How Not to Kill a Skunk

A youthful quest to catch the rarest of fragrant furbearers

By Jim Spencer

Adult trappers, for the most part, are none too thrilled when they catch a skunk. But to a 12-year-old kid like I was in 1959, they were highly desirable. Star skunks and narrow-stripes brought $1.50, and the all-black variety, that near-mythical Holy Grail of schoolboy skunk trappers, brought twice that. Even a broad-stripe would fetch half a buck. You could buy a Coke for six cents then, and a ticket to the local movie theater was fifteen cents, so skunk trapping could yield serious money.
Even so, my fellow junior high trappers and I weren’t stupid. We wanted the skunks, sure, but we didn’t let dollar signs make us incautious after the catch. Mostly, we avoided disaster. Mostly, I said.
One frosty January morning I found a big black perfume kitty in one of my sets. He was a Goliath among his kind, extra-large at least, and coal black except for two nickel-sized dots of white between his ears – a true star skunk, a smidgen away from being all-black, and half again as big as most of his kin. If this one wasn’t a three-dollar skunk, I was going to organize a boycott at the fur buyer’s place.
But how to close the deal? I’d forgotten my gun that morning, but this fat old boy was packing. He probably had an effective range of a dozen feet or so – considerably longer than the two-foot length of hickory axe handle that was my only weapon. I studied the situation and a plan hatched itself.
The set was at the base of a four-foot vertical bank in a dry irrigation canal. I reasoned that if I came up on the backside of the canal bank, I could get directly above the skunk without him knowing it. Then I could lean down, whack him on the noggin with my club and duck back behind the bank while he squirted all over everything as he died.
It was a good plan. It just didn’t work.
Where things came apart was when I leaned out over the edge of the bank. I raised my club and the dirt gave way. Quicker than I can tell it, a surprised young trapper found himself sprawled atop an equally surprised jumbo star skunk. Since I was already in the soup, I figured I might as well go ahead and kill the skunk. So I did, more or less in hand-to-hand combat. Except, of course, the skunk’s choice of weaponry was far, far worse than hands. I came out of the battle victorious, but not unscathed.
However, I was a victor without a country. I couldn’t go to school. Mom wouldn’t even let me in the house. She shoved a bar of soap, a plastic bucket, a washrag and an opened can of tomato juice out the back door, and told me to strip and wash in the back yard.
I remember the blue tint of my goose-pimpled skin, and I remember the ice on the water in the dog’s dish. I remember going through three 40-ounce cans of tomato juice and a bar of Lava, standing there naked and shivering in the back yard. I remember catching a whiff of woods kitty every time my head got wet for the next three months.
But I also remember getting three dollars for that skunk.

For information on how to properly kill skunks (and other furbearers,) plus a few other handy tips, Jim’s book “Guide to Trapping” is available at

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