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The Woods Hick

I've noticed many articles in Countryside dealing with earning money from the countryside. For a while I made some extra money descenting skunks. It's a smelly business, but there isn't much competition. Actually, a friend of mine had a descented female skunk whose young I descented every spring so my friend could sell them.

It all started when my friend caught three young skunks. I knew an old woodsman who descented them (I could write a book about him). So, I drove out to his place and held the young skunks while he descented them. In the process, I learned how to do it myself.

I kept one of these skunks, a female, for myself as a pet. She lived loose in a cabin with me. They litter train fairly well. At first she seemed a little wild and would stamp her feet and stick up her tail threatening to spray whenever I got near her. After about a week of this, I got tired of her attitude and started chasing her around the kitchen table after she threatened to spray me. I chased her around and around the table then stopped and started walking away in the other direction when I noticed that she was now coming after me. So I ran around the table in the opposite direction while she chased me! Then I stopped and started chasing her again. This went on for a while -- me chasing her in one direction then her chasing me in the other. I learned something. She had just been playing around with her foot stomping and tail-raising. I later observed young skunks playing around in a similar manner.

She was very friendly and a nice pet, but her feces did have a strong odor and she kept me up all night with her scampering around. So, I moved her out to an old chicken house. The next spring I put a wild male skunk in with her to breed, but he dug an escape tunnel and they eloped. I never did see her again.

Skunks are night prowlers. They eat bugs, mice and other small animals, fruit and berries among other things. They are about two feet long including their tall and their color is mostly black with a bit of white on their heads and usually two white stripes down the back. The amount of white varies on each skunk. A member of the weasel family, their population varies greatly with a scarcity of them in some years and seeming over-abundance in others.

They usually live within a half mile of their den, which may be in a brush pile, an old groundhog hole, a hollow log, or even under porches or out-buildings, to the dismay of some. I've never had a problem with skunks around my place, but for those who do, I would suggest placing a loud radio near their sleeping quarters and letting it play all day when they're trying to sleep.

Skunks are not true hibernators, but the females sleep for weeks at a time in winter, living off their body fat. I've heard of 23 females denning up together for the winter. The males, on the other hand, mostly stay alone and tend to move about all winter if the weather isn't too severe.

In the late winter the males start searching for females to mate with. Here in northern Pennsylvania, it's usually about the middle of February. Back when my friend had his descented female skunk I would wait for a winter thaw in February and go looking for skunk tracks in the snow. Locating skunk signs in an area, I'd set a box trap to catch a male skunk. Once caught, it would be moved very carefully to the pen with the descented female and released in the pen with her. A few weeks later I'd remove the "live" male, again very carefully, and let him go.

Sixty-three days after conception usually four to six young are born. At about two months of age, they are about done weaning and are leaving the next box. That's when I would descent the young. A friend and I would put on old clothes and, while he held them, I would remove the two scent glands using a razor blade and a pair of forceps. It is really a simple operation once you get the hang of it. I've descented two dozen or so young skunks and they have all survived.

Of course you're going to get sprayed while doing this, but the young skunks don't have very much spray and it seems weaker than the adults. I don't find the odor all that objectionable. I remember once going to an orchestra concert, and the lady in front of me had on such an obnoxious perfume that I would have preferred smelling a skunk to her!

After descenting the young skunks and smelling kinda' skunkish, I used to like to go to a local tavern and sit down between a couple of strangers and watch their reactions. I've always been interested in animal and human behavior!

Now -- if you're really daring and want to impress your friends or family, you can quickly grab a skunk by the tail and pick it up and not get sprayed. I've done it more than once successfully, and unfortunately once unsuccessfully after I attempted it after having one too many beers -- the evils of alcohol ... no wonder I quit drinking! Actually, their hind feet have to be set on something in order for them to be able to spray. But, be careful, because your body will serve the same purpose as the ground to the skunk. And, then there is the rather delicate matter of releasing the skunk once you do have it by the tail.

The two scent glands are located on opposite sides of the anus with each having a short tube that extends out slightly on each side of the anus when the yellowish colored butyl mercaptan containing liquid is sprayed. It can be sprayed 10 feet or so and up to six or seven times. I've been sprayed in the eyes, and although it stings for a while, it caused no lasting damage.

I know of no surefire way to completely eliminate the smell. Vinegar, tomato juice, bleach and soap all help to an extent, it seems. (See box.)

All the skunks I've descented were born in captivity from a descented female. I haven't descented wild skunks. I once caught a pregnant female skunk and kept her in a pen where she gave birth to seven young ones. I observed them until the young ones were big enough to follow the mother around very easily. Then I just let them all go late one evening. I can still picture them in my mind... the mother with seven little ones following her single file as they meandered off into the night.

A skunk odor remedy that works

For years, numerous correspondents have complained that tomato juice, vinegar and other "standard" skunk odor treatments just don't cut the mustard. But after we printed a new remedy (79/2:21), the letters changed from complaints to high praise. For anyone who missed or lost that "recipe," here it is again:

Mix one quart of 3 % hydrogen peroxide (from a pharmacy) with 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 teaspoon liquid soap. Wash the dog (or whatever) with this, keeping it out of an animal's eyes, nose and mouth. Follow with a thorough tap water rinse.

Although we've printed dozens of skunk odor remedies suggested by readers, this one has received the most praise by far... and after more than two years, no one has said it isn't effective.

Credit for this concoction goes to Paul Krebaum, of Lisle, Illinois.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related remedy for skunk odor
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1997
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