Leave No Trace Confessional: I Killed a Skunk

We're not going to lie to you: This is bad.

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I was camping in Pennsylvania when a skunk nosed under my tarp. I bolted and it moved on, but it kept coming back. The fourth time, I threw some stones to scare it off—and landed a direct hit, severely maiming it. I knew it wouldn’t survive, so I did the only thing I could think of in the face of its suffering and performed the coup de grâce with a rock. I still feel terrible. What should I have done differently? –Bill Killed, Boulder, CO

Dear Bill,

Sorry, no sugarcoating for you: This is terrible. That skunk was associating you with food or salt; entering your shelter was like visiting a restaurant. This is common behavior for smaller mammals like skunks, raccoons, and marmots, and they can be persistent, as you well know. You weren’t wrong to try to scare her off, but that’s small consolation to the dead skunk. Keeping a clean camp is the first step to avoiding unwanted visitors. But if a critter still sniffs you out, try a non-lethal method, such as banging on your cookpot. If all else fails, a marine-grade air horn should do the trick. It may seem silly to carry something like that in the backcountry, but it’s lighter than regret.

Do The Right Thing

It seems like there was an element of bad luck at play, so we’ll go easy on you. Carry the air horn as penance, and clean up microtrash at every campsite you sleep in to help break the association between hikers and food. If the salty sweat in your shoulder straps, hiking pole handle, or boots will be irresistible, hang your gear in a tree.

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