Releasing a Skunk

Releasing Skunks from Cage/Box Traps

(Adapted from article by Stephen M. Vantassel, UNL Extension 2014) 

Try to avoid trapping skunks

1. Timing is everything. Close the trap before sunset and reset it in the morning. Skunks are nocturnal, and are rarely out during daylight hours. Unfortunately, this method will not work if you are trying to catch a nocturnal animal. If you are trying to trap a raccoon, closing the trap at night is not an option.

Properly covered springloaded skunk trap.
Properly covered springloaded skunk trap.

2. Location, location, location. Set trap at least 18 inches off the ground to reduce your chances of capturing a skunk. If you are trying to capture a raccoon, opossum, or other climbers, secure a wooden platform to a fence. The platform must be large enough to hold the trap securely, and long enough to provide a 5-inch landing or porch in front of the trap door. The porch gives these animals a way to get to the front of the trap without having to walk on your trap and possibly spring it. Anchor the trap so that it doesn’t tip or fall off and hurt someone. Trail bait down the side of the fence to encourage raccoons and opossums.

Releasing the non-target trapped skunk

Cage traps come in 2 different versions, gravity door and spring-loaded door traps. They both have different techniques for releasing the captured animal.

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 its way out of the trap. These traps are popular as they are generally less expensive than spring-loaded door traps. To release a skunk from a gravity door trap, simply take a long extended painter’s pole (18 feet, although you can use a shorter version), and fully extend it. From a distance, reach with the painter’s pole and gently push the trap over so it is laying on 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. People, dogs, and fear may cause the skunk to stay 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 strategy is to get the skunk wet so it runs for dry cover, not to hurt the skunk with the force of water.  If there are buildings in the area, make sure doors are closed; the skunk may consider those a good place for escape.

Spring-loaded Door Traps. These traps are more difficult as the closed door must be manipulated by hand to be opened. 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. This is where it is helpful to cover part of the trap when it is set: always place a cloth cover over half the length of the trap (at the end opposite the door) whenever you set it. The cloth helps protect the trapped animal. It also lets you approach a trapped 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.

Prop open door to release trapped skunk.
Prop open door to release trapped skunk.

When you see you have trapped a non-target skunk, get need another cloth large enough to completely cover the trap, and a brick or object that is tall and wide enough to prop the trap door open at least 5 inches. It shouldn’t be so large that it would 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 prop the door open. (Some spring-loaded traps actually have a device to do this.) When you are ready, 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 and place the object to 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 back away. Although it is possible, rarely will the skunk bolt out of the cage. Usually, the skunk will remain in the covered portion of the trap until it feels safe enough to walk out. Don’t be surprised if it remains in the trap until nightfall.

Getting close enough to drape blanket over the trap

Woman properly approaching a trapped skunk
Woman properly approaching a trapped skunk

Sometimes skunks are aggressive. Like some people, some skunks get angry quickly. 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 over the trap.

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

  • Wait until it looks away before you move closer; keep doing this until you are close enough to drape the blanket.

  • Hire a professional.

Keep in mind:

  1. Always wear good quality leather or canvas gloves when handling traps. They will protect you from scratches and reduce your exposure to feces and urine.
  2. Skunks will thump their front feet when agitated. If you hear this sound, the skunk is warning you that it is likely to spray. You probably have been too noisy or have come too close for comfort.
  3. If the skunk sees you, 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. If you handle a caged skunk roughly, such as shaking, banging etc., they are more likely to spray.
  6. If the skunk sprays, learn how to deal with the odor by reading Removing Skunk Odors.

All photos taken by Stephen M. Vantassel.