Chances are, this fall you’ve smelled it too. Skunk. When we first moved to the valley nearly 15 years ago, skunk encounters were rumored to be rare, or non-existent. Folklore held that the 1968 freeze annihilated the valley skunk population. But that first year, we spotted a fluffy stripped skunk happily sauntering in the snow in daylight while we were hunting for a Christmas tree.
Folklore debunked or not, now in 2019, their abundance appears plentiful enough that stories are surfacing of these mysterious and malodorous cohabitants. One local resident up Twisp River, whom shall remain anonymous, herein referred to as Joe, has an epic series of smelly tales to tell. After three too-close-for-comfort encounters, he’s escaped direct hits to beseech some important lessons learned from my inquiry into, “how do you catch a skunk and not be sprayed?”
After an afternoon of butchering meat chickens, Joe left the chicken scraps in a 5-gallon bucket overnight and returned in the morning to find them toppled over. The culprit left a trail of gruesome guts that lead a hole under his nearby horse stall. Farmer Joe recently live-trapped a packrat and assumed there was another. He reset the trap near the hole, baited it with cat food, and went to bed.
The next morning, Joe came out to find he’d caught his barn cat. Whoops. He set it again and, you guessed it, caught a skunk. Imagine, now, you’ve got a live skunk in a trap, what would you do? You Google it. After an exhaustive internet search, the recommended method was to approach the trap slowing with a cloth screen to shield you from spray and place the cloth over the trap. Here come the lessons.
First off, when doing this, approaching the caged animal slowly, very slowly, silently, and obscuring your feet is critical. You can’t use a tarp that might rattle and make noise. Joe used a towel. If the skunk exhibits agitation or aggressive behavior such as tamping its feet, you freeze, let it calm down, and back off.
After 10 minutes of slowly creeping up on the animal, Joe deployed the towel over that trap. It sprayed. He scrammed, gave it time, re-evaluated his options, and eventually returned to the scene to find a calm animal. Apparently, skunk don’t like their own scent either, and if they spray a towel 2 inches away, they get a dose of their own medicine and become a little stunned.
After burning the towel and taking care of the animal, the way farmers do, curiosity got the better of him, so he set the trap again. Sure enough, the next night, he caught a shiny coated female. Using the same slow-moving shield method, he successfully deployed another cover over the trap without stink. He loaded the skunk into his truck and headed up into the forest far from any homesites, opened the side of the trap, and the lady skunk excitingly scurried away without incident.
Now convinced his horse stall was home to a den and feeling some confidence, yet leery, he set the trap, and caught a skunk pup. In well-practiced form, the shield went up. Unfortunately, this time an inadvertent thump of the blanket caused a startle; baby skunk sprayed. Despite the smell, he successfully relocated the pup to a distant site.
With a one-in-three success rate, Joe insists the key is to advance so slowly as to go unnoticed and most importantly – don’t drop the blanket abruptly. But 33% when it comes to skunk spray is a lot of stink, so he’s ready for new, albeit untested technique – a smaller trap. Theoretically, in a low-profile trap, a skunk can’t arch it’s back high enough to lift its tail and squirt. If Joe traps another, I’ll be sure to sniff up the results and report back on this odorous, on-going affair.