Releasing Skunks from Cage Traps (A.K.A. live traps)

By Stephen M. Vantassel, UNL Extension Wildlife Specialist Releaseing a skunk.

How to Use Cage Traps Without Catching Skunks

1. Timing. Close the trap before sunset and reset it in the morning. Skunks are nocturnal, and are rarely out and about during daylight hours. Unfortunately, this method only works if you are not trying to catch a nocturnal animal. If your quarry is a raccoon, then closing the trap at night will also prevent you from catching that rascally raccoon.
properly covered springloaded skunk trap
Properly covered cage trap. Photo by Stephen M. Vantassel
woman properly approaching trapped skunk

2. Location. Set trap at least 18 inches off the ground. For example, since raccoons and opossums can climb, secure a wooden platform on a fence. Make sure the platform is large enough to hold your trap securely, and that it is long enough to provide a 5-inch porch in front of the trap door. The porch will provide these species a way to get to the front of the trap without having to walk on your trap and possibly springing it. Be sure to anchor the trap securely so that it doesn't wobble or fall off and hurt someone. Trail the bait down the side of the fence to encourage them.

Releasing the non-target cage-trapped skunk

Cage traps come in 2 different versions, gravity doors and spring-loaded doors, and they require different techniques to open.

Gravity Door Traps. Gravity closing doors, like the name suggests, rely on the pull of gravity to close the trap door when the trap is sprung. Once the door has reached its final destination, a locking mechanism engages to prevent the animal from pushing his way out of the trap. These traps are rather popular as they are generally less expensive than their spring-loaded door counterparts. To release a skunk from this type of trap, simply take a long extended painters pole (18 feet, though you can use a shorter version), fully extend it and then from that distance, gently push the trap onto its roof. Once the trap is flipped over, the gravity door should open allowing the skunk to leave.

Don't be surprised if the skunk doesn't leave right away. The presence of people, dogs, and general fear may cause the skunk to remain in the trap. Keep people and pets away from the area and the skunk should leave on its own when things quiet down. If the weather is warm and you are in a hurry, you can use a garden hose to make it rain on the skunk to help encourage it to move on. The key isn't to hurt the skunk with the force of water. You just want to make it get wet so it runs out to dry cover. A word of warning here, make sure the doors to area structures are closed or you may find that the skunk runs to hide in your garage.

Spring-loaded Door Traps. Spring-loaded traps are more difficult as the door must be manually manipulated to be reopened. In light of that, you should always place a cloth cover over half the length of the trap (at the end opposite the door) whenever you set it. The cloth allows you a way to approach the skunk without being seen. The cloth should be durable, like a towel, canvas or denim, as well as disposable. Secure the cloth on the trap so it won't blow away. Make sure you are comfortable with opening the trap door BEFORE setting it. If you catch a skunk, you will need to be able to open the door quickly to reduce the risk of being sprayed.

Once you discover a skunk, you will need another cloth, large enough to completely cover the trap, and a brick or object that is tall and wide enough to keep the trap door open at least 5 inches but one that won't block the skunk's escape. With this equipment in hand, quietly approach the trap from the cloth side (so the skunk can't see you), holding the large cloth in front of you. Gently drape the cloth completely over the cage. Get the object that you will use to keep the door open. (Some spring-loaded traps actually have a device to do this.) When you are ready, take a quick peek to make sure the skunk is at the opposite end of the trap. Chances are he will be facing you as the noise will peak his interest. Quickly open the door prop it open. As you walk away, take the large blanket with you. Keep the blanket open between you and the trap as you quietly and methodically back away. While it is possible for the skunk to bolt out of the cage, it rarely happens. Usually, the skunk remains in the covered portion of the trap until he feels safe enough to walk out. Don't be surprised if he remains in the trap until nightfall.

I Can't Get Close Enough to Drape the Blanket

Sometimes skunks are aggressive. Just like people, some skunks are just angry and have a hair trigger. Here are a few tips to help you release a skunk that is posturing or thumping like it will spray.

  • Use a pole to drape the blanket

  • Use spray from a hose to distract the skunk, so you can get close enough to drape the blanket

  • Wait till he looks away to move closer, and keep doing it till you are close enough to drape the blanket

  • Hire a professional.


Opening door to release trapped skunk Keep in mind:

  1. Always wear quality leather or canvass gloves when handling traps. They will protect you from various scratches and reduce your exposure to feces and urine.
  2. Skunks will pound their front feet (thump, thump) when agitated. If you hear this sound, it means the skunk is warning you that he is likely to spray. It means you have been too noisy or have come too close for his comfort.
  3. If the skunk sees you, don't loom large. Crouch down so you appear less threatening. Sometimes quietly talking to the skunk can have a calming influence.
  4. Rural skunks tend to be more fearful of people than urban and suburban skunks.
  5. Skunks are less likely to spray what they can't see. But if you handle a caged skunk in a rough manner, such as shaking, banging etc., they will spray.
  6. Follow these instructions and the likelihood of being sprayed is very remote.
  7. If the skunk sprays, learn how to mitigate the odor by reading Deodorizing Skunks.

Feel free to contact me if you have further questions on trapping and releasing skunks or other issues related to wildlife damage management. E-mail 

The Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management also has a great deal of helpful information too.

All photos taken by Stephen M. Vantassel,

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