Outdoors: Don’t Wake a Sleeping Skunk

Steve Gilliland
Special to the Globe

Well, it’s skunk mating season again, and anytime now the night air will reek of skunk spray.

Skunks do not hibernate, but become very inactive during the heart of winter, when a den becomes very important.

Communal denning is common during this time, and a dominant male will often share a den with a dozen or more females during this time of inactivity.

Their breeding season is fast and furious, but very short, so keeping oneself close to as many females as possible pays big dividends for male skunks when skunk love is in the air.

All right, so this is skunk breeding season, but I’ve always wondered why that means we have to smell them so much more than usual.

After all, they certainly don’t spray their girlfriends, do they? Maybe it’s some kind of ritual mating dance that ends each time with a poof into the air?

At this time of the year male skunks might roam as far as five miles in one night looking for eligible ladies, and since all male skunks are currently of the same mind, the chances are pretty good males will encounter each other on their quests.

And then, just like a bunch of jocks fighting over the cheerleaders after the junior high dance, someone’s gonna’ get sprayed! Figure this happening several times a night for a few weeks with all the male skunks in Kansas and you have the answer.

I’ve had some interesting adventures involving skunks in traps, the worst of which led to a drive home in my underwear. Looking back, I can call them interesting now, but at the time my descriptions were slightly different.

Skunks are fairly laid back critters and if caught in an enclosed or covered cage trap can usually be carted away in the trap and unceremoniously dumped somewhere without incident.

Some years ago as a new trapper I caught one in a large cage trap set for bobcats, possibly a first for both me and the skunk.

As I slowly approached the cage, the silly thing ran to the back and began an acrobatics display fit for a circus.

First up one side, across the back by its front claws then down the other side it went, twirling like a little black and white ballerina. With great effort and a long stick I got the cage door propped open, then turned and ran cause’ I knew Pepe’ would be charging the open door for his freedom.

At a safe distance I turned to watch, and there it still hung like Spiderman on the inside of the cage. My next plan involved rushing the cage, arms flailing and shouting at the top of my lungs, hoping to scare the critter out the open front door.

It didn’t take me long to see how this would turn disastrous and the maneuver was called off in mid-charge. I had other traps to check, so I opted to leave for awhile, then just stop on my way back through and reset the trap after Pepe’ had vamoosed.

A half hour later I found it still in the trap, curled up in a fuzzy little black and white ball in the back corner of the cage. I finally just left and the thing vanished sometime overnight.

Another encounter involved a large skunk caught in a foothold coyote trap not far from town. Despite most people’s thinking, foothold traps usually cause a critter no more than a sore foot for awhile, but this skunk appeared to be stone cold dead.

I stood and marveled at its beautiful silky fur as it rippled in the wind, and tried to figure what had caused its demise.

It had the trap completely covered so I needed to push it aside to remove it.

Both the skunk and the trap were going to stink already, and not anxious to drive home again in my stocking feet and underwear, I found a nice sturdy stick to roll it out

of the way. I don’t know who was most surprised, the sleeping skunk when I poked it with the stick or me when it suddenly jumped to its feet! By the way, this encounter did not end in disaster

Skunks are amazing critters that have amazingly soft, luxurious fur (once you get past the smell) and whose potent, pungent essence is invaluable to the fur-trapping industry as an additive to trapping lures.

Trappers who extract the pure skunk “quill” from the animals can expect to get one to two ounces per skunk, and at over $20 an ounce that’s pretty good gas money.

Skunk essence enhances and magnifies other fragrances and is actually used in very minute amounts in perfume. Some years back there were rumors that someone was developing an aerosol spray from skunk essence called “Skunk Power” that could be used by women against an attacker.

I couldn’t verify its existence but what a good idea! Native Americans are said to have used skunk oil as a healing balm and liniment; I knew our Native American ancestors were tough, but that fact gives me a whole new respect for them.

By the way, if you, your dog or your car ever happen to get sprayed directly by a skunk, here is a recipe for a deodorizer that really works, and yes, I know this from experience, and that’s yet another story: mix together 1 quart 3% hydrogen peroxide, ¼ cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap (Dawn works well.)

Mix this up just before use and don’t save any leftover.

Bath yourself or the dog and scrub the car with this concoction.

I’ve never understood how the term “skunked” came to mean basically getting nothing, as in getting “skunked” on a fishing trip.

They are amazing little creatures that are very good at doing what God created them to do.

Their fur is soft and silky, their essence is prized by trappers and they’re actually fun to watch as they waddle along. But if you ever get “skunked” by messing with one, I guarantee you’ll get way more than nothing!

Steve can be contacted by email at stevenrgilliland@gmail.com