Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Skunks Under Fire

Striped Skunk* (CC)
No, it's not "Skunk Week" here at Chant du Départ, Juvat's post about skunks yesterday inspired this critter-related post of my own.

Growing up in Vermont I am no stranger to this striped beastie. We have them in Little Rhody as well, not all of them work in the statehouse.

One of my earliest skunk memories involves the family cat, back when I was nobbut a wee lad.

Yes, our cat tussled with a skunk once. Poor fellow was not allowed in the house for a few days afterwards. That was probably voluntary as Tommy (his moniker) was not overly fond of the tomato juice bath my Mom gave him to try and get rid of that godawful stench. (Which, as Juvat points out, was pretty much in vain.)

No, this is not a tale of Tommy being sprayed. This story involves Tommy's food.

Tommy was an outdoor cat of substantial size, power and wiliness. Even the Feng's big German shepherd was terrified of our cat.

When the Feng's were new to the neighborhood, their dog met Tommy. Nothing mean mind you, he just wanted to be friends. One swat of Tommy's big paw and the Feng's dog avoided Tommy like the plague. Whichever side of the street Tommy was sitting on, the dog would cross to the other side, tail down, eyes carefully averted from the King of the Neighborhood's haughty gaze.

But this isn't about Tommy per se, it's more about Tommy's meals.

Tommy got to eat wet food, he didn't like the dry stuff. Knowing he would supplement the dry stuff with whatever he could catch, kill and eat, I think my parents opted to keep him pleased with what we gave him.

But Tommy believed not in a couple of big meals a day. No, he liked to gnosh throughout the day. A little at a time. So his dish always had a little something there.

In the summer Mom fed him outside, as his food (when left for any period of time) would get a little "ripe." Especially in the very hot and very humid summers we had in Vermont.

Mom placed his food up on the bank behind the house which sloped up to the fairly dense woods behind where I grew up. (And where The Olde Vermonter yet dwells with his branch of our far flung tribe.) Not halfway to the forest mind you, probably a third of the way up the slope. Just to keep the smell away from the house.

Rather than get Tommy his own fancy dish, Mom figured he could make do with an aluminum pie plate. More substantial than a paper plate, it could be hosed off and reused multiple times. (Have I ever mentioned that a great chunk of my ancestry hails from Scotland? A very frugal folk. Not cheap mind you. Though if they vote to separate from the UK, then I'll call them cheap. And foolish to boot!)

By now I'm sure a couple of you (both of you?) are muttering "Not much about skunks in here, Sarge..." Patience.

Now skunks are omnivores, meaning that they (much like myself) will eat damn near anything.

Is the picture becoming clear now? Catfood in a pie plate in the great outdoors. Skunks eating anything available. Key ingredients to our story.

One morning, Dad noted that Tommy's pie plate had been moved. Tommy, while not a fastidious eater, did not move the pie plate around. After all, he was domesticated, not some wild beast of the forest with no table manners. Add that to the fact that Tommy was unusually ravenous that morning and was wolfing his food down as soon as Mom set it out.

Dad figured that some beastie from the woods was helping themselves to Tommy's dinner. So Dad asked me if I'd like to lie in wait with him to see who the thief was.

It being a weekend, I thought, "Why not?"

So after my whiny brothers were sent off ("Why can't I stay up too Dad?" "Yeah, c'mon Dad." Both brothers moaned. A simple "piss off or I'll pound ya" from me worked wonders. Hey, c'mon. It's what older brothers did back then. Probably still do.) Dad and I took up our lonely vigil in the quiet dark of the kitchen.

Unbeknownst to me, Dad had his rifle out by the front door. Ready for action as it were.

Dad's Rifle, Marlin .35**

Dad's rifle was no peashooter. The Olde Vermonter and I always referred to it as "The Cannon." We saw Dad shoot a four-inch tree limb down from over a hundred yards. Sucker came clean off. It was a very excellent hunting rifle. Very good in the underbrush common to our neck of the woods. No twig would deflect a round from "The Cannon"!

Now I don't know if you've ever laid an ambush. Probably not. But it takes a lot of patience and you can't be fidgeting, sneezing, picking your nose, whatever. No damnit! Ya gotta pay attention. (At least that's the advice my Dad gave me. Especially the fidgeting bit. Man, I was a serious fidgeter back then. Dad cured me of that. I won't tolerate fidgeting myself these days. Unless it's The Missus Herself. Boy-howdy can that lady fidget. Oops. Digressed, didn't I?)


After a time Dad spotted movement on the bank.

Something was out there!

It was a skunk.

Dad made the decision to terminate the skunk. (Or so I assumed.) There were many reasons. The prime one being that you don't want them around. Startle them and they will squirt ya! Most unpleasant, as Juvat can attest.

(Never been sprayed myself. Though one night we spent at my maternal grandmother's was memorable. Seems the local dogs had chased a skunk under her place. Said skunk expressed his displeasure to the local hounds. Directly under Gram's bedroom. Damn, can that stench linger. Needless to say, no one got much sleep that night. Primarily because our cat, Pat, kept prowling around, sniffing at the baseboards and constantly meowing. As if to say, "What is that godawful smell?")

Mr. Marlin was collected at the front door and upon gaining the front yard, Dad racked a round into the chamber and we went sliding around the side of the house, ready to send Mr. Skunk to skunk-heaven. (Can you imagine what it must smell like there?)

When we got to a vantage point where Dad could draw a bead on the skunk, I had a clear view over Dad's head of Monsieur Le Pew. (Him having gone to a kneeling position, - Dad that is, not the skunk -bracing the rifle on the side of the house. You know, for the accuracy that was in it.)

The skunk was chowing down on Tommy's food like there was no tomorrow. I remember thinking that for Mr. Skunk, that was no doubt literally true. Poor guy was just looking for a free meal, now along come these humans, all set to punch his ticket. I felt kinda sorry for the little beastie.

Then all Hell broke loose.

Dad squeezed off a round, a bullet meant to send the odoriferous little creature into Eternity.

I must have jumped six feet in the air, while I was expecting the shot, I wasn't ready for the shot. If you know what I mean.

The round issued from the barrel at a very high velocity, crossing the distance from our position in approximately 0.021 seconds. (Based on an approximate muzzle velocity of 2084 ft/sec and a range of 15 yards. Hey, it was over forty years ago!) The round hit the pie plate dead center. A whole lot of dirt and cat food went airborne. There was a lot of pie plate "shrapnel"*** in the air and one very startled (though unwounded) skunk.

I still swear to this day that the skunk did a quadruple back flip, hit the ground and headed for the woods without a "by your leave" or a spray to let us remember him by. He was off at at least Mach 3 and was still accelerating when he hit the woods.

Poor bastard probably didn't stop running until he hit the New York line, some forty miles away. Hell, he'd probably still be running if skunks lived that long.

As for Dad? "I meant to hit the pie plate. No, really. If I hit the skunk he'd stink up the neighborhood if I hit him in the wrong place. Besides, the pie plate was easy to see and was a larger target."

At the time I scoffed and didn't believe him.

Thinking back on it, Dad's story makes a lot of sense. Skunks are not that big. It was fairly dark, only the stars and a distant streetlight shed any illumination on that slope.

Bottom line, the skunk "threat" to Tommy's food was over. No animal ever dined on Tommy's fare ever again.

Like I said, Dad's .35 Marlin was a cannon. Roared like one too.

Heck, I'll bet some of the neighbors might have awakened at the sound of that shot.


This was Vermont, in the late Fifties. No laws were broken (town limit was at the foot of our street), no harm, no foul. As "they" are wont to say. (Don't ask me who "they" are. I'm sworn to secrecy.)

They probably listened for a second, heard no return fire, and went back to sleep.

So yeah, skunks under fire. Like any living thing, they don't much like it.

I seriously doubt that the skunk went all Churchill with his skunk buddies later on.

Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.

After all, it's hard to talk when you're running like the Hounds of Hell are on your tail.

Or Dad and his .35 Marlin.

That's just one of my skunk stories. Yes, there are others. Someday I may regale you with those. But not today.

*"Striped Skunk" by http://www.birdphotos.com - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Striped_Skunk.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Striped_Skunk.jpg

**By Boris Barowski (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

***I know it wasn't really shrapnel. But it's a common generic usage for that word, incorrect though it be. Also sounds way cooler than "pie plate debris." I claim artistic license!


  1. Skunks look big, but their bodies are actually kind of small. They camouflage that with long hair. So getting a kill shot is difficult. Learned that the hard way (i.e. skunks 2)

  2. My parents heated with coal, therefore we had a coal shed. Skunks loved living under the coal shed. Over time, you get accustomed to the smell. When things got real bad, we would make a solution of ammonia and water and pour it through the cracks in the floor. Sometimes it worked. Skunks would leave. Since that area gets about thirty feet of snow a winter (Steamboat Springs, CO), those skunks liked having a roof over their heads. Never did know what they were able to forage in the dead of winter.

    1. I suppose over time you can get used to anything.

      That is a lot of snow!

  3. back in the 50's, yes I am old, we had a rabid skunk epidemic in our area. they were chasing people down the street! Even us kids knew enough to run faster than the skunks. My Dad, old friends with the police chief, called him and got permission to shoot the little buggers. 12 gauge with bird shot is safer in a sub-division than a .35! Our neighbour called my dad "there is a skunk in my backyard, help" So my dad got out the 12 gauge, went next door after telling us all to stay indoors ( no such luck). As he shot it the skunk jumped around to spray him and he hit it at 25 feet with the shot in the ass! It died but every rainfall for a year afterwards the smell came up out of the grass in the backyard. The neighbour never asked my Dad for help again!

    1. I can imagine.

      Same backyard, some thirty-five years later my brother had to shoot a rabid skunk. Not sure what he used, might have been a .22. I'm trying to recall if anyone in the family has ever owned a shotgun.

      That would be a little more useful than a rifle designed for large game!

  4. I've lived a deprived life in that I don't have any skunk stories beyond the usual Loudon Wainright-type stuff. But I'm enjoying "skunk week."

    1. Heh. Skunk week.

      Who knows, there could be another skunk story in the offing.

    2. Let me know when the Hollywood agent calls you to license Skunknado! I want a cut.

    3. Of course, you started the whole skunk thing. You should get a cut.

  5. Like Buck, I have been deprived of skunk stories.
    I, too, like Skunk Week.
    I can hardly wait for Skunknado to be released.

  6. No skunk stories either.
    Interesting footnotes. We that do are few and far between.
    No rifles anymore. Ran them all down to Florida last year.

    1. Running guns to Florida Cap'n?

      (Sounds fishy when I put it that way.)


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