Have you ever been sprayed by a skunk? Hopefully not. I haven’t, but my old dog Bluto got into it with a skunk one evening, and it didn’t end up too well for him. After that incident, we learned (the hard way) that skunks are much more likely to spray at night.
Skunks are nocturnal creatures, indicating that they sleep during the day but are awake during the night. Humans can smell the spray of a skunk from up to 3.5 miles away, meaning that smelling one at night implies that the skunk is closeby.
The strength of the scent will significantly impact just how closeby the skunk is. Usually, the stronger the smell, the more likely it is that the skunk is near. In short, if you smell a skunk at night, it means that there is a skunk nearby who has just released its “pleasant” scent.
Why You Smell Skunk at Night
Let’s be clear here. The odor from a skunk doesn’t come from its skin or fur. Instead, the pleasant scent comes from the rear scent glands of the skunk.
These glands contain a mixture of sulfur-like chemicals that have an extremely offensive odor. Skunks use this mixture to ward off any potential predators or threats. The spray can severely harm any creature that comes in contact with the skunk if the mixture reaches the eyes or any open wound.
Since skunks are nocturnal and awake during the night, they are MUCH more likely to spray at night.
A recent study from Evolution (link to research) indicated that animals who spray as a defense mechanism are likely to spray at night due to a higher risk of coming in contact with close range predators. The goal of the research was to identify just how animal defense systems have evolved over time.
For an animal like a skunk, this explains a whole lot. Since skunks are awake during the night, they don’t have to deal with the risk of being captured by flying birds such as hawks, eagles or turkey vultures.
Generally, skunks try to steer clear of contact with any other animals; they are small animals who can get picked up by prey very easily due to their small size.
It’s fascinating to think about how these creatures have evolved over time. Over many years, it wouldn’t be crazy to think that skunks as a species may have even adapted to become nocturnal so they could avoid contact with flying animals.
Regardless, skunks are awake at night and spraying away, especially during the mid-winter to Fall months during mating season when the creatures are even more active.
If you’re smelling a skunk at night, it likely means that there is one closeby who has recently sprayed in defense. If there is a downwind draft, humans can smell a skunk from up to 3.5 miles away.
The stronger the smell, the closer the skunk is.
If You Smell a Skunk, It Might be in Danger
Skunks prefer not to spray other creatures, as it’s their only form of defense against predators. Skunks can spray up to 6 times in succession and can hit their target from up to 10 feet away (link to mass.gov).
To make matters worse for the skunk, the animal will need to wait to restore his spray if he depletes it. The skunk scent gland only holds a finite amount of the sulfur-like mixture and can take up to 10 days to regenerate and get back to full capacity.
So you may be able to see just why skunks actually prefer NOT to spray. The spray is their only defense mechanism. Their claws are long and sharp, but they use them for digging, not for defense. The teeth of a skunk are small and wouldn’t severely injure any larger predator.
The only thing they have is their spray.
If a skunk sprays, the animal goes up to 10 days without being able to defend itself. The skunk is basically just giving itself up to any predator that it comes in contact with and will end up wasting a significant amount of time hiding from trouble.
For example, this hollowed-out log is a perfect place for a skunk to live and hide in nature. This log is out along one of our trails in our backyard woods. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a skunk come out of there in the Fall.
This log is a common place for a skunk to hide if someone or something were to sneak up on it and it ran out of the spray.
Speaking of interacting with skunks – I’ve got a really “great” story about that regarding our previous dog Bluto.
Our first dog Bluto, was a perfect country dog. He was a big, extremely playful and happy rottweiler. Bluto was around while I was younger, but I remember the night he got sprayed.
It was late one Fall evening during mid sunset when Bluto went dashing off towards the woods. We have a large property with an invisible fence, so we weren’t too worried about him running off anywhere.
We didn’t hear any coyotes, see any bears, or notice any geese out near where he was running towards.
What the heck was Bluto chasing after?
When Bluto went dashing off towards the woods, he went deep into one of our hiking trails and then came back shortly after. While we waited, we smelled something that had a resemblance of rotten eggs with a weird twist.
Soon after I smelled that initial scent, Bluto came dashing out of the woods, ran straight towards a section of unmowed tall grass, and began to rub his face in every direction he could. As soon as Bluto came out, we sprinted over to the tall grass where he was rolling around.
Boy, did he smell.
Bluto learned a hard lesson that day, DON’T mess with skunks, for whatever reason.
Thinking back, the skunk more than likely felt extremely threatened that a 140lb animal was chasing after it and decided that it needed to protect itself.
The skunk was in danger and sprayed at will.
Long story short, if you’re smelling a skunk, especially at night or early evening – the skunk might be in danger.
Just another takeaway from this, it might be a good idea to keep your pets inside during the early evenings/nights of Fall months.
Just a thought.
What to Do if You See a Skunk at Night
If you see skunks around your property at any time of day, but ESPECIALLY at night, there are a few things you need to be aware of:
- Be aware of signals that a skunk is about to spray.
- Educate your family on skunk warning signals.
- Keep pets locked indoors during the evening of the Fall months.
- Properly secure crevices underneath sheds and houses
If you own a home or live on a property where there’s a high possibility of coming into contact with a skunk, these steps are VERY important to get down. They’re simple steps and will help you avoid the horrible occurrence of every single thing you own smelling like skunk spray.
1. “Be aware of signals that a skunk is about to spray.“
This is the big one. Since skunks are generally active in the night, their eyes don’t get great exposure to light. Thus, skunks aren’t really able to see all that well.
While hiking or just walking around in your backyard, you may accidentally stumble upon a skunk. More than likely, that skunk didn’t see you before and will be extremely startled and agitated once it notices you.
In case that happens, you need to slowly back away from the skunk and be cautious if it’s about to spray. Generally, skunks will stamp their feet (link to ct.gov) aggressively and put their tail up over their back in an arching motion.
If you see a skunk do this, that means it’s spray time.
2. “Educate your family on skunk warning signals.”
Make extra sure that your family is aware of the warning signals for skunk spray too. If the feet are moving and the tail is up, walk away from the skunk ASAP.
Skunk spray is generally directed towards the eyes of whatever target the skunk has in its sights. If the spray does come in contact with the eyes, it can cause severe irritation and even temporary blindness for both humans and pets.
Visit the link to ct.gov that I placed above to learn more about skunk prevention. The information comes from the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and brings up some fascinating facts.
3. “Keep pets locked indoors during the evening of Fall months.”
Breeding season for skunks comes briefly in February and for a bit longer during the Fall months.
Since I live in a rural area of NY, I don’t worry about my animals wandering off in the winter very much because even though skunks are more active, both my pets and the skunks still aren’t going to be able to move around as freely due to the probability of snow being on the ground.
And remember, skunks are nocturnal and active at NIGHT.
This is why we want to lock our animals in during the evenings. If you live in an area that has snow during the first breeding season (February), then focus in on keeping your pets inside during the Fall.
4. “Properly secure crevices underneath sheds and houses.”
I put this step as last, but it might be the most critical step. If you have gaps underneath your home, shed or outbuilding skunks can easily make that their own little paradise.
That’s not all bad, but if the skunk gets startled and decides to spray under your house or building – that’s going to make your property stink.
I wrote an article about my favorite DIY drills that can help you block off those entrances so skunks can’t stink up your house. You can view that article here (link to article).
Why You Smell Skunk in Your House & How to Fix it
This next section is an extension of tip 4.
Skunks live in dens that are usually made out of nature. This can be something like a hollow log or brush pile.
While that is their home in nature, skunks will take home in another area if they get the opportunity.
Skunks love to take shelter in openings under porches, sheds, spaces between garages and underneath houses.
Virtually any place that has an opening with potential walls and a roof, a skunk will gladly seek out shelter in it.
If a skunk is living under your property close to you, your family or pets will be MUCH more likely to end up startling the skunk in some way, shape or form. This, in turn, will most likely lead to someone getting sprayed.
So, in order to make sure that skunks DON’T take up shelter underneath your property, you need to make sure of a few things.
First, you’ll need to close up any and all openings that are apparent.
Here’s an example of a gap underneath our back deck that is an absolute PARADISE for skunks and critters alike to come and take shelter under.
To be honest, I need to seal this gap up.
I’ve walked out on that deck several times only to hear some creature scurry off at full speed underneath.
I’m very glad I haven’t sealed that gap yet because that will be a fantastic YouTube video to create.
There are several ways you can go about putting up the barrier. The easiest is to measure the length of the space you need to fill and buy a garden fence online that you can place into the ground.
If you want to go that route, I recommend this garden fence from Decorative Garden Fence from Amagabeli.
It’s 7ft tall and should be a good height to fill any
If you have a good drill (check out the article about DIY drills that I linked too), you’ll want to use some good screening panel to keep the skunks from taking shelter underneath your property.
In my opinion, putting screening panel up underneath your deck will look the best AND be the most effective.
I’m not going to recommend a specific screening panel because usually when you order screening panels, they need to be cut into custom lengths and sizes. Basically, YOU would have to cut them yourself – which would require you to own a power saw as well.
Power saws are a little more complicated to use, so let’s steer clear of that.
If you want to put up a screening panel, go to your local Home Depot, Lowes or lumber supply store to inquire about getting custom panel made for your deck.
Before going into any of those stores, make sure you do the following things:
- Measure the length, width, and height of the gap between your deck
- Write down these measurements and save them
If you go to ANY lumber or home goods store and ask them to cut you out a piece of material, the first thing they’re going to do is ask you how much you need.
If you give the professionals the measurements of your project, they’ll be able to get you exactly what you need and probably save you some good money doing it as well.
Really, purchasing decorative screening panel isn’t insanely expensive. It will be able to get the job done and keep skunks (along with any other critters) away from going underneath your deck.
Here’s the reason why I prefer putting up the screening panel instead of the garden fence.
Just about every other decorative garden fence has holes in it that some animals will still be able to fit through – regardless if you purchased the one I suggested or not.
For keeping skunks out, garden fences will do just fine. However smaller animals, such as squirrels and chipmunks, will easily be able to make their way through some part of the garden fence since it isn’t a consistent design all the way .around.
With the decorative screening panel, the design is consistent all the way around.
There are little, tiny squares that many animals will not be able to fit through and the panels are sturdy enough that they aren’t able to be chewed through.
So here’s my final take:
If you’re a DIY enthusiast at heart, install the decorative screen panel to fill the gap under your deck.
If you just want to throw up a quick, simple and effective fix, purchase some garden fence to put in between your deck and the ground.