On Skunks and Skunk Trapping

The conversation started at the campground in Ilwaco, over Tuna Weekend. One or more skunks found their way to food and company among the hundred or so campers on hand, and left calling cards on the moist evening air. Thus began conversations about past run-ins with Pepe LePew and his family.

An early story revolved around a new – and unskirted – deck, and a wife who could not enjoy her evening smoke in the presence of new black and white kitties which had taken residence under it. Somewhere in there, apparently, had been snide comments from the deck builder about her ability to smell skunks through all the “@!#%&? Smoke in her face.” Long story short, Homey called an exterminator to save his marriage. “And I skirted the deck,” he said, “but I still don’t know what you do with them. Do you shoot them?”

I mentioned trapping and moving or disposing. Given the look on his face, I allowed as how he might just call the exterminator again.

Back in Paradise, canning tomatoes (well, we seemed to be out of tuna) with Bruce and Michelle, our Eureka, California, pals, the subject wafted through the open back door again. I don’t mind the smell so much, but mentioned the boisterous fellow who once moved in under my Cle Elum deck. “How do you handle that?” Bruce laughed.

“You trap him,” I explained. “You go to an animal shelter which has one and pick up a live trap. Or you go to a rental place or you go buy one. Then, you listen carefully to what the person at the desk tells you, and you read the instructions. Then you follow them – carefully. Somewhere in the middle of all that, you pray that nothing goes sideways in your effort to ease the discomfort of your wife or friends… Then you figure out – in advance – what you will do with the trapped skunk.” Trapping skunks, by the way, is not for the faint of heart.

Our most common skunk is the striped skunk, Mephitis mephitis, and this is a time of year it regularly reminds us of its presence.

I really don’t mind sharing my neighborhood with skunks (after all, they do lots of important things that I’m not willing to do for myself – like eating lots of mice), but when a skunk moves in under the porch or an outbuilding, I lose my appreciation for the tradeoff.

Right around the turn of the last Century, I had a large striped skunk under my deck in Cle Elum. Much as I appreciated the dearth of mice in and around the house and woodpile, I still wanted to sit on the deck from time to time.

One too many times, it exuberantly fumigated my deck. I explained over an evening or two that it would have to go. It did not listen. I then explained that if it played nice (get into the live trap and behave), I would release it into an area with an abundance of fat juicy rodents.

At that time, I was able to find a live trap at the Ellensburg Animal Shelter. As I explained my intention to release the skunk unharmed, rather than drown it in the trap, the woman chuckled, and handed me an instruction sheet. It occurred to me that there was likely a good reason the sheet warned AGAINST shooting a firearm into the trap. Fighting through a sudden vision of being run up a tree by a large, angry, smelly skunk, I signed for the trap.

I put several garbage bags around the trap (to make it dark, or maybe to seal off the skunk and his musk, or ?). I set the trap’s door, baited it with a piece of bread larded with peanut butter, and put it next to my deck.

The next morning, the skunk was resting peacefully in the shaded trap, licking peanut butter. After work, I carefully placed another plastic garbage bag around the trap, and carried on a calm heart to heart chat with the striper. Occasionally, the little fellow would press his pointy nose against the lift door at the release end of the trap that I might gaze into his beady little eyes. I explained to him that if he did not raise a stink during any phase of our relocation project, I would release him into a Promised Land of Rodents. If, on the other hand, he released any unnecessary, hard‑to‑remove odors into my little Cherokee, he would be swimming with the fishes.

That understood, we headed for the release site. As I cleared the plastic bag away from the release door, we continued our calm little chat. I took a few pictures and wished him a full, happy life, free of the encumbrances of people’s pets, yards, decks and city traffic. Once I’d tied the cord to the release door and looped it over a limb so that I could lift it from a respectful distance, I offered one more bit of advice: “Stay off the highway.”

As I raised the door, a man walked up to watch. After a moment of pondering alternatives, my striped friend nosed out of the trap and shuffled off into the brush. I took a couple more photos, and gathered up the bags and trap. The man who stopped to watch said, “Cool…,” walked back to his car, and drove away. He was smiling.

Happy fall days…

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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