trap.  I didn't bother with the small trap since it wasn't quite working out.

That night I decided to check the trap just before going to bed, and found another skunk trapped.  When I went to shoot it, the rifle action jammed after the first shot.  I had to retreat so that I could use both hands to unjam it, as two bullets were stuck in the chamber.  When I turned back to the skunk, it wasn't dead, of course, so I resumed firing, but again the action jammed after the first shot.  Surprisingly, that had done it.  I actually managed to kill the skunk with only two shots.

Dealing with the skunk then was not a good idea because when handling a skunk that has sprayed at all, you do pick up some scent, even if only briefly.  I had been wearing hooded coveralls, but I changed all of my clothes and washed my face.  I think that took care of smell on my person, but I must have brought a cloud in with me because for the next few hours if you walked through just the right spot of the house you got a blast of stink.

I did not catch a skunk the next night, but night after that I did.  I think I was actually present when it happened as I was about 50 feet away stacking straw bales.  I was listening to an audiobook, so hearing my surroundings was a bit impaired, but at some point I smelled skunk then realized that I'd heard a noise like the trap closing.  I didn't want to go to bed smelling of skunk, so I let it be until the morning.  It had a full cup of dog food to munch on.

In less than a week I had trapped and shot four skunks.  After #4, my wife told Andy about my recent skunk adventures, and he said he'd killed seven skunks over the preceeding two weeks.  Between the two of us, I think Andy and I cleared out a den, as I haven't trapped any since.  Nearly a month later, however, the smell still lingers where I shot the skunks and over by the chicken pen where I rinsed off the cage.

Skunk Trapping Tip #3:  Rather than shooting the skunks and destroying a nice cage shot by shot, one alternative is drowning the skunks by submersing the cage.  (The trick is to walk up to the cage with a blanking held up to hide you from the skunk so that you can pick up the cage without getting sprayed.)  We were still having freezing weather during this adventure, so we hadn't broken out the gardenhoses yet, but if I catch another skunk this summer I might try that.