We’ve had our share of tangles with skunks over the years, and I must say something: I’ve never smelled anything worse than what they let loose. I’m sure there’s something even more putrid out there, but I haven’t yet encountered it. They are nasty little creatures, nothing at all like the cutsie children’s book characters. Or Pepe Le Pew (who, for the record, is high on my list of most annoying cartoon characters. Right behind Tweetie Bird. But don’t get me started.)
Our first skunk was in Illinois, just a few months after we’d moved to the country. I spotted it entering the chicken house, where I had our first batch of 25 pullet chicks in a very vulnerable area. The thing could’ve wiped out the whole brood, easy. I ran into the house for my shotgun, and kept hoping it’d come back out. Instead, it wandered into a corner where it was trapped. I shot it once, but not with a direct enough hit to kill. It filled the air with its stink bomb, which I had to approach so I could line up a second shot. I smelled so bad, Mrs Yeoman Famer made me sleep in a separate room. I think I ended up burning the clothes I’d been wearing. And the smell was in my hair for days.
Our next skunk came some time later, still in Illinois. I had a large batch of goslings I was brooding in an outbuilding. They were young and quite vulnerable. I was about to call it a night, and was taking one last look at them, when I noticed some kind of dark shape moving aggressively inside their pen. The goslings were in panic, running every which way. In the fading light, I managed to spot the white stripe down the animal’s back and tail…and again sprinted for my shotgun. (I can’t repeat often enough what an essential farm tool a good twelve gauge pump is.) This time, I took the thing out with a single shot. Unfortunately took a gosling or two out with it, and the skunk had already managed to kill a gosling or two, but the rest of the brood was safe. Covered with skunk stench, released as pieces of shot tore the animal open, but safe.
Here in Michigan, we’ve had a skunk visit our property occasionally. At 9pm or so, when coming in from my office, there have been several nights where the smell of skunk has hung heavy in the air. I imagine it released the scent when a dog or cat had startled it. Regardless, no matter how much I searched the yard and under the porch with a flashlight, I never managed to actually spot the skunk itself.
Until last night. I awakened at 2am, and couldn’t get back to sleep. There was a certain project from work that I couldn’t get off my mind, and couldn’t shake a gnawing anxiety that I may have done a particular thing wrong and allowed a particular error to get into my data. At 3:30, unable to get back to sleep, I decided I might as well go out to my office and check the data.
I got dressed, went downstairs, got my spotlight, and switched on the back porch light. The instant I stepped onto the porch, I spotted the skunk. There was absolutely no missing the white stripe and angular body. He was running up the slope toward our barn, about 50 feet from where I was standing. I shone the spotlight on him, and he looked back. And then ran faster.
I sprinted back upstairs, retrieved the shotgun, and hoped I’d get back down before he disappeared. Fortunately, he was now up against the barn and moving slowly toward the six foot drop-off that our firewood pile is currently stacked in. But I had a special challenge with him that I wouldn’t have had with a raccoon or possum: get too close, and even a perfect shot means I get covered with skunk stench. So I kept my distance, and tried to position myself for the best possible shot.
Where he was right then, a shot would’ve blown holes in the barn door. As he moved toward the woodpile, he crossed in front of a window. Didn’t want to blow the window out — killing a skunk isn’t worth all that. Then he was on the woodpile, and dropping six feet or so from it to the ground. That would’ve been a perfect time to have blasted him, except my nice huge metal pot was sitting there on the ground, from butchering chickens earlier in the day. Didn’t want to blow holes in that.
He continued moving, and was about to disappear into the high weeds along the barn, and I knew I was running out of time. The big problem now was my spotlight. I had a clear shot, but couldn’t fire a twelve gauge one-handed while holding a spotlight in my other hand. I tried putting the spotlight between my legs, but couldn’t keep the beam focused. (Note to self: You REALLY need to get an aftermarket tactical light to mount to this shotgun.) Figuring this was my only chance, I lined him up as best I could…and pulled the trigger. And waited for the smoke to clear.
And soon realized he was still moving. And definitely disappearing unhurt into the high weeds. Not wanting to get close, I swung wide around the barn and tried to see if he’d emerge, but there was no sign of him. Never saw him come back out, on either side. My light now getting dim, I decided I should count my blessings: even with the noisy report of the shotgun, the skunk didn’t let loose with a stink bomb. And hopefully I scared him enough to stay away for awhile. And he stayed outside; the barn had been closed up securely enough to protect our livestock.
Out in my office, I quickly put my mind at ease about the project; everything was fine. I headed back to the house, scanning the barnyard one last time as the last of my battery power faded, but the skunk was nowhere to be seen. I plugged the light in for a recharge, and then headed upstairs to catch a few hours of recharging for my own body.
And dreamed about someday finally actually getting to take that skunk down once and for all.