Don’t wake a sleeping skunk

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Every kid who’s ever set a trap has caught a skunk at one time or another, or in my case, often.

Trapping without ever catching a skunk would be like a dog never peeing on a tire; it ain’t gonna’

happen! I work in maintenance at a large retirement / nursing home and have lost count of the stories

I’ve heard the old guys tell of getting sprayed by skunks as they checked their traps on the way to

school, then getting sent home because they reeked. I used to wonder if they let it happen on purpose

just to get sent home, but I’ve since come to my senses.

Pure skunk essence is a valuable ingredient in many lures & scents used by trappers and can be

sold to large trapping supply houses, and skunk fur is actually very nice and silky. Thus many diehard

trappers use a hypodermic needle to extract the essence from the skunks they catch, then skin and

stretch the pelts. I guess I’m not a very serious trapper, cause’ mine just find their way into the closest

fencerow, luxurious coat, expensive pee and all, to spend eternity there beside the possums I catch.

I once met a taxidermist at an outdoor show who had a stuffed skunk as the centerpiece of

his display. He had it rigged so he could press a switch of some sort under the table and the skunk’s

tail would suddenly rise. He’d wait until a crowd of people were gathered around the skunk, (which

happened often,) then he’d press the switch and watch the crowd gasp and run, clutching the seats of

their britches as they headed for the nearest johns. I know another taxidermist who has a stuffed skunk

mounted on top of a radio controlled car body so he can “drive” it around the room at will. When he

goes to shows he keeps it hidden under the table, then suddenly runs it out through the crowd. Talk

about an attention getter! I honestly think a fire alarm would get less attention.

I’ve had some interesting adventures involving skunks in traps. 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 over night.

My latest encounter was just last season. A short distance from town I had a large skunk caught

in a foothold coyote trap. 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 and prepare it for the fencerow. Like

I said before, both the skunk and the trap were going to stink already, and not anxious to drive home

again in my stocking feet, 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!

This encounter did not end in disaster (for me) but it gave new meaning to the old cliché’ “Things are

not always as they seem.”

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 [email protected]

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