Although skunks prefer natural wooded areas with nearby rivers, our developing world means that their favored habitats are diminishing. As a result, skunk numbers in urban areas are on the increase, bringing with them all manner of unpleasantries for homeowners.
Understanding how to trap a skunk can be straightforward enough and when carried out correctly can provide a good success rate, but in some US states they are protected, so checking regional laws is a must before you start any removal process.
Once the legalities are covered, you’re free to follow the top tips and advice in this article on everything you need to know about buying, setting, and baiting traps for skunks, and what to do with them once you’ve caught them.
Choosing a Skunk Trap
When it comes to wild animal pest control there are two main types of traps available that can be used for trapping skunks. These are categorized as either lethal or non-lethal.
Put simply, a lethal trap has the potential to kill an animal instantly and a non-lethal trap will catch it within a trapping chamber, whereupon it can later be released back into the wild.
In some states skunks are protected as furbearers and non-game species so before deciding what trap to use you’ll need to check with your local state wildlife office to understand any regional legal implications relating to killing, removing, and releasing these animals.
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Types of Skunk Traps
The two trap designs that are recommended by The Association of Fish & Wildlife, are called cage traps (also known as door traps) and body grip traps. Cage traps are the more humane option and are used to catch small wild animals such as skunks without harming them.
Body grip traps are used to catch and kill (often instantaneously) wild animals. Their use and distribution are regulated in many states.
Here’s a look at the main differences and similarities between these two types of traps, and their recommendations for use.
Door Trap (Cage Trap)
Cage (or door) traps offer a humane solution to catching nuisance wild animals such as skunks, raccoons, possums, and the like. These traps are bait-based, and they don’t kill the animal, but capture it alive instead.
Most cage traps found in stores are made from a 1×2-inch, strong steel mesh. The standard dimensions of the cage itself are usually about 32x10x12.75 inches but bespoke larger cages can be made too.
The cages normally weigh about 14 pounds. This is lighter than some skunk species.
If permitted for use in your region, these traps are straightforward enough to operate. The trap is set up in a location that is close to the skunk’s den, or on a route that the skunk takes frequently. Once set up, skunk-attracting bait is placed inside the trap. Then it’s a case of waiting for the skunk to notice it.
The skunk will activate a trap door when it moves inside the trap and takes the bait, at which point, the trap door will close, capturing the unsuspecting skunk inside.
The door can only be opened from the outside by someone dexterous enough to operate the mechanism.
The best type of cage trap is the 2-door variety. They have doors at each end of the cage and therefore offer a higher catch rate. Once the doors close it’s impossible for a skunk to get out without human intervention.
Cage traps are expensive, cumbersome, and bulky. Their size makes them difficult to transport unless you have a large trailer or utility-style vehicle at your disposal.
Some people argue that they are not worth the investment or the space they take up when not in use, especially when they are likely only required to tackle a temporary or occasional problem.
Body grip Traps
These are referred to as ‘lethal traps’ and are most often used to catch minks, beavers, and otters. They differ greatly from cage/door traps because they have two powerful, rotating jaws that close on the animal upon activation, thus killing it.
Due to the device’s sharp, moving parts, operators must exercise extreme care during setup, and children and pets should be kept well away at all times to avoid accidental activation of the device.
Overall, they are considered easier to use and cheaper to buy compared to cage traps, but they are heavily regulated and often not permitted for use on skunks in many US states.
There is also the prospect of dealing with a dead animal once it has been successfully caught.
Pest control experts tend to use a remotely operated setting tool that can be used to set the trap, thus keeping any danger out of harm’s way.
Just be sure to check local rules before thinking about using one.
How to Trap a Skunk in 6 Steps
If trapping skunks is permitted in your area, and you have established which trap you are permitted to use, you can then get to work on luring the unwanted pest and capturing it.
1. Identify the Skunk’s Den or Path
It’s important to understand where the skunk lives and to identify the places it visits as part of its daily routine. Placing the trap in these locations means that the skunk is more likely to smell the bait and will therefore provide a better chance of success.
To do this you’ll need to turn detective to uncover the routes it takes to get to and from its den, where it scavenges for food, and/or where it poops. To do this, look out for these signs:
Skunk Scat – Measuring 1-2 inches in length and approximately 1/2″ in diameter. Skunk poop looks like cat poop and is likely to contain indigested food including fur, bones, feathers, and insects.
Skunk Tracks – Skunks walk on all four legs and each of their paws has 5 toes and claws, and a pad. Only the two hind legs leave the tracks of their heel paws which can be over 2″ in length. Their front claws make long and deep tracks due to their extended position.
Skunk Spray Smell – A pungent stench that is often likened to rotting fruit and vegetables or rotten eggs. A smell so unpleasant that some people report watering eyes and irritation in the back of the throat causing them to cough.
Skunk Dens – Often burrowed under outbuildings such as decks, porches, and sheds but also in crawl spaces or a pile of wood. The lingering stench of their spray and the presence of freshly dug earth usually provide additional clues to the whereabouts of their hideout.
Skunk Foraging Holes – Most notably found in lawns or nutrient-rich soil that is enriched with juicy bugs and insects. These foraging holes are no more than 2-3″ in diameter and relatively shallow.
Identifying one, some, or all of these tell-tale signs means that skunks are likely to be close by and are frequenting these locations as part of their daily routine. When it’s time to set up a trap, placing it near your evidence will stand you in good stead of catching the pest sooner.
2. Choosing Bait To Trap Skunks
The best type of bait to use when luring a skunk into a trap is food that has a strong smell and taste. In the wild, their diet consists of food that is rich in fat and protein so using canned cat or dog food, tinned tuna, bacon, chicken, and even fish heads are all good options.
Once you have an understanding of the skunk’s activity and/or den’s whereabouts, it’s a good idea to start pre-baiting the area. Leaving tempting morsels in the same spot for a few days before setting a trap will be too tempting for the skunk to resist and their instinct will be to return to the same location to seek out more food.
When you have secured a little trust, you can set the trap in place very near the pre-baiting site.
3. Place Trap in Skunk’s Path
Set the trap up while it’s light, this will enable you to see what you’re doing, plus skunks rarely come out during the day and are likely to be in the burrow and out of the way of your activity.
Remember to position the trap in an area you know the skunk frequents or as close to the burrow entrance or exit as possible.
If your trap is equipped with a bait dish be sure to securely fasten it in place so it won’t move when the skunk attempts to take it from the trap. This could startle the animal, causing it to flee before the trap is activated.
Skunks are greedy and opportunistic so it’s fine to leave additional food in the spots where you pre-baited previously if you so wish.
4. Setting The Trap
Read the manufacturer’s instructions in advance to see if the trap mechanism has any specific features that are unique to the brand you have chosen. It’s best to test how to set it up beforehand and away from where you’re going to position it.
If you are using an old trap, you should test it out to make sure it is working correctly and to check if the mechanism needs adjusting or oiling. The last thing you want is a malfunctioning trap when it’s set in motion by the skunk as this will just scare the animal off and likely never return to the trap.
Once you are familiar with how your trap works, you’ll find that setting the door on a cage trap is usually very easy. In most cases, all you need do is open the door, securely hook it to the top of the trap, and put the bait behind the pressure-sensitive pad.
Body grip traps are a different story since they are mechanically operated and carry a greater risk of injury to the operator. Be sure you know how to work these traps safely and always proceed with caution to avoid seriously hurting yourself. Always keep kids and pets out of the way when you’re doing this too.
You can buy a setting tool if it’s not already included with the trap. You will need to use that to compress the springs. The jaws should have a safety gripper attached too. This will prevent the jaws from closing accidentally.
5. Checking The Trap
Now it’s just a case of waiting and being patient. Check the trap each morning and replace the bait if it’s been eaten or soaked by the rain, then carefully reset the trap.
If there’s no activity after a few days, refresh the bait and check the trap mechanism is in good working order. Then reset the trap and wait some more.
Don’t feel disheartened if you haven’t caught the skunk straight away, there are a number of reasons this can happen. The skunk simply may not have passed through that area recently, or it could have found a plentiful supply of food elsewhere.
If the bait is wet or frozen from the weather, the skunk may not be catching the scent. Remember, these are timid creatures, and they could just be reluctant to step inside the trap despite the lure of a tasty treat.
Keep maintaining the trap with fresh bait and hold off with placing food in the areas you originally pre-baited. Your luck is sure to change in time.
6. Handling a Trapped Skunk
Dealing with a trapped skunk is the most challenging part of this exercise and one that should be handled with caution. If you’ve already been liaising with your regional office, they are likely to have a facility that will take over at this point.
If you plan to tackle the matter yourself, just be aware that the skunk will be stunned, feel threatened, and is likely to get aggressive. Not only will it hiss, but it will also undoubtedly start spraying too.
Here’s how the professionals handle a trapped skunk:
Pest control experts will always wear boots, long pants and sleeves, protective goggles, a mask, and gloves. This protects them from bites, harmful bacteria, and injury caused by skunk spray in the face or eyes.
Releasing the Skunk
Animal control experts will duly follow strict adherence to the laws in your region. They will know where and if a skunk can be released back into the wild or alternatively, how to dispose of it humanely. Seek their advice if you haven’t already done so.
Covering the skunk with an old blanket or cloth will block sunlight and may help to calm the animal down.
When opening the trap door, be sure to stand clear. The skunk is likely to make a quick escape but equally, if you are standing in the way and it feels threatened, its defensive instinct may cause it to attack.
Prevent Skunks Returning to Your Yard
Installing a fence is the most effective way of keeping a skunk out of your yard. The fence needs to be made of strong steel as its sharp claws can easily tear apart plastic and even wood.
The fence will need to be buried into the ground by at least a foot. These animals are amazing diggers, and if they’re adamant about getting into your yard, they’ll try digging below the fence.
A 4-foot-tall fence will be enough to keep them out of the yard. While skunks can climb, especially spotted skunks, most aren’t good at it.
Skunks are attracted to two things – a hospitable habitat and food and if you don’t have a perimeter fence, they will find a way of getting in.
They like the warmth and quietness of garages, sheds, decks, and crawl spaces. To prevent them from burrowing in these places you will need to secure broken access points and shut off, board up, and reinforce any gaps or openings.
When it comes to food, they have a very powerful sense of smell and will easily sniff out leftover scraps in the trash. They are even known to knock trash cans over to access them.
Make sure to seal your trash cans and composters with airtight lids, keep them clean and clear up any scraps left in your yard frequently.
Unsurprisingly skunks are also attracted to dog and cat food that is left out in a yard. These creatures have predatory tendencies and will most likely attack if your pet tries to defend its food or territory.
To avoid this, keep pet food within your skunk-proof perimeter fence (or better still indoors) and make sure any leftovers are cleared up.
Skunks will also eat windfall fruit plus seeds and nuts that happen to fall off a bird table or feeder. You will need to clear up any ground-level food stuff regularly to prevent attracting skunks.
Consider placing bird feeders away from other potential attractants such as outbuildings or leaf debris.
Skunk deterrents can be bought in many outdoor equipment shops, gardening stores, and hunter gear stores.
Ultrasonic or light deterrents are effective and relatively cheap. They need to be strategically placed around your yard or near a burrow. They can also be used to deter other unwanted pests such as raccoons.
Repellents are another option that can be bought at low cost from online retailers and stores. They need to be applied around the perimeter of your property or near dens and should only be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
You could also try making your own homemade skunk repellents. These animals have particular adversity to strongly scented smells such as citrus, garlic, and ammonia. They also hate the smell of predator urine causing some people to sprinkle spent cat litter around their backyards.
I don’t advocate relying purely on deterrents. Their effectiveness is short-lived as they’re washed out by rain, and they dissipate with time. Because of this, they need to be reapplied constantly.
Many repellents are also not pet friendly and could cause harm to any domestic animals that are allowed to roam your yard.
Deterrents work best when combined with fencing methods and good yard maintenance.
Final Thoughts on Trapping Skunks
Skunks are highly adaptable creatures and can easily adjust to urban surroundings. Their presence makes them a nuisance and they can cause damage and disruption to your property and land, not to mention the dangers they pose to humans and pets when threatened.
Whilst trapping them can be straightforward and an easy win, it is worth consulting with your local authority or pest control to make sure you’re operating in accordance with the law. If in doubt, call pest control.
When permitted, there are two basic traps that can be used. Either a body grip or door/cage trap. Each has its merits and drawbacks based on ease of use, cost, and effectiveness, and choosing which one you use should be based on the restrictions in your region.
If you want to minimize the need to use a trap you will need to prevent skunks from getting into your backyard in the first place.
Consider installing a suitable metal fence and ensuring your yard is inhospitable for skunks. That means keeping all areas clean and tidy and sealing off cracks and crevices that could be accessed by skunks and used as a burrow.
FAQs Catching Skunks
What Time of Day Do Skunks Come Out?
Skunks are nocturnal animals, so they’re mostly active at night, but their sleeping schedule isn’t set in stone. A skunk will come out during the day if it’s hungry or threatened.
Is It Hard to Trap a Skunk?
Not really – skunks are opportunistic hunters and will gladly scavenge food from wherever it’s left – even if that means entering a trap. However, because of their size and ferocity, handling a trapped skunk is dangerous!
Are Skunks Dangerous?
Skunks are carriers of rabies, their spray can temporarily blind all animals (humans included), and their bite can break bones. It’s safe to say that skunks are dangerous animals unless handled with caution.