Skunks are very distinctive-looking animals. They range in size from 15‒40 inches in length and 2‒18 pounds in weight. Generally speaking, they are about the size of a house cat and can often be found hanging out with them.
Striped skunks, Mephitis mephitis, are curious omnivores, usually weighing 3 to 6 kg—about the size of a house cat. Their cousins, the spotted skunk (Spilogale gracilis and Spilogale putorius) and American hog-nosed skunk (Conepatus leuconotus), are less common, but share many characteristics. The distinctive fur coloration—a high-contrast white stripe, or white spots on black background—lets everyone know that they are around. Anyone who has been downwind, or in the line of fire, will have that imagery/association burned into their psyche. Skunks can be destructive too, knocking over garbage cans or scavenging eggs and killing young chickens. They dig up gardens and yards looking for grubs, and they can carry rabies. All very good reasons for wanting to control the skunks in our lives.
Remove all food sources. As with most pests, the main reason skunks become a problem is because we provide them with a steady food source. In the wild, they will eat just about anything: plants, berries, worms, bugs, eggs, carrion, etc. This tells you that they are resourceful, not too picky, and shameless. They'll gladly eat your food waste, and they'll go to great lengths to get it. Keep your garbage in a sealable, chew-proof container. This same principle applies to bags of pet food, livestock feed, and wild bird seed. If they must be stored outside, make sure they are in sealable, chew-proof containers. Also, don't leave dishes of uneaten pet food outside overnight.
Live traps will catch a skunk. It's not hard to trap a skunk; put some smelly bait inside the trap, place it in your problem area, and check it often. You are just as likely to catch your neighbor's cat, so be careful. Once you've captured the perpetrator, you now have the onerous task of figuring out what to do with it. I recommend covering the trap with a blanket to cut down on spray contamination in your vehicle. This will also help calm the little fellow, which I'm sure you'll agree is important. Once you arrive at your destination, give the skunk some time to figure out how to exit the trap. Keep your distance, and have patience.
Guns are my favorite way to kill skunks. Where I grew up, the way to deal with skunks was to shoot on sight, and I would likely still take this course of action. I don't leave garbage or pet food out, but I do have a garden that can attract skunks. The trick to shooting skunks is to hit them somewhere in the central nervous system. A head-to-spine shot is ideal; it kills them instantly and prevents them from spinning around and flinging their foulness in your direction. I personally like the accuracy of a bullet, but a shotgun will do the job. Always follow gun safety rules, and never shoot if you can't verify your target or if someone is down range.
Find their hole and deal with the skunks there. Depending upon the ground cover where you live, it may be simple to follow a skunk's tracks back to its home. They often live in dirt dens, under fallen trees, or (unfortunately) under barns and sheds. There are a lot of things you can do to make it inhospitable. Sprinkling broken glass in the hole, filling it in, or applying a repellent (like pepper spray) might do the trick. I'm not sure there is a lot of hope for this control method. Besides being potentially dangerous, it seems to me that if you fill in one den, the skunk will simply dig it out.
Fences and motion detectors can repel skunks. Skunks are good diggers, and can tunnel under fences and walls to get to a food source. If they have become a real problem, consider burying your fence in the ground a foot or so, and line it with rocks. You can also set the fence in concrete if you want a permanent, more expensive solution. Skunks are most active when the sun is going down or just coming up; they are not fans of bright light. Motion detector alarms, sprinklers, spotlights, or strobe lights will scare them the first couple of times. But skunks, like most animals, will figure it out pretty quickly. If there is a food source, the motivation is great enough to overcome any obstacle.
Poisons will kill skunks. You probably could poison a skunk, but such action has consequences, many unintentional. First of all, it is probably illegal, and for good reason. Leaving poison lying around willy-nilly has the potential to kill not only the offending pest but also every living thing that comes across it. There is also the chain of predator/scavengers to consider. What happens when the skunk dies and another animal—like an eagle, crow, or your beloved dog—makes a feast of its carcass? Could you forgive yourself? I will never use poisons and hope you consider embracing a similar policy.
Should the unthinkable happen and you find yourself, or your pet, covered in the most noxious of animal-based smells, there are a few methods to counteract this catastrophe. Because of the peculiar makeup of the sulfur thiols contained in the skunk's anal gland excretion, ordinary soap and water won't get you clean. You need something a bit more elaborate. When I was growing up we always had cans of tomato juice around to use on our dog, but it turns out this is not the best option. The acids in tomatoes are pretty weak. Even vinegar won't do it, but anything harsher can hurt you. The miracle cure is a combination of three common household chemicals that, when combined, oxidize the offending thiols, thus rendering them inert.
Here is the tried and true recipe:
Mix in a bathtub or bucket, rub onto affected area, let sit for ten minutes or so. Rinse and repeat. This recipe cannot be mixed in advance, so keep an emergency skunk kit (with these ingredients) near your bathroom. And remember that anything you touch, as you blindly stumble into your house, is going to smell like skunk as well. It might be a good idea to clean off outside, if you have a hose and enough privacy to strip naked in your yard and dance around.
Predator urine. I have seen concentrated wolf and big cat urine products in garden stores and online at a variety of sites. You will need to reapply the urine often, and its efficacy may be reduced over time; use it in conjunction with other control methods.
Pepper repellent. There are a couple of products available that take advantage of mammals' tendency to sniff the ground as they mosey along. If I were to get a snoutful of hot pepper sauce, I would think twice about proceeding in the offending direction. This product is available in powdered and sprayed form.
Homemade pepper repellent. Mix together hot sauce, pepper flakes, and black pepper. Be careful where you put this mix because, should you forget and roll around in your yard less than fully clothed, you might regret it.