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?