Trapping is an efficient and effective way to get rid of problem skunks, but it is not a method for the squeamish. In most of Canada and the United States, there are strict regulations on the transportation of skunks from one location to another. In most instances, either you or a veterinarian must euthanize any skunk you capture, or you must transport the skunk (without crossing state lines, and in some cases, without crossing county lines) to a licensed skunk shelter.
Almost all jurisdictions, however, permit killing of skunks that are causing damage to your property. Dead fall traps and snap traps usually kill skunks quickly, but cuff traps almost always leave the task of killing the skunk to you.
Dead Fall Traps for Skunks
The dead fall trap is a traditional North American method of catching and killing animals ranging in size from rabbits to bears, depending on the size of the trap. The dead fall trap consists of a bait, a spring trigger, and a heavy weight, usually a log, that falls on the animal as it is eating the bait. The advantage of a dead fall trap is that it costs little or nothing to make except several hours of your time. The disadvantage of a dead fall trap is that if the trap is not made skillfully, the skunk will eat your bait and then scamper away unharmed.
One way to construct a dead fall trap is to first find two poles, one six to eight feet (about 1.5 to about 2 meters) long and the other sixteen to eighteen feet (3 to 5 meters) long. Place the lower pole on the ground and place the longer pole on top of it, the right end of the longer pole flush with the right end of the shorter pole.
Drive two stakes into the ground on either side of the lower, shorter, bed pole where the two poles are flush against each other. Move 18 to 20 inches (45 to 50 cm) to the left and drive in two more stakes, one on either side of the bed pole. Now drive two more stakes about 2 inches (5 cm) away from the second set of stakes, all four stakes forming a straight line.
Next cut a stick so it reaches across the pole just to the outside stakes you just drove. Square off the edges so it fits between the two outer stakes. Cut another stick so it fits between the two inner stakes when you lift the dead fall pole (the longer, top pole) to a height of about three feet, raising the dead fall pole so that the end that was resting on the lower pole is now the part of the pole elevated above the ground.
Cut notches into your stakes so that they receive the two cross pieces. The fit needs to be loose enough that a good strong downward yank on the cross piece would cause the pole to fall. Now hang chicken meat or a fish on a string tied tightly to the upper cross piece, the bait dangling about 1 foot (30 cm) above the ground. When the skunk reaches up for the bait, the upper pole will fall, crushing it to death.
Or maybe not.
Eighteenth century trappers used this and similar methods to trap and kill a tremendous variety of fur-bearing animals without having to go into the trading post to buy supplies to make traps. Sometimes they used poles to crush their prey. Sometimes they used large flat pieces of stone. Traps of this nature are non-selective. Any animal that tugs on the bait is likely to be killed or seriously injured. From the trapper’s point of view, the advantage of crushing the animal to death was that its pelt was likely to be left intact.
On the other hand, traps of this type require considerable skill and experience for any kind of trapping success. You don’t want the trap to be sprung without the dead pole falling, and you don’t want the dead pole falling before the trap is sprung.
Noose Traps for Catching Skunks
Another traditional method of catching skunks is the noose trap. A 36 inch (90 cm) length of copper wire is stretched out tight. Two loops are tied on either end. One loop is passed through the other to make a noose, the wire loose enough that the noose can be opened or closed. The noose is hung from a frame, the long, loose end tied to a bait. Bait and noose are arranged so that an animal cannot take the bait without placing its head in the noose, and biting the noose quickly strangles the animal.
While noose traps actually work, there is no way to keep them from catching small dogs, roaming house cats, rabbits, raccoons, or even young potbellied pigs on the loose. They will kill larger skunks almost immediately by suffocation, but they make capture younger skunks by the waist, leaving a very upset animal ready to spray you when you check on the trap. For about $20, however, it is possible to catch skunks with nearly 100% certainty of finding them dead.
Snap Traps for Catching Skunks
Another way of catching skunks is with a snap trap. A snap trap is comparable to a giant mouse trap turned on its side. The 1.75 inch size Spring Trap is perfect for trapping and euthanizing skunks on the spot, but there are some general rules for success with this trap. If you choose to use snap traps:
- Choose the 1.75 Trap size. The size 1.00 is also advertised for trapping skunks, but a larger skunk may only be trapped by its toes, which it will bite off to escape the trap.
- The best time of year to set traps for skunks is in later winter, when multiple skunks may be resting in the same den.
- Identify skunk dens by tracks. The tracks left by a skunk’s front paws resemble hands with gaps between the “hand” and the “fingers” and gaps between the “fingers” and pointed nails. The tracks left by a skunk’s back paws resemble human feet with the same configuration of appendages and nails.
- Always handle the trap with cloth work gloves to avoid transferring your scent to the trap.
- Place the trap as close as possible to the entrance to a den you know to be inhabited by mature skunks. Killing a mother skunk when she is still nursing her young is not only cruel, it also attracts male skunks that may kill or even eat the babies.
- Toss bait into the mouth of the den for several days before setting traps. It is not necessary to conceal the traps or to introduce them to the skunk’s habitat. Unlike some other animals, skunks are not usually wary of new objects in their immediate environment.
- After the skunks have been alerted to the new food source, then set multiple traps around the mouth of the den but not in the den (to avoid getting bitten or sprayed in the process of setting the trap).
- Use smelly bait to capture skunks. They prefer chicken meat or eggs in its early stages of decay. It is usually best to hang the bait about 10 inches (25 cm) above the trap. Using Cass Creek Skunk Lure in addition to bait attracts skunks faster.
- Place the trap across the path you expect the skunk to travel so the skunk will be caught by the neck rather than by the foot.
- Anchor the strap so it stays in an upright position, again, so the animal is caught by the neck and killed instantly rather than caught by the foot.
- Check traps daily, stopping 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 meters) distant so you are not sprayed by any live skunk caught in the trap. If there is a live skunk in your trap, approach it with caution. Even when caught in a trap it may still be able to lift its hind legs into the air and point its scent glands in your direction to spray you. Cover the animal with a blanket so you will not be sprayed and dispatch it with a single sharp blow to the head or with a gunshot. HealthCanada recommends killing skunks with a blow to the head rather than with a gunshot. Local laws may or may not permit killing skunks with firearms and firearms may or may not have to be registered. Most cities do not permit shooting skunks.
- Repeat the process until you have captured and killed the 10 to 12 adults skunks that may be wintering in the den.
Animals never survive an encounter with a snap trap unharmed. If you do not want to kill skunks, then you will need to use a small animal cage trap or a specially designed skunk trap.
Using Cage Traps for Catching Skunks
Cage traps consist of steel mesh cages with a bait pan that trips a lever to close the door behind the animal. The captured animal can then finish the bait, take a nap, and wait for release or removal. Some models have one door and capture only one animal at a time, while others have two doors and can capture two animals at a time. Since two male skunks trapped in the same cage are likely to start a bloody fight to the death, it is usually best to use a one-door model.
The best skunk bait for your trap is a food that appeals to skunks but not to pets. Many trappers report success with slightly rotten sardines, fish that are too rotten to appeal to well-fed house cats but sufficiently scented to appeal to a skunk. Rotting (although not completely rotten) eggs, and chicken parts that have been left out of refrigerator for a day or two also work. The skunk comes in to eat the bait and the door snaps shut behind it, leaving it to wait for removal or euthanasia.
You should inspect all traps daily to make sure you have not trapped any pets and that captured skunks do not die from starvation or thirst. The problem with a cage trap is that its steel mesh construction offers no protection against skunk spray. You will need to keep a distance of about 15 feet (5 meters) between you and the trap when you come to inspect it.
The best time to check traps for skunks is either the middle of the day or the early evening after the sun has completely set. The skunk inside the trap is likely to be relatively inactive either in the middle of the day or in the dark of the night. Approach the trap with a tarp or old blanket between you and the skunk, throwing the protective cover over the cage and completely covering the cage before picking it up for removal. You are more likely to be sprayed by a smaller skunk than by a larger skunk, since the skunk has to be able to lift its tail to spray.
Cylindrical Skunk Traps
A few companies make cylindrical skunk traps that confine the skunk into a 6-inch (15-cm) space in which it cannot lift its tail. Typically the trap is made of steel or PVC pipe so that the skunk will not your pets before you arrive or you when you remove the trap.
The skunk is confined in plastic tubing. It is best to block the trap with bricks or stones on either side so animals brushing against the trap do not trigger the trapdoor mechanism. Some users of this trap get better results when they bait it with peanut butter, which forces the skunk to stay inside the trap longer. Also, the use of peanut butter for the bait makes it highly unlikely users will trap dogs or cats.
How do you let a skunk out of its trap? Assuming that it is lawful for you to release the skunk, first check through the peephole to see if there is a skunk inside. Then pick up the trap gently and place it in your vehicle, keeping noise and conversation to a minimum.
A skunk must be relocated at least 5 miles (8 km) away to keep it from coming back to your property. When you have arrived at the release point, gently place the trap on the ground, open the door, and walk away. It will usually take 15 to 20 minutes for the animal to feel secure enough to come out of the trap, provided there are no loud noises or barking dogs. This gives you plenty of time to walk a safe distance away from the trap; staying close to your vehicle should the skunk decide to charge in your direction. (Skunks typically emerge from traps tail first, and then turn around to get their bearings.) After the skunk has left the area, pick up your trap to carry it home. Wash it out with hot water before you set it again, handling the trap with gloves (to avoid transfer of scent) once it has been washed.
But What If Local Laws Prohibit Release of Skunks?
In many places, relocating skunks is entirely illegal. Many Canadian cities require you to find a veterinarian who is willing to euthanize the skunk—you may not use an inhumane method of killing the skunk, such as hitting it over the head with a shovel. Many cities in the US and Canada, however, have publicly or privately funded skunk shelters that will house and feed skunks removed from private property.
There are over 250 wildlife rehabilitation centers in the United States and Canada that take in homeless skunks. These centers may be identified as skunk shelters, wildlife rehabilitation or wildlife rescue centers, critter rehab, wildlife sanctuaries, skunk rescue centers, wildlife orphanages, or wildlife associations. Check for the center nearest center for before you attempt to trap skunks for live release.
Don’t assume a shelter will accept your skunk. Sometimes shelters are full, and sometimes shelters go out of business. It is a good idea to talk with the person who runs the shelter about best methods of controlling skunks and whether it is legal to travel from your home to the shelter with a skunk. Nearly all US states and Canadian provinces prohibit transport of skunks across their borders. Some states, such as Kentucky, do not permit removal of skunks across county lines.