Part 2

Having lucked into possession of a dead skunk (see last week for details), the tale continued. We carried the skunk home and adjourned to Billy’s imitation of a trapper’s cabin.

Billy began the skinning process with a careful slit up the belly. He gently began pulling back the skin, and the anatomy of the skunk was, fortunately, very clear. You could see two ducts feeding into a fluid-filled sac, and one duct exiting the sac toward the tail. The target was sighted.

Billy gingerly eased the ducts away from the underlying flesh, and we tied two sutures (sewing thread) on each side of the future cuts. Billy would hold the duct up, and I would feed the suture beneath and around several times before tying a tight knot. The six sutures in place, all that remained was to cut the ducts between the sutures, and tenderly lift the sac into the awaiting glass jar.

This went amazingly well. Billy lowered the sac into the jar, and we were done. In theory. However, we were too good. We could barely smell this sac of skunk spray, and it would not work in its present form for predator calling. We needed to be able to place a few drops of the actual spray upwind of our calling location.

The simple but ultimately foolish answer was that we had to break the sac. The solution was that one of us would hold the jar, while the other stabbed at the sac with a stick. It was time for another coin toss. I do not remember if I won or lost this coin toss, but I ended up holding the jar.

I recall now that skunk sacs are amazingly strong, and that our suturing proved to be of the highest quality. The small, hesitant jabs became strong stabs, right up to the point that all hell broke loose. Both Billy and I were sprayed on our hands and lower arms. Most of the liquid remained in the jar, but it doesn’t take much to ruin your day.

We had the rest of Saturday and all Sunday before we next went to school. There was much washing and soaking, swimming and rubbing with beach sand, and I got to an acceptable stench. To be clear, people could smell it, and they would know it was skunk. However, it was not any real bother to me.

Billy, whose parents were pretty slack on discipline, was allowed to skip school on Monday and Tuesday. I did not even consider making such a request to my parents. I was sure that they would have seen it as a teachable moment; actions, consequences and such. By the time Billy returned, the folks at school had pretty much run out of skunk jokes and had acclimated to the diminishing smell.

Billy did a good job with the mount, but there was too much residual smell for his mother to let the thing in the house. Instead, Billy left it outside. The smell never diminished, but the black fur quickly faded to dirty blond, which just doesn’t work on a skunk. It looked like a bad dye job.

Billy had taken some photos before the fading, so he satisfied one of his lesson assignments for the aforementioned Northwestern School of Taxidermy. My assignment was fulfilled by a stuffed possum that hung by its tail from the rail in my closet, but that’s another story.

These days when I pass a road-kill skunk, the flash of pungency leads me back to my youth.

An archaeologist, Chris Espenshade grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping in rural North Carolina. A resident of Wellsboro, he is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association.