There are plenty of small game animals out in the world, with more of them edible than most would expect. Skunk falls under this blanket, and makes for a surprisingly decent meal if you can process them properly. Skunk hunting – especially for consumption purposes – necessitates a few key deviations from normal small game hunting procedures.
Yes, you can eat skunk meat. It’s just quite a challenge – you need to kill them in a way that prevents them from instinctively spraying. Other concerns include potential rabies carried and the challenging deglanding process. With just a bit of cleaning, brining, and cooking you’ll have an amazing meal from an animal most wouldn’t have bat another glance at.
Skunks are very much edible, but how do they taste? Pretty good, as it turns out.
Taste and Texture
The best way to think of skunk meat is like a very bony rabbit. They do taste like wild game though – resulting from their non-curated diet. Most of this taste comes from that animal’s fat, and your mileage may vary on enjoyment. If you aren’t a fan of the more potent taste, just trim some fat off your game before seasoning and cooking.
Just like rabbit, skunk meat is also very lean due to their active lifestyles in the wild. Not everyone enjoys tough game, and overcooking skunks could easily lead to situations where one has to literally gnaw the meat off bone. This can be mitigated by tenderizing – either through marinades, seasoning blends, or applying different slow cooking methods.
A skunk’s main line of defense is the pungent spray they release when threatened, which comes from their anal glands. They usually have enough for about five sprays, and the scent is so horrid most of their predators are warded off – only 5% of their mortality rate comes from predation.
That said, this also means you’re liable to find an abundance of skunks should you start looking. Their spraying ability also hinges on being able to lift their tail – sneaking up on one and pinning it down with a weighted blanket could work, provided you break up your silhouette properly.
When you get up close, skunks may resort to using their teeth or claws. It may not pose as much immediate danger as bigger game’s talons, but the running risk of rabies will prove very problematic. Take care to wear protective, covering clothing if you must approach the skunk.
Certain types of traps can also pin their tails down, but the legality, management, and ethics could be a very annoying consideration – especially when you catch animals ill-suited for your trap.
Some have also suggested that similar results can be accomplished by keeping their hind legs off the ground, though this is far from a generalized experience from the skunk trapping community. It also puts you right in the crosshairs of their spray, so be cautious if you want to do this method.
As this is their main source of defense, skunks do not want to spray – they’ll only do so when startled, trapped, or threatened. The common small game hunting tip of shooting them in the head is inadvisable, as skunks almost always spray when shot in the head.
Instead, go for lung shots – these seem to lead to less risk of that happening. Aim carefully with a small caliber rifle to ensure the meat doesn’t get tainted. A.22 caliber should work pretty well for this purpose. When retrieving the carcass, avoid shaking it too much on your return trip.
Go for skunks out in the wild. Backyard skunks or those loitering in your community have most likely been feasting on leftovers in your trash. Their taste will reflect those aspects in the worst ways, so steer clear and hunt somewhere a tad farther from society.
Winter usually leads to more activity and an easier backdrop to hunt them, on top of killing any parasites that might have been hosted on their bodies. Skunks don’t undergo true hibernation in winter, but rather a state of deep sleep known as torpor. They wake and forage at certain temperature thresholds, but it should be much easier to track them.
Screening and Protection from Rabies
Skunks are a very well-known potential carrier of rabies, being the third most reported animal to spread the disease – just under bats and raccoons. Avoid hunting skunks that show signs of rabies: common symptoms include excessive drooling, increased aggression, discharge from eyes or mouth, or what seems like obliviousness to their surroundings.
Rabies itself, thankfully, doesn’t last long outside of their host animals. It also cannot be transmitted unless its host begins to show active symptoms. A few minutes of heat over 120* Fahrenheit can terminate the disease – a temperature easily achieved in most kitchens.
Skunks are also a known carrier of rabies, being the third most reported animal to spread the disease. Avoid hunting skunks that look or act especially unhinged, and do not approach. If you must, cover as much exposed skin as possible – rabies transmits most easily through bites and other abrasive injuries.
The rabies virus doesn’t last long outside of animals, and cannot be transmitted unless their host shows active symptoms. A few minutes of heat over 120* Fahrenheit can terminate the disease – even the slowest of roasts can easily exceed that temperature. In fact, even sunlight can kill the rabies virus in under half an hour.
The primary risk to this is the preparation, not the consumption itself. Butchering infected meat is an easy avenue to rabies exposure, and the deglanding process needs precision and finger sensitivity, adding to the dangers.
De-glanding Your Game
The scent glands are located near their rectum, under their tail. The video above goes into detail on how to preserve the scent glands – they make for excellent cover scent while hunting. Make sure that your kill is fresh though, as the process above snips and exposes intestines to the meat.
This isn’t a problem in fresh kills provided you wash and cook them through properly, but for longer gaps, the bacteria will have time to multiply and pose consumption risks.
Wash your skunk carcass in soap and warm water after the skinning and deglanding. It’s important to not only remove the scent glands but also some of the fat surrounding them.
Brining your skunk may be a good option, as it both softens and flavors your game. The brining process denatures the proteins in meat while helping it retain moisture. It’s important to remember that brining – and by extension salt – only slows down bacteria development, and cannot fully top it. Wash and cook through your meat quickly after the kill to minimize and contamination risk.
Wearing gloves as a precaution help avoid the risk of rabies. While rabies does die in sunlight exposure, this also comes at the cost of your meat rotting a bit – leading to stronger gamey flavors and bacteria development that makes deglanding more problematic.
There have been instances of individuals getting rabies while handling their game, and as one of the prime carriers of the disease in nature, skunks warrant more caution on the matter.
Best Bits to Eat
Skunks count as small game meat and share the usual best bits comparable animals do. The skunk’s heart, liver, and kidney make for great organ meats, offering a great source of nutrition chock full of vitamins. That said, they’re also very high in cholesterol.
Skunks are also not only omnivorous but carrion eaters. Avoid their stomach meat, as it runs the risk of having raw or rancid meat of its own – not to mention insects and other less palatable mainstays of their diet. The same goes for their intestines: stick to lean protein as much as possible.
Do not consume their brains, as these can easily lead to one getting prion diseases. Prions are a type of protein that leads to abnormal protein folding in the brain, leading to all sorts of health issues. They can also jump between species through eating contaminated meat, and the lack of curation puts wild game at a much higher risk of carrying this danger than livestock animals.
Neurodegenerative diseases are very difficult to detect, usually detected too late, and come with compromises to one’s motor functions, cognitive capability, or memory. Common examples derived from the consumption of brain matter include variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a variant of Mad Cow Disease, and Kuru.
On a more mundane note, skunk brains are also chock full of fat and cholesterol. It could potentially lead to blockage issues or high blood pressure, just like the other organ meats.
Most people who catch a whiff of skunk would be hard pressed to imagine the critters are edible, but they’ve been a game animal for decades. The preparations to get to that point may be a tad tedious and precise, but a bit of practice is all you need to get it done right.