If you have spent anytime in the great out-of-doors, you should have a skunk story or three. If you do not, well, you need to spend more time outdoors.
I can think of several. How to arrange them. . . ?
Chapter 1, In the Beginning
I have heard lots of skunk stories. Can remember some doozies from my granddads. Back in the day, skunk pelts were worth some money. Gramps Roth would have said, “back when a dollar was worth 99 cents.” Some of those old skunk stories were the result of simple economics.
The hospital bill for my Dad’s birth was paid for at least in part by fur money, yep, skunk money. Don’t need no stinkin’ universal health care. All you need is a healthy population of skunks, some traps, and a little initiative! “A chicken in every pot”? How about a skunk in every trap?!
Gramps Roth would go to all ends to collect a nice skunk pelt. One story went that he and ole Diedrich Mueller were out hunting one snowy day [Editor’s note: I am taking liberty with the names. So help me I wish I could remember the actual names from Gramp’s stories, but I cannot, so I am making them up]. Gramps cut a fresh skunk track in the snow and went back to Diedrich’s Model A to grab a shovel. How far Gramps followed the tracks, I do not know, but he always got his skunk. Once he did, the skunk went inside a gunny sack and was hauled outside the vehicle. The shovel went back in the Model A. Gramps took the skunk home and all was good as long as the weather remained cold. Unfortunately, on the next thaw, the shovel started to stink. Mrs. Mueller was not so happy about the air freshener in the back of the ole Model A.
Then there was the time that District 42 got a few extra days off from school. The school marm complained about a persistent odor. Gramps deduced that the odor was coming from under the floor. He volunteered to take care of the problem. Gramps crawled under, there were a few “bombs” that detonated during the eviction. Subsequently, the kids got a few extra days off.
School kids have universally hoped for “snow days”; those from District 42 knew what it was like to have “skunk days” too.
Chapter 2, On the Ranch
We lived on Grandpa Bauer’s ranch in western Nebraska during my earliest years. That was a long time ago, but I can still remember a few things–like we were always on the lookout for skunks around the place.
Grandpa never had chickens during my years, but the old “brooder house” sat in the yard, between the round barn and the old milking barn. From time to time, skunks would take up residence under the old chicken house. When that happened, there would be a big day, a big event, something like branding. Extra hands showed up at the place. With some chains and the hay sweep, the chicken house was lifted. Skunks were rousted.
Unfortunately, I was too young to have a front row view of the proceedings. From what I could tell from the back row, there was never just one skunk. A surfeit of skunks boiled out. Things got “western”. Good thing extra hands were present!
From Grandpa’s place it was only a few miles south to Uncle Orville and Aunt Eileen’s. That was a favorite destination for evening card games. On one drive to Uncle Orville and Aunt Eileen’s, we spotted a skunk just west of their place. Since no one was keen on skunks living on the homestead, once we arrived, cousin Larry was dispatched back out to find the skunk. I rode along.
It was a long time ago and I was young, but the re-telling of the story has lived on. Cousin Larry was a good shot, but it took more than one .22 round to kill that skunk. Back at the house, likely over a cold glass of milk and some of Aunt Eileen’s chocolate chip cookies, I may have exaggerated that Larry took a hundred shots to hit that skunk. Sorry Larry, but it did make for a good story!
Chapter 3, Everything I Know
My cousin Robin likes to joke that he has taught me everything I know. Actually, it is not entirely a joke. A lot of what I do know I learned from Robin. A lot of that was learned the hard way.
Robin has a great collection of pelts from Nebraska fur-bearers. Of course there are several skunk pelts in that collection, beautiful skunk pelts with big, wide, white stripes.
Just don’t ask his saint-of-a-wife how many of those skunks were skinned in the basement.
“They don’t stink, if you don’t nick the scent glands.”
Famous last words.
I learned. I have never skinned a skunk in my basement.
Chapter 4, In the Dark
Most of my skunk encounters have come in the evening, early morning or after dark. That is the time skunks are most active. And, that is why none of my skunk photos are very good.
A guy has to be observant when hiking to his spring turkey hunting spot or wandering a shoreline after dark. One of my greatest fears is bumping into a skunk in the dark, and not knowing until it is too late. So far that has not happened, but there have been some close calls.
One time, fishing after dark, I noticed a critter ambling along the shore behind me. I frequently encounter mink while casting baits along some shoreline, but even in the dark I could see this critter was no mink. It was bigger, and did not move like a mink. It walked right behind me, NOT socially-distanced! Thankfully, that skunk did not stink. My son and I made sure to keep it that way.
I do not believe skunks have very good eyesight. As long as we were still, it never seemed to notice us. It would puddle in the water a little bit, lap a drink or two, and then wade in like it was going to swim across. Then it sensed it was not a little creek it could swim, but a lot more water than that. It turned and continued on its merry way. We shared the shoreline with it for some time that night.
Funny, no one else fished near us that night. Wonder if I could enlist a skunk as a fishing partner?
Likewise, my daughter and I have encountered skunks a time or two on spring turkey hunts. Skunks usually stink even if they have not recently discharged. However, as I mentioned earlier, they do not necessarily always have a maleficent odor. We have been near more than one that had no odor at all. As long as we have stayed our distance, moved slowly and did not threaten them, they have been enjoyable and interesting to watch. They seem to go about their shuffling, nosing, and scenting with a carefree, happy-go-lucky attitude. At least until they run into a great horned owl.
Chapter 5, The rut
If you notice, the number of road-kill skunks peaks in February. That is skunk breeding season. You will often see more than one skunk laying dead together on the road. The odor of one road-kill skunk attracts another. I am afraid most folks do not even think twice about running over a skunk. It shouldn’t be that way. They should think of Pepe LePew. Afterall, that is why Valentine’s Day is in the middle of February.
Speaking of road-kill skunks, classic songs have been written about them! I am old enough to remember ordering pizzas at the Pizza House and dropping some coins in the juke box. This was one of our favorite tunes!
Chapter 6, Yuppies
One of our favorite skunk stories is a recent one, experienced by my daughter. She works as a veterinarian technician. On duty one night she had a panicked lady call about her cat. The cat was having trouble breathing and was foaming near the mouth. She was sure it had been poisoned. Emily told her to bring the cat in, immediately.
Upon arrival, it was very apparent to my daughter what was wrong with the cat. She texted me and asked if skunk spray had any color to it. Yes, I told her, a yellow-greenish mustard color. It was all over the cat’s face. The smell was another clue, a big, obvious clue.
How the owner did not know what had happened to her cat, I have no idea. Maybe she had gone “nose blind”?
She must not have been a country girl. I am betting she did not know any skunk stories.
Skunk spray is skunk spray because of sulfuric acid. Effective treatments neutralize the acid. More texts were swapped with my daughter, texts about washing the cat with hydrogen peroxide and baking soda.
When she got home late that night, Emily did not get in the door. My wife and I made a midnight trip to our favorite grocery store to purchase mass quantities of peroxide and baking soda. Once her clothes were neutralized, she could get in the door. Then it was down to the shower for more neutralization.
She should have received hazardous duty pay that night.
Woke up in the middle of the night last night. There was a strong scent of skunk on the breeze. . . .