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March 8, 2013

Skunks usually put up a stink

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The Daily Star

---- — The other night, we went out on our back deck to use the hot tub. The stars were out and the wind wasn’t blowing too badly, but the odor in the air wasn’t going to make it very pleasant.

Obviously a skunk had been around and left his distinct calling card. I thought I might see him alongside the road in the morning, but that wasn’t the case.

March is like that, since it is mating time for those black-and-white-striped creatures. They come out of their dens and wander around hoping to meet another of their kind when love is in the air.

Unlike the bear, a skunk is not a true hibernator. A bear will find a denning place and sleep through the winter, slowing its metabolism, heartbeat and breathing to almost nothing.

The skunk enters its den in the late fall and often remains inside until this time of year. They enter a seasonal state known as torpor. It’s a type of deep sleep that allows them to wake up from time to time, depending on the weather and the availability of food. It’s not unlikely to see skunks out wandering around in January if the desire moves them. A skunk eats as much as it can in the fall and builds up a fat layer like a bear but only slows down its metabolism a little bit during the colder months of winter.

I’ve had several run-ins with skunks over the years, but luckily I’ve never been sprayed.

We were camping one summer at Brennan Beach on Lake Ontario when a skunk appeared in our campsite. We never smelled him as he walked out from under our camper. I guess he smelled the smores and was looking for a tasty treat. He wandered around within a few feet of us for several minutes before heading off into the darkness.

He was really beautiful — mostly white with a huge, fluffy tail. He wasn’t afraid of us and no one around the campfire made any sudden moves. He was used to the campers in the park and never bothered anyone.

When I was a boy, it was my job to ride my horse up the hill and get the cows every morning and afternoon. It was still dark one morning when I jumped on my horse and started out. As we cantered up the lane toward the pasture, my horse jumped over something.

Maybe I was still half-asleep or just wasn’t paying any attention, but as I looked back I could see it was a great big, black-and-white skunk. I don’t know who was more surprised — me or the skunk.

I guess the horse and I were rather lucky that morning because when we brought the cows back down, you could definitely smell the startled critter. We obviously were going fast enough to outrun the confused skunk when he sprayed.

I was running my coon hound one night over toward Laurens. The dog and a skunk had a rather unpleasant meeting. Needless to say, the dog walked home with its leash tied to the bumper rather than riding in the car with us. Luckily, we were only a couple of miles away.

My mother-in-law had a pet skunk when she was growing up in Kansas. She called him Stinky. He was never de-scented, but he never sprayed anyone, either. He was better than a watchdog and did a fine job of keeping traveling salesmen and religious peddlers from knocking on the front door.

The scent of a skunk is not very pleasant. Some say tomato juice works well to wash it away and actually, it worked quite well on the dog that night.

Today, there are many good scent eliminators available in sporting goods stores. Hunters use these to avoid detection. So if you ever get sprayed, you might try one of those.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.