One of our farm managers, John Detwiler, noticed that groundhogs would often make their way along the chicken run’s fence line near the old rowboat that is overturned on the rocks between the concrete wall and the fence. We’ve been having good luck with catching the groundhogs by placing traps at the mouths of their dens or on the paths they habitually travel, so he thought to put one of the Have a Heart traps there. One morning, on our way out to the fields, John noticed something in the trap and went to investigate. His “We caught a skunk!” stopped us all dead in our tracks followed by someone else asking, “So how do you get a skunk out of a trap without getting sprayed?!” With great trepidation and a lot of ingenuity as it turns out.
Have-a-Heart Traps are tricky. To release an animal and reset the trap, there’s a lever at the top that needs to be pulled back and held back, a ring that needs to be released from the front, and a flat panel that needs to be shoved forward into the trap until it snaps in place. Trying to manipulate all three would bring us within squirting distance of the skunk. Hmmm. So how do we do all three at a distance?
We first determined that we had to move the trap out farther into the yard. We threaded a 15 foot piece of PVC through the handle on the top so that two of us could swing the trap away from the fence line and into the yard. Easy. Until we realized that a corner of the trap had snagged on a trailing edge of the netting that covers the chicken run. Jiggling the trap to untangle the netting did little more than rouse the skunk who stood up, arched his back, raised his tail and fixed his earnest gaze on the nearest jiggler. That put a stop to that!
One of us went into the chicken run to try to pull the netting free. But as we tugged, we nearly upset the trap (and the skunk!) We discovered the skunk had begun building a nest by gathering grasses and the netting and dragging them through the steel mesh into the trap. It seemed a cozy nest, and we were sorry to have disturbed his sleep, but we had to evict him. After carefully drawing the net back out of the trap, we swung the trap into the yard and hastily covered all but the front of the trap with a tarp.
Whew! We breathed a sigh of relief. It seems that just like the smaller mammals, we were, on some lower mammalian level of our own, working on the premise that what you can’t see can’t hurt you. In this case, it may be true. We all, the skunk included, seemed a little less tense, and the rescuers could set about their work with less trepidation.
There’s an old maxim, “Always use the right tool for the right job.” Well, at-a-distance-skunk-releasing-tools aren’t the run of the mill tools we usually have on hand at the farm. The next best thing is to improvise. Here’s where the ingenuity comes in. Ingenuity means standing in the barn and seeing what you have to convert into the right tool for the right job. It means seeing the qualities of something and their application in the broadest context and seeing if those qualities overlap with the qualities needed to address the current issue. In this case we found: a 15 foot length of rope, a 10 foot piece of thick wire used to make cover cloth hoops, a 15 foot piece of 2” bamboo, a garden hoe, and duct tape. With these handy supplies, we could construct the necessary implements to effect the skunk’s release at a distance.
The metal wire was bent in half to form an open loop at one end; this would be used to pul back the lever. The hoe was duct taped to the bamboo pole resulting in a 20 foot long lever depressor. The rope would be attached to the release ring at the front of the cage by some courageous soul . We all took our places, and after the rope had been attached to the front ring, on the count of three we, yanked, pulled, and pushed and then ran away!
It only took a few moments for our unintentional captive to make a dash for the closest cover—the old overturned rowboat. He huddled in the weeds at the base of the wall and extended his clever little paws up and up until he found a section of the wall low enough for him to clamber up and over . In an instant, he had scurried under the rowboat to safety.
What would we have done had the skunk actually sprayed us? Applied Skunk Smell Remover. As it turns out, tomato juice doesn’t actually eliminate skunk odor, it simply disguises it. Wash off the tomato juice, and the stench of skunk remains! To be rid of skunk smell, you have to create a chemical reaction that will break the bond between the sulfer molecule in the skunk smell and the oxygen molecule in the proteins that make up whatever has been contaminated. The following recipe works wonders! How do we know? Some of us have had to use it!
Skunk Smell Remover
1 qt. of 3% hydrogen peroxide
¼ to ½ cups baking soda
1 – 2 tsp. dish soap
1. Mix hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and dish soap.
2. Wet the smelly object or surface with warm water.
3. Liberally douse the offending object, person, dog, etc. with the Remover. Rub in thoroughly. (Rubber gloves might be a good idea!)
4. Leave the skunk odor remover on for 5 – 10 minutes so it can set, rinse thoroughly, and then repeat this process as necessary.
It’s important not to store this in a closed container since the mixture of these ingredients creates pressure and could burst. The solution’s effectiveness also diminishes very rapidly.
The addition of dish soap is important; the soap contains the surfactants that will encase and wash away the smelly molecules that the Remover has released through the breaking of the chemical bond. Fancy smelling soaps are a bonus!