Confrontations with a skunk rarely end well

Skunks established themselves under chicken coops, barns and granaries, despite the presence of a dog to guard the place. | File photo

Retired farmer has many stories about living in close contact with the striped creatures; the best one involved a German

Usher Berger, 94, farmed in the Oungre, Sask., area, where his father homesteaded in 1906. He retired in 1997.

I was born and raised on a farm and became familiar with skunks at an early age.

While a preschooler, I questioned why a dog I had always played with suddenly developed a very unattractive smell.

The answer, “he must have tried to kill a skunk.”

Later, I remember travelling with my family and a team of horses, with the dog tagging along. Many a gopher was caught and killed by Rover.

He encountered the odd skunk as well. The skunk was pursued by the dog, who came to a sudden halt when the skunk turned to face him. The dog would try to bury his face in the dirt, and the skunk would escape. Thereafter, we avoided the dog for a while.

In winter, people in those tough times found it well worthwhile to kill and skin any skunk, despite the smell, for the dollar or two the pelt brought. The smell remained on their clothing for a long time.

Much later, when I found myself in charge of the home farm, I had many direct encounters with skunks. They established themselves under chicken coops, barns and granaries, despite the fact we always had a dog around to guard the place.

In more recent times, smoke bombs became available. One simply lit the fuse on the bomb, dropped it down the hole, plugged the opening, then checked around and often found the poisonous smoke pouring out of the rodent’s back door. It had to be immediately plugged, and if the hole was occupied, the resident experienced a rapid demise.

The skunk incident that remains uppermost in my mind occurred in 1952. The Estevan employment office, in reply to my application for a man to help with haying, provided a young German immigrant.

It was Arno’s first Canadian job. At the time, I had been very busy with summer fallowing and had hardly been in the barn, so wasn’t aware that a mother skunk and her family had established their home there. While I was using a tractor for seeding and fallowing, a hay baler was not yet affordable, so I was still putting hay up loose with horses.

That is when I discovered burrow holes in the barn and set traps.

The morning after Arno arrived, I was showing him around. We found two baby skunks in the traps. I asked if they had such animals in Germany.

“Och ya,” he replied.

Arno had a unique way of expressing himself so that none of the mishaps and accidents he caused were his fault. When he drove a load of hay from a slough across a steep side hill, he came riding one of the two horses home without the rack of hay, explaining, “the load he overtipped himself.”

After that, I found it more profitable to accompany him until he learned which side hills to avoid.

The next time we were going with the team and hay rack for a load of hay we noticed a skunk on the fallow field a short distance from the road. Arno grabbed up one of the hay forks and announced, “I will dead make him” and was off before I could even stop the horses.

The skunk was a fine specimen. His coat gleamed in the sun and his white stripes looked four to five shades whiter, as if he had washed them in Rinso. Probably the free eggs he had been helping himself to at our place played some part in his fine appearance.

The skunk noticed Arno approaching on the black summer fallow. There was no cover for the skunk so he took to his heels, his long fur rippling in the wind, with Arno in hot pursuit and gaining fast.

It occurred to me that Arno was being too bold and that the damage to him could be somewhat greater than the loss of a few eggs. However, by this time, the action was too far away and my calls were either not heard, not understood or just ignored.

When the skunk realized he could not outrun the pursuer, he suddenly turned to face the foe. I watched helplessly knowing Arno was about to fall into catastrophe.

The skunk scored a direct hit. A lesser individual would have given up at that point, but Arno, having set out to “dead make” the skunk, somehow completed the job.

Arno returned with considerably less speed than when he left. He was preceded by the sickening stench. His appraisal of the situation was one with which I wholeheartedly agreed.

“Oh, but that lumpzack, he bestank me,” he said.

Haying had to be postponed for hours for Arno to clean up, change clothes, and declare that Canadian skunks have a defence mechanism far superior to the Deutche kind.

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