I learned something about skunks recently. I drove from my home to Bull Shoals Lake in North Arkansas last week, then up to Texas County and eventually back home to Lightnin’ Ridge here about 40 miles to the north of Springfield. In doing so, I learned that we have more skunks in the two states than we have ever had. There were dozens I saw dead along the highways, dozens and dozens. I gave some thought to getting out and checking a dozen or so to figure the ratio of dead males to dead females, but really I already know that. It is skunk mating season. Among all living things, males are more interested in mating than females, so likely 90 percent of those fairly flattened road-killed skunks were males. There could be some females, which, like all females, were running from the males.
But folks, I have never seen anything like the dead skunks everywhere, and what it tells me is, that right now we have a bunch more skunks thanI have seen since I got my first driver’s license. That is bad, because too many skunks in February always means a rabies outbreak in the summer. If you live in the country like me, get your dogs vaccinated. And knowing that skunks are chiefly nocturnal, remember that those you see in the daytime are either tremendously hungry, or run out of their dens by flood water, or quite possibly, addled by rabies.
Another thing about having too many skunks is the problems faced by ground nesting birds like quail, woodcock , wild turkey and whippoorwills. Skunks eat lots of things, but any of them would rather come across eggs than anything else.
If you have a wildlife camera, try this… hide 3 or four chicken eggs under a scattering of grass or hay out in the woods, and set up your camera to see how long they last there. You might be surprised at what all comes along to eat them. Skunks likely will be first, with raccoons and possums a close second.
Years back, my dad and his brothers set deadfalls to kill skunks, and when they got one in a deadfall, the skunk almost never sprayed their scent. Skunks spray that scent when they are threatened, up to 10 feet away. And you know how far you can smell it, a mile away if the wind is right. Once he unloads a charge of that vile stuff, he needs a few days to rebuild it, so if you get sprayed good, you can kick him around good for perhaps a week.
In the twenties and early 30’s a skunk pelt brought up to three dollars. Which color do you think brought the most money, an all-black fur mostly or a white pelt mostly? Answer at the end of this column.
You may not know this but a skunk can be bitten by a ten-foot rattlesnake and it will have no affect on it. They are immune to all snake venom. But woe to the snake what bit one, his eyes are going to burn for awhile! To keep them away from chicken coops, gardens or your barn, put out a good scattering of mothballs. They run from that smell. Only one creature is oblivious to the scent of a skunk, and that is a great-horned owl, it’s greatest enemy. They nail one from above quite often and find skunk flesh to be very tasty apparently. Even barred owls will eat young ones. It is strange, that thing with the owls, because skunk scent is hell on mammalian predator’s eyes, and owls have the biggest eyes of anything.
I had a grown pet owl once that came to me from an old trapper and he smelled a great deal like a skunk but he didn’t seem to know it. If you don’t believe me on that, when you see a dead hoot owl along the highway get out and smell it! At least 25 percent of them will smell like skunk! Someday I will write more about Al, my pet owl.
I never had a pet skunk, but I knew a taxidermist in Iowa who had one which had it’s scent gland removed. It ran at a cousin of mine once and bit him on the boot. He told its owner that the short teeth of the skunk and the thick leather of his boot was the only thing that prevented her from having a 12- gauge discharged inside her house.
I recommend against having a pet skunk! In fact, if you value ground-nesting birds, I recommend you learn to set deadfalls and kill every skunk you see. Go ahead and run over any that you come across on the highway. Lots of people have been doing that. If you take him by surprise, he won’t have time to spray your car. If he does spray your car, just wash it with tomato juice. I have heard that works.
Say, listen folks, my friend Steve Johnson would like to get some more vendors for the big outdoorsman’s swap meet at the Noble Hill church on Saturday, March 18. If you are interested, and have anything you want to sell, I will get you a table there beside mine. Just holler and I will send you a flyer that gives all info. My office phone is… 417 777 5227 and Steve’s is…417 414 3128.
Answer to above question. The more white on a skunk, the less the fur was worth back then. A completely black fur was rare, but worth a dollar more. Trappers and fur buyers referred to all-black skunk-pelts as star-blacks because there was so often a small white star on the forehead.