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The smell of skunk is the smell of success By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal.

This happens every time we encounter a dead skunk on the road.

“Pee-yew, skunk,” Fran aways says, her nose all wrinkled up and eyes looking at me like it was all my fault.

Me, I give her a half smile and say, “Smells like success to me.”

I guess only an old skunk trapper could understand that. But, it’s true. Every time I smelled that on my trapline as a farm kid, it meant money in my pocket.

I started trapping as soon as I became strong enough to set a number one long spring trap. I trapped for anything I could find, but as an 8-year-old that wasn’t much. I got the occasional rabbit, a weasel or two some winters and I even went after jackrabbits which were thicker than fleas on an old dog in those days and worth 50 cents each.

Not sure when I became focused on skunks. It must have been when I was about 10 years old.

There were lots of them around, big, fat black ones with two wide white stripes going down their back and tail. The trapping books I took to reading said the all-black ones were worth the most money, but I never saw one. Ours all had broad, white stripes.

There was another skunk that we called a civet cat. It was very common in those days as well. It was much smaller than a skunk and had a pattern of white spots going down its back and a white spot right in the middle of its face. It’s rightful name is spotted skunk.

They are about gone now, for some reason. I think they are an endangered animal in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska. The experts say changing farming methods have reduced spotted skunk populations, but no one knows for sure.

But in the early 50s, they were all over.

Skunk

This striped skunk was photographed by my brother, Dean Myhre at our farm near Worthing, S.D., and reveals that there are still plenty of striped skunks around. You can’t say the same about the tiny spotted skunk we used to call civet cats. For some reason they are about gone.

I remember coming home one night when I was in high school. As I placed my hand on the knob of the door going into our porch I happened to look down. It was a bright, moonlit night, and I could plainly see a spotted skunk sitting against the door right at my feet.

Very slowly I backed away. The skunk was not alarmed at all and that worried me a little bit because both the spotted and striped skunks are prone to rabies.

But, after about 10 minutes, the little guy wandered off, and I was able to go into the house. Interestingly, he didn’t smell. Striped skunks do smell and if you are near one there’s no mistaking the odor.

For the first eight grades of my schooling, I attended a one-room school house a mile and a half away. During trapping season, I’d set traps in culverts along the road to school. I never set at the culverts of neighbors’ driveways, because nobody likes to smell skunk every time you venture out to the mail box. There were plenty of drainage culverts across the road and field access driveways to set up in.

Many were the times I’d see our teacher raise her nose in the air and sniff.

“Larry, did you catch a skunk this morning?” she’d ask.

“Yes.”

“Put your shoes outside, please.”

Cold shoes at recess was just a fact of life for me.

Trapping season usually opened in early November and you’d have about two weeks before it got so cold that animal movements would come to a halt. Skunks do hibernate when it gets cold, so trapping would be all over for that year.

There were two fur-buying houses in Sioux Falls and that’s where I took my skunks.

I had a pole tied onto two trees far out in our grove and I’d hang the skunks there to let them air out as much as possible. When we went to Sioux Falls, I’d put the skunks in a Zip feed bag. Zip feed bags were paper and made up of several layers. I’d double bag the skunks and tie the bag to the bumper of our car.

When we got to the fur buyer, I’d walk in with the bag.

“What do you got?” the buyer would say while opening the bag to look in it.

“Whew, skunks,” he’d say. “How many?”

“Three skunks and one civet cat.”

“Here’s two dollars.”

Fifty cents apiece was the going rate for skunks in those days. It doesn’t sound like much now, but a dollar then is comparable to about nine dollars today. That was good money for a farm kid.

Over the years, I had a lot of encounters with skunks but I never got sprayed. Skunks will warn you before they unload their artillery.

You know its getting serious when the skunk throws his rear end over his shoulder, tail held high in the air and the muzzle of that spray gun is pointed right at you. It’s time then to begin backing away. And if the skunk starts stamping his front feet, you might want to run.

Spotted skunks sometimes do hand stands to warn you off. Again, if they begin stamping their front feet, you might want to run.

Yes, the odor of a skunk is pretty offensive. But it takes me back to a simpler time. It seems, like the skunks I trapped, things were a little more black and white then. Today, I wonder. And, sometimes, worry.

We’ve raised a couple of generations on concrete since then, and I don’t think that is good. I cling to my ties with the soil, and can’t help but smile a little bit every time I smell a skunk.

More outdoors information is availanble athttp://siouxcityjournal.com/sports/recreation/outdoors/

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