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Skunked

A few of us were talking a week or so ago about “scary” outdoor experiences we have had, you know, Halloween-type stuff.  I spend a lot of time fishing after dark, and usually try to use lights as little as possible (do not want to spook the fish), but honestly, I can recall very few incidents in the dark that had me spooked.  Oh sure, there have been bats fluttering right over my head, spiders, hooting owls, howling coyotes, and calling sasquatch, but nothing that really got the hair on the back of my neck to stand up.  There was a night catfishing trip on a lake to remain unnamed back in my youth when there were rats running around; I suppose that did freak out a couple of my fishing buddies at the time.

Raccoons have provided some entertainment, but really did not offer a fright (e.g. Bandit Brownies).

I can think of one occasion stumbling around in the bottom of a canyon way before first light during spring turkey season when I had a close encounter with a couple of coyotes, but honestly we all nodded at each other, wished our fellow hunters “luck”, and headed our separate ways.  Probably my most spooky coyote experience was in another canyon while calling predators when some unidentified creature started popping its jaws behind my Dad and I (a good story for another day).

While pondering the subject, I thought of an incident that happened this fall, happened in the dark, and I suppose it could have been spooky, but it all turned out well and now brings a smile to my face. . . .

It is not unusual to encounter a variety of critters while standing along some shoreline fishing.  Mink are frequent companions and I consider it a good day or evening anytime I get to see a mink (Minky).  As I was casting well after sunset one evening this fall, I noticed a critter shuffling along the shore coming my way.  I figured it was another mink so I stood still, silent, and watched as it walked a rod’s length right behind me.  It was dark and vision was gray, but suddenly it dawned on me that the critter was not a mink but another somewhat larger member of the Mustelid family; a more black and white critter.

A skunk!

Now I have encountered a few skunks in my adventures, usually in low-light conditions or after dark.  Often, their presence is announced by the odor that goes with them, but not all the time.  I suppose it depends on if they have recently fired their weapons or not, but some skunks in my immediate proximity honestly did not smell at all.  This one smelled like the evening breeze.

The other thing I have noticed from the skunks I have known is that apparently they do not see well; they are very near-sighted.  They are happy to go on their way, shuffling along with nose to the ground looking for some delectable grub or egg or other food item, and unless you get right up in their grill they do not seem to know you even exist.  Thank goodness the skunk in the dark shuffled right down the shore past me and did not acknowledge that I was there.

As Pepe passed me, he was headed in the direction of my son.  Thought I better give him a “heads up”, so I quietly spoke to him, my son that is.  Then we spent the next several minutes watching the skunk nose around in the rocks, get its feet wet and even take a few drinks.  A couple of times it appeared to be contemplating a swim, and I believe it may have thought it was along the shore of a small creek when in reality it would have been a long skunk-paddle to get to the other side!  It thought better of it.

I had my camera and wanted to get some pictures, but needed to get close in the dark.  Ever tried to get close enough to a skunk to get good photos without triggering a detonation?  I do not believe the skunk ever knew we were there, but I am afraid my pictures show it.

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SkunkEdit

I hate not catching fish or as we say, getting “skunked”.  Figuratively speaking, goal number one each fishing trip is to “kill the skunk”.  Yes, by the way, we did “kill the skunk” that night, but no, we did not kill the skunk.  Eventually, we lost it in the rocks and went back to fishing.

My granddads had the best skunk stories.  Gramps Roth was alive in a time when a dollar was worth 99 cents (he always said that).  It was also a time when skunk pelts fetched good money and fur checks were a significant part of the family income during the cold weather months.  Gramps went out of his way to collect skunk pelts.

One story was of him and a buddy, wish I could remember his name, finding a set of skunk tracks in the snow.  They were driving his buddy’s car so Gramps grabbed the tile spade from the trunk and tracked down that skunk.  Of course the prize and the spade went back in the trunk after completion.  It was cold enough that did not cause any immediate problems, but on the next thaw there was a bit of an odor left on the tile spade and in the trunk.  A wife then took offense and Gramps was not well-favored after that.

Depending on who you asked, the students or the teacher, Gramps Roth caused another serious incident at a country school house.  A skunk family had been stinkin’ up the place, and, pardon the pun, Gramps caught wind of it.  Under the schoolhouse he crawled to collect another skunk pelt or three.  Gramps always got his skunk.  Unfortunately, there was some collateral damage and the schoolhouse stunk to high heaven when Gramps got done.  I do not know how many days the “fall break” lasted for those students.

My Grandpa Bauer was a little more inventive when skunks occasionally took up residence under the old brooder house.  He would employ the hay sweep to lift up the old wooden shed and then some quick work with the .22’s would solve the skunk problem for awhile.  Seems like a family of skunks would always move back in eventually, “rinse and repeat”.

Come to think of it, I recall that the hospital bill for the birth of my father was paid at least in part with fur money–skunk profits included!

Maybe I am who I am today because of skunks?

I can remember an evening card-playing trip over to Uncle Orville and Aunt Eileen’s place when a skunk was encountered on the fringes of the homestead.  Cousin Larry grabbed a rifle and after the skunk we went.  As I re-told the story over Aunt Eileen’s chocolate chip cookies and milk later that evening, it took Larry at least a hundred shots before we got that skunk.

My cousin Robin has skunk essence running in his veins as well.  The dummy has skinned a skunk or two in the basement of his house.  Why his wife is still with him amazes us to this day.

Skunks, scary?  Nah, I do not think so.  But, they are worth a good story!

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About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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