If you’ve ever come across a skunk, you probably know how hard it is not to panic. We’ve all heard skunk horror stories about their smelly spray. A slew of questions might run through your head. Will skunks chase you? How far can a skunk spray? Are skunks dangerous? Will you have to spend the next several days bathing in tomato juice? It’s understandable to have such a strong reaction to a skunk, but it’s also misguided.
Skunks are far less wrathful and prone to rogue spraying than their reputation implies. In fact, they’re naturally shy, mild-mannered creatures. Learning more about where skunks live, how to prevent skunks, and what to do if you encounter a skunk can build your confidence and help you keep calm.
Where Do Skunks Live?
Skunks are common throughout all of North America. You might encounter a skunk everywhere from Canada all the way down to Mexico. They prefer forested areas and often make their homes within a few miles of a water source, but can settle comfortably near humans.
The most common type of skunk is a striped skunk. A striped skunk is a small, black mammal with two distinct white stripes down its back and onto its fuzzy tail. While striped skunks might look cute from a distance, they’re also common nuisances. Striped skunks are tolerant of humans and don’t mind moving into backyards.
How to Prevent Skunk Encounters
There are a few steps you can take to prevent skunks. You can create your own skunk repellent with castor oil and dish washing liquid. Skunks hate this smell and might think twice about calling your yard home if they smell it. You can also try using citrus, bar soap, or even ammonia as a skunk deterrent.
If you don’t want to try using a homemade anti-skunk spray, many people have success preventing skunks with bright lights. Since skunks are nocturnal animals, lighting up your yard at night can be an effective repellent for skunks. Place motion-sensor flood lights in key places around your property to dissuade any smelly visitors from stopping by.
How to Handle Common Skunk Encounters
Of course, you might take all the necessary precautions to keep skunks away from your house and still have a skunk encounter. Remember, the best thing you can do when you encounter a skunk is stay calm—which is easier said than done when you are afraid of experiencing the skunk’s legendary stench.
A skunk can spray from up to 10 feet away, and this is their only form of protection against predators. And when scared, a skunk can spray up to six times in a row. Knowing what to do when you see a skunk is the best way to avoid stinking skunk spray.
That’s why we’ve prepared this guide on skunk encounters! Here’s what you should do if you encounter a skunk and how to avoid getting sprayed by a skunk:
Encountering a Skunk in the Open
If you encounter a skunk in the open, it’s probably hunting or returning to its den. Skunks are nocturnal, so you’re more likely to run into one at night. These creatures hunt by digging for grubs and worms in loose soil, and their food is more active in the cool night air. Skunks also become more active in fall when they’re eating more to prepare for the upcoming winter.
As small mammals, skunks tend to stay in cover so they’re harder to spot by predators. You’re more likely to have a skunk encounter under the cover of shade, in brush or in tall grass.
If you run into a skunk in the open, the first thing you should do is stop moving. Skunks have poor eyesight, and sudden movements may startle them. If possible, avoid letting the skunk see you at all.
Next, figure out where the skunk is headed so you can get out of their way. Move slowly and steadily out of the path of the skunk. Once you’re out of the way, simply keep walking away at the same slow pace. Skunks aren’t aggressive, and they’ll be more than happy to calmly go about their business.
Encountering a Skunk in its Den
Skunks build simple, shallow dens, usually by burrowing beneath existing structures for extra cover. They dig under wood and rock piles, trees or stumps, and even under porches, decks, sheds, and buildings—which can cause a lot of damage!
Skunks usually conceal the entrance to their dens with leaves, stones, or grass. Often, they’ll build out existing holes or hollows, or steal burrows from other digging wildlife. Once skunks establish a den, they rarely venture far away from it until breeding season.
First, the obvious: never approach a skunk den on purpose. Unfortunately, it’s easy to accidentally stumble on skunk dens, especially if there’s one near your home. If you do come across one, avoid making any sudden movements or sounds. Avoid startling the skunk or waking it up suddenly. Remember, a scared skunk is much more likely to spray you.
When you see a skunk den, move away from it slowly. If the skunk built its den beneath your porch or deck, don’t walk across it until the skunk has been removed. A skunk might spray you, or worse, if you get too close to its den. Removing a skunk needs to be done by a professional wildlife control company, like Varment Guard.
Coming Across a Skunk Near Your Home
Usually, skunks wander onto your property because they’ve built their nests nearby. Skunks commonly burrow beneath porches, decks, sheds, or openings around the perimeter of a home. The structure provides skunks with natural cover, which makes them feel more secure.
Skunks get busy building burrows in the fall to prepare for winter. Since skunks are homebodies, skunks often hunt in the yards near their dens. You might see an uptick of skunk activity near your house as the weather gets colder. It’s common for skunks to occasionally fall into window wells while hunting or returning to their burrows.
You should leave skunks alone whenever possible, even if they’re in your yard. We recommend against approaching a skunk to “harass” it away from your yard. At best, this would only scare it off. At worst, you’d end up getting sprayed by a skunk.
Instead, give the skunk in your yard a wide berth. Try to figure out where its burrow is (carefully) so you can avoid the area. Try a few skunk prevention methods to scare skunks away. If your skunk doesn’t get the hint, or if a skunk falls into a window well, call professional wildlife services right away so we can safely remove it.
Startling a Skunk
Unfortunately, it’s relatively easy to startle a skunk. They often stumble into encounters with people or other wildlife unwittingly. The skunk will probably be as surprised as you, which is a problem. Generally, skunks are more likely to spray when they’re confused than when they have their bearings.
Skunks can be lethargic, hungry, and irritable after resting or entering their winter dormant state. Plus, skunks’ poor eyesight makes them likely to mistake people for predators or threats if you make sudden movements near them.
If you ever startle a skunk, it may raise its tail, stand on its hind legs, or stomp its feet. Hard as it may be, you need to refrain from panicking. If the skunk hasn’t sprayed yet, that means it’s still figuring out the situation.
Back away from the skunk very slowly and steadily. Don’t turn your back, make sudden movements, raise your arms, or run. Instead, try to put about 10 feet between yourself and the skunk so you’re out of range of its spray. But don’t rush. Make calm, steady movements to avoid startling the skunk further.
What to Do if You’re Sprayed by a Skunk
Even if you take all the recommended precautions, a skunk encounter may still end in getting sprayed. Skunk spray isn’t dangerous, just very stinky. The smell of skunk spray is similar to sulfur or rotten eggs, not a smell you want lingering on your hair or clothes.
The best way to deal with skunk odors is to soak in a baking soda bath. Pour a few generous cups of baking soda into a hot bath and let the odor-fighting substance do its work. Baking soda and water is also effective at removing skunk odors from clothing and furniture. Soak or spray fabric with the mixture and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before rinsing it off. The smell of skunk spray will be gone in no time.
Get Skunk Control Services From Varment Guard
We’ll probably never convince you not to be afraid of skunks. What we would like to do, however, is help you use that fear constructively. Next time you encounter a skunk, use your fear to focus on de-escalating the situation. Remember these tips and you’ll come out the other side of your skunk encounter smelling fresh!
However, just because we don’t think you should be afraid of skunks, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them seriously. If you notice a skunk den near your home, it could be a sign of a more serious problem. Give the experts at Varment Guard a call for help with any skunk-related challenges.
We can remove skunks quickly, humanely, and safely! Our Varment Guardian program focuses on getting and keeping problem wildlife away from your property without harming the animal all while providing you with peace of mind.