Maine Farmhouse Journal

Back to Maine Farmhouse page

How Not to Catch a Skunk

March 15, 2003

Do you always do every dumb thing that my son tells you?" Dick's mother asked me, as I stood shivering and wrapped in a blanket in her backyard. A pungeant musky odor hung like a vile cloud around me and my skunk-drenched clothes on the ground where I'd taken them off. "You're just as harebrained as he is!"

"Richard - go bury these things!" she said, pointing at my pile of clothes. "They're not coming into my house!" As she turned to go she continued "...and then get him some of your clothes to wear. He can't go home in a blanket!"

The screen door slammed behind her, only to have the door open and her head reappear. "And the two of you - forget about whatever you were planning to do with skunks. Let 'em stay in the woods where they belong!"

The Grand Plan

It had all started when my buddy Dick read an article in Fur, Fish and Game magazine about deodorizing skunks. We poured over the details of a simple, painless operation that anyone could do. There were ten easy steps using instruments that everyone had around the house. It was all laid out in the article.

"This is going to be easy! We can do this" Dick insisted, "and we will be the only kids in town with a skunk for a pet!" Our ten-year old minds imagined everything we could do with a pet skunk. There would be "show-and-tell" at Hudson Center School, and we could scare Dick's older sister, and lots of other neat stuff. Why, we could each have our own pet skunk! What a great idea, I thought!

We went down the list of instruments we would need for the de-odorizing operation, and over the next couple of weeks we "borrowed" an assortment of scissors, knives, tweezers, needles and thread, cotton balls and alcohol from our mothers' kitchens and sewing baskets. We didn't ask permission, figuring that they wouldn't understand. Besides, we'd have everything back before it was missed. This was going to be easy!

There was only one small problem. "Where are we going to get a skunk?" I asked.

"No problem" Dick said. "There's always lots of skunks up at the chicken farm. The guy who runs the place tosses the spoiled eggs and dead chickens out back of the chicken house. There is a big pile of 'em, and the skunks come around every night to feed."

"And how does that help us get a skunk?"

"Simple" Dick said, looking at me as if I were a little slow. "We trap one."

I thought of the muskrat and fox traps hanging on the wall in the trap house. "My dad has lots of traps" I offered. "We could use one of them. I don't think he'd mind."

"No, those are leg hold traps and might hurt the skunk. We'll use my live trap."

Dick had acquired a "Havaheart" box trap the year before when he had tried unsuccessfully to catch a grey squirrel. We had made a box trap out of an old apple box, a stick and a string. They always worked on the cartoons. We never caught anything in it. So Dick had somehow come up with the money to buy a real box trap. It was a beauty, about three feet long and a foot on a side, made of wire mesh with swinging doors on each end and a patented trigger system, guaranteed to catch anything that walked into the trap.

"We'll catch a skunk in the live trap." he said. "It'll be easy. Then we just bring the skunk back here and do the operation in the shed behind the barn."

It sounded pretty simple to me. "What do skunks eat?" I asked. "We'll need to have something to feed him while he recovers."

"Dead chickens and eggs, of course" he replied "...and maybe some lettuce," he added. That made sense to me. I was always at Benson's Wild Animal Farm, just down the hill from my house, and I remembered that they seemed to feed a lot of lettuce to the animals there.

Catching Our Skunk

The next day he and I carried the live trap up through the woods to the chicken house. To get there, we went through his upper field, crossed the barb wire fence to Jimmy the Greek's land and into the woods. Jimmy was selling the gravel from his place, and there was a small gravel pit that we had to climb down into and then up and out of to get to the chicken house. We came out of the woods at the back of the chicken house where there was a 4 foot high pile of dead chickens. Just the place for our skunk catching expedition.

"Why would a skunk go into the trap to get a chicken when there's a whole pile of them here to pick from?" I asked.

"Don't you know nothing about trapping?" Dick said. "We just find one that is really ripe and use that - the riper the better. Now go pick a good one off the pile while I set up the trap," he directed me.

The dead chickens really stunk, and some of them had maggots all over them. I got a long stick and poked around in the pile till I found one that was so rotten that it was almost falling off the bones. "How's this one?" I asked, holding the carcass aloft on the end of the stick. "It really stinks bad!"

"Bring it over here," he said and put it on the trigger pan. It was too big, and pieces of it kept falling off. "Here, let me do it," Dick said, and he tore off a leg and put that on the trigger. He then put an old burlap feed sack over the trap, and some brush over the top of everything. "There," he said, stepping back. "Skunks like dark places, and they won't be able to resist this set-up."

With that, we hiked back through the woods and gravel pit and crossed the field to his house. "Now we just have to wait and see what we catch tonight."

After school the next day I rode my bike as fast as I could to Dick's place, and he and I checked the trap. We lifted a corner of the feed sack with a stick, and were delighted to see a large, angry looking skunk caught inside.

"See, I told you it would be easy" Dick said. "Now all we have to do is bring him back to the shed, do the operation, and then tame him to be a pet."

"How are we going to get him there?" I asked. "He doesn't look too friendly. Isn't he going to spray us if we pick him up?"

"Naw, we're going to carry him, cage and all. As long as the trap is covered, he won't spray. I read that somewhere."

Dick sounded pretty confident, and he had read all those magazines so he must know what he was talking about. So I said, "sure."

We picked up the trap and started back, Dick in the front and me carrying the back end. As we carried him, I could feel the skunk moving around in the trap. With the sack over the trap I couldn't tell which way the skunk was pointing, but I hoped it wasn't toward me!

To get into Dick's fields we had to cross down into a gravel pit and then climb out the other side. Everything was going fine and we got him down the steep bank with no trouble and across the floor of the pit. Dick started up the other side and when he got to the top he said "just push the trap straight up, and I'll slide it over the lip. Then you can climb up."

I had been carrying my end of the trap at knee level, with my hands holding on to the mesh at the top of the trap. Now I grabbed hold of the bottom of the trap and lifted it up, pushing the trap up towards Dick on the top of the bank. As the trap came up to my eye level the last thing I remember was staring at the tail end of a very upset skunk, with his tail raised and his little back feet stamping at me just before he let go with all he had.

The spray hit me in the face, my arms and all over my shirt. Thankfully I didn't get any in my eyes, but I might as well have. I dropped the trap like it was red hot and jumped back, rolling in the dirt and sand. Dick lost his grip on the trap, and it fell down right next to me. The shock of hitting sprung the end of the trap and it came open enough for the skunk to get out. He took off in that shambling walk that skunks have, and I took off in the opposite direction as fast as I could go. I climbed up the bank in one bound, and almost knocked Dick down.

He was laughing so hard that he could hardly see, and all he could say was "You let our skunk get away!" Then he added "Boy, do you stink!"

There was little talking on the way back to Dick's house. He kept his distance away from me. "You'd better wait outside while I get my mother - she'll know what to do".

I was not surprised to find that Dick's mom knew all about dealing with skunks. After all, Dick was an expert on skunks! She poured a couple of big cans of tomato juice into a pail and handed it to me with an old washcloth and towel. "Go behind the barn, take all your clothes off and wash yourself all over with the tomato juice. It will take away the skunk stink." she said. "And here's a blanket to wrap around yourself when you're done."

While I was cleaning up, she grilled Dick. She wasn't real happy when she found out what we were up to and had words with her son. Something about hairbrained schemes or something. Anyway, that was the end of all our great skunk plans.

It is probably just as well, because only a couple of weeks later Dick came up with this great idea of taming racoons to be pets...........but that is another story for another time.

Allen Crabtree

Images of skunks from Tay

Last updated July 27, 2003

Copyright © 2003, Allen Crabtree