What To Do If You Run Into a Skunk

Per Courtenay’s request, we now have ‘What to do if you run into a skunk’ in our series on how to interact with increasingly less-threatening wildlife. Next: deer. See also, previously, what to do if you see a mountain lion, rattlesnake or bear.

1. Don’t run into a skunk. First off, as per all wildlife encounters, avoid them. This isn’t that hard with skunks, since they want to be seen and also are recognizable. And, also, are you know, not that terrifying. So, let’s make sure we all know what a skunk looks like. They look like this:

Aww. Cute.
Aww. Cute.

And, also this:

Though, I would be more scared if I saw this walking down the street.
Though, I would be more scared if I saw this walking down the street.

2. If you do see a skunk, come on, seriously, don’t kill it. Apparently, this is a problem. So, let’s all play an imagining game: you’re just making a home, raising your kids, doing your shit. Then someone bigger comes along and thinks you smell, and more importantly thinks you’re going to make them smell. You try to mind your own business, but they promise a nice big dinner, so you head over and then, bam, you’re dead.

I think my favorite advice came from the City of Sacramento: “practice tolerance” when dealing with wildlife. Which is, you know, good advice for other kinds of things in life too.

Skunks tend to have babies in February and March — meaning don’t try to get the family to move out during that time and practice extra caution around skunks with babies. For some extra sympathy, let’s all look at a skunk baby:

Tell me you don't identify with the look on the skunk baby's face.
Tell me you don’t identify with the look on the skunk baby’s face.


3. Skunks only spray when threatened. Meaning if you aren’t threatening, then you probably won’t get sprayed. Probably. Look unassuming. But, skunks are very near-sighted, so they may spray simply because they can’t see you — like when your deaf great-aunt becomes paranoid because she can’t hear what everyone is saying. Talk in a low voice, move slowly.

Typically, you’ll have a warning that a skunk is about to spray. They stamp their feet, hiss, twist around to point their spraying end in your direction, and raise their tail. Spotted skunks also, oddly, do a handstand. See:

4. If you can: walk away. If not: convince it to walk away. You can convince it to leave by stomping your feet, talking in a low voice, gently scaring it off. If it’s living in your garden or under your deck, etc, well, maybe it’s the time for some self-reflection. Why dd the skunk move in? Is it because you leave food and garbage around? There are also repellents to get skunks to leave. Motion-activated sprinklers work  — they certainly make me get off a lawn — as do commercial scent-repellents or household ammonia (not to hurt the skunk, to get it to leave). Skunks, evidently, also haven’t learned how to climb well. Evolution didn’t do that for them. So, fences and boarding up of holes keeps them out. Though, you’ll likely want to make sure they’re out of the hole before you board up the hole. To get them out, you can play a radio or shine a light into a dark hole, to make it less dark and hole-like.

Conversely, you can also stand perfectly still and wait for the skunk to leave. Also a strategy in life, but probably not a great one.

5. If you get sprayed, don’t pour tomato juice all over yourself. If you do pour tomato juice all over yourself, send me a picture.

Skunk spray may cause temporary blindness, so that’s cool. Wash it out of your eyes and off your face immediately. However, you should also know that once you’ve been sprayed, anything you touch will also smell. Weigh staying blind with having your sink smell like skunk.

In order to get the smell off, you have to counteract or neutralize the chemicals in the skunk’s tail. What most places seem to recommend is mixing one quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide, one teaspoon mild dishwashing detergent, and 1/4 cup baking soda. Rinse, wash, repeat. Ideally, since you don’t want your car to also smell, send someone else to the store to make this mixture.

Have you run into a skunk?

25 thoughts on “What To Do If You Run Into a Skunk

  1. Ran into one yesterday morning walking to get newspaper at 5:30 am at home. Heard a hiss and then the big white fluffy tail. I ran quietly in opposite direction. Then he waddled away not with a smell or odor at all.

  2. I’m in a lose lose situation, I have a dog&she’s been sprayed once a few years ago. So now that the skunks are coming around more often im hoping&praying that it doesn’t happen again!!! Her breath stunk for 3months afterwards even though I was giving her milk it didn’t work very fast at all. My dog is very smart but that was the 1st time she had ever seen one, it got away needless to say but im just worried about it cause who knows if she will remember that&&just tonight alone I for sure saw one very clearly but I swore that there was another one in the hillside garden&if it wasn’t a 2nd skunk it could’ve been the black cat thats been hanging around our yard. I literally live in a house that is on a creek&our yard backs up right to the creek&hillside so there’s no way of blocking off the whole side.☆*☆[If I use ammonia soaked rag’s will it be harmful for other animal’s like cat’s, beavers, Fox&muskrats?]

  3. I was outside sitting on the steps, suddenly I heard “szszsz” …I grabbed my cell phone to flash some light on this ” moving thing”. It was huuuuge skunk almost 4 feet from me. Behind my glass door I saw my cat… omg what was going on in my head!! ” sit or go home slowly.. after 15 min sitting not moving I decided to go back home… slowly!! I am home:)I’ve left my glass of vine on the stairs outside now I want to go back so badly.

  4. I stepped outside a few nights ago, turned around to go back inside and there was a skunk standing perhaps 2-3 feet away. I took about 3 small steps back and stood there until it left. Still don’t know which one of us was more surprised.

  5. Hi I’m Mike. I work as a security guard at night at a large RV dealership in southern California. The place is infested with skunks. I don’t bother the skunks and the skunks don’t bother me. I wait for the skunks to finish walking across my path before I continue walking and they do the same for me when I walk across their path. Or they turn around and take a different path if I walk across their path. Last night I was standing next to an RV and I wasn’t making any noise. So a skunk didn’t see me and came walking out from under the RV right towards me. It was about 10 feet away from me. I got startled and got out of there. My footsteps startled the skunk, it screeched, and it ran back under the RV. When the skunk got startled, its tail went up right away. Luckily for me the skunk was facing me so its butt was in the opposite direction not aimed at me. I did not get sprayed. The skunk didn’t spray at all because its butt was facing the other way when it got startled. The skunk turned around and went back under the RV. Anyone know anything better I could’ve done?

  6. Ran into a skunk while walking my dog last night. We were extremely lucky not to be sprayed, apparently.
    It had gotten dark on the return leg of our walk (we walk for an hour), and I had neglected to get my flashlight out. I only realized something was up when Archer (i.e. the dog, some sort of lab-coonhound mix) suddenly lunged on the leash. The skunk had no white markings so it was hard for me to see without the flashlight, I must have looked right past it before Archer lunged.
    We were only a few yards from the skunk. Reading here that they can spray 10-15 feet, holy crap were we lucky not to get sprayed. I can’t imagine that Archer’s sudden lunging didn’t seem threatening to the skunk.
    What was most interesting to me was how utterly nonchalant the skunk was about the whole thing. It had turned and raised its tail, but that’s about it for any sign of alarm as I quickly walked backward, pulling Archer away. Once we got about 10 yards away, I stopped and watched it amble off down the road with my flashlight. And I do mean *ambled* — it appeared to be completely confident were weren’t gonna screw with it. Very at ease. It looked back a few times as I followed it with the flashlight beam, but otherwise it didn’t seem to have a care in the world. It didn’t even bother to get off the road for another 40 yards or so.
    We’ve encountered plenty of rabbits and possums on our walks. They always scurry off as fast as they can. In contrast, this skunk acted like it owned the place.

  7. So um this just happened i was smoking in my van with the door open and i guess i was so quiet that a skunk just walks by but i dropped my phone and startled it. It stomped its feet and made a weird hissing noise i a slammed the van door closed before it turned around…..so now i am in my van afraid to get out so um what do i do??

  8. Lately when I go for a walk in the evening/nightfall in Unionville, I see them on Braithwaite Road, near Warden and Carlton, turn right onto Carlton at Warden if you are walking and it is the second street on the left, just walk past the first set of a mailbox on the left on Braithwaite and if you are lucky you will see the Skunks a few actually, what i do is I will go around on a different way/street to get where i need to be.

  9. I just saw one eating my ctas food. I tried stomping me feet, it didnt care. I flashed my light and it turned its tail to me, so i got my bb gun and shot close to it, walked away for a second and cane right back since it didnt finish my cats food, i unloaded about 4 shits and it dudnt leave till it ate all the food… these things are bot easilt scared.

  10. I have never, ever ran into a skunk in my whole entire life, even though I live in Wyoming. How is that possible!? Well, I only exsist since 21 years. And I was born in Wyoming, and stayed there. But I still never met a skunk! Where do skunks live? I’m just quirious.

  11. I got some great pictures of a skunk I tracked (quietly and at a safe distance of 10 – 15 feet) at through brush at Winter Island in Salem, Ma.
    People asked me if I was crazy getting that close.
    No. If you’re calm and quiet and don’t make sudden moves or loud noises, you’re perfectly safe.
    Personally, I’d like to camp out with some of their favorite foods to see if I can get one closer to me.

  12. I got some great pictures of a skunk I tracked (quietly and at a safe distance of 10 – 15 feet) through brush at Winter Island in Salem, Ma.
    People asked me if I was crazy getting that close.
    No. If you’re calm and quiet and don’t make sudden moves or loud noises, you’re perfectly safe.
    Personally, I’d like to camp out with some of their favorite foods to see if I can get one closer to me.

  13. I was just standing in front of my house at about 11 PM looking up at the passing International Space Station. I heard a clicking noise on the sidewalk about 4 feet away. A big old skunk just walked past me like I wasn’t even there. I stood very still until it was a few houses past me, then quickly went inside to change my shorts. I don’t think it gave me a thought. Go in peace, little friend!

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