The porcupine is not found south of the Canadian faunal zone, which extends well down into pur northern States.
Another notoriously fearless pest is the skunk. It will turn tail quickly enough, but nothing on earth will make it run. If a skunk takes it into his head to raid your camp he will step right in without any precautions whatever. Then he will nose through all of your possessions, walk over you if you be in his way, and forty men cannot intimidate him.
Once when I was spending the summer in a herders' hut, on a summit of the Smoky Mountains, a skunk burrowed under the cabin wall and came up through the earthen floor. It was about midnight. My two companions slept in a pole bunk against the wall, and I had an army cot in the middle of the room. It was cold enough for an all-night fire on the hearth.
I awoke with the uneasy feeling that some intruder was moving about in the darkness. There was no noise, and my first thought was of rattlesnakes, which were numerous in that region. I sat up and lit the lantern, which hung over my head. One glance was enough. " Boys," I warned in a stage whisper, " for the love of God, don't breathe: there's a skunk at the foot of my bed!"
The animal was not in the least disconcerted by the light, but proceeded leisurely to inspect the premises. It went under my cot and nosed around there for five mortal minutes, while I lay rigid as a corpse.
Then Doc sneezed. I heard Andy groan from under his blanket: "You damn fool: now we'll get it!"
But we didn't. Madame Polecat waddled to their bunk, and I had a vision of two fellows sweating blood.
Then she moved over to the grub chest, found some excelsior lying beside it, and deliberately went to work making a nest.
An hour passed. I simply had to take a smoke. My tobacco was on a shelf right over the skunk. I risked all, arose very quietly, reached over the beast, got my tobacco, and retired like a ghost to the other end of the cabin to warm myself at the fire. We were prisoners; for the only door was a clapboard affair on wooden hinges that skreeked like a dry axle.
The visitor, having made its bed, did not yet feel like turning in, but decided to find out what for a bare-legged, white-faced critter I was, anyhow. It came straight over to the fireplace and sniffed my toes. The other boys offered all sorts of advice, and I talked brimstone back at them — we had found that pussy didn't care a hang for human speech so long as it was gently modulated.
That was a most amiable female of her species. True, she investigated all our property that was within reach, but she respected it, and finally she cuddled up in the excelsior, quite satisfied with her new home.
To cut an awfully long story short, the polecat held us spellbound until daybreak. Then she crawled out through her burrow, and we instantly fled through our skreeky door. Doc had a shotgun in his hand and murder in his heart. Not being well posted on skunk reflexes, he stepped up within ten feet and blew the animal's head clean off by a simultaneous discharge of both barrels. Did that headless skunk retaliate? It did, brethren, it did!
Many methods have been reported effective in deodorizing clothing that has been struck by the skunk's effluvium. Burying the clothes in earth is of no use unless they are left there long enough to rot them (they will smell again every time they get wet). Chloride of lime is objectionable for the same reason. Ammonia is said to neutralize the odor, and benzine or wood alcohol to extract it. An old trappers' remedy is to wrap the clothes in fresh hemlock boughs and leave them out-of-doors for twenty-four hours. A writer in one of the sportsmen's magazines states that, having met disaster in the shape of a skunk, he took an old farmer's advice, put some cornmeal on top of a hot stove, and, when it began to char and smoke, he held the clothes in the smoke for somewhat less than five minutes, by which time the scent was gone, nor did it ever reappear, even when the clothes were damp. Personally I never have had occasion to try any of these remedies.
The belief that skunk-bite is likely to cause hydrophobia is common in the Southwest, and to some extent it is borne out by the reports of army surgeons. A considerable number of soldiers and plainsmen bitten by the spotted or rock skunk of that region, which is a particularly aggressive creature, have undoubtedly died of hydrophobia. Yet the facts seem to be, as explained by W. Wade in the American Naturalist, that although men and other animals have been stricken mad by skunk-bite and have died therefrom, still this has only happened during an epidemic of rabies, in which skunks, being slow-moving and utterly fearless creatures, fell easy prey to rabid dogs or wolves. Becoming mad, in their turn, they would bite men sleeping in the open, and their bites would usually be inflicted upon the men's faces, hands and other exposed parts of their persons. In such cases, since none of the poisonous saliva was wiped off by clothing, the result was almost certain death. But rabies is very exceptional among skunks, and the bite of a healthy animal is not a serious matter.
The best insurance against skunks and predatory beasts in general is a good camp dog.
The wolverine, also called glutton, carcajou, skunk bear, and Indian devil, is the champion thief of the wilderness. Lacking the speed of most of his family, the weasel and marter tribe, and devoid of special means of defence such as have been given the skunk and the porcupine, he has developed a diabolic cunning, which, coupled with his great strength and dogged persistence, makes him detested beyond all other creatures in the wild Northland that he inhabits. He systematically robs hunters of their game, trappers cf their bait, and breaks into caches that defy almost any other animal. If he finds more food than his capacious paunch will hold, he defiles the rest so that no beast, however hungry, will touch it. So far as I know, the wolverine is practically extinct in our country except in the northwestern States bordering on Canada.
The bushy-tailed pack rat of the West is noted for carrying oft" any and everything that he can get away with, but the eastern wood rats and wood mice seldom do much damage about a camp beyond chewing up canvas or other cotton goods to build nests with — a trick that flying-squirrels also are prone to play.
I have never been, bothered by 'coons, although living where they are abundant. But " Nessmuk " had a different experience. Many years ago he told in Forest and Stream of his troubles with them in northern Pennsylvania.
" A strong cache ... is indispensable in this region, for there is not a night during the open season in which you can lay by meat, fish, or butter, where hedgehogs and 'coons will not find it. Their strength and persistence in digging out your larder is something surprising. I have a butter cup with a tight-fitting cover, and a square tin case for keeping pork, also with a tight cover. Time and again I have had these tins raided by raccoons, nosed around, wallowed in the mud, and moved yards away from the cache; but the covers stuck like burs, and it must drive a 'coon frantic to work half the night in unearthing a butter cup, and then, with only one thickness of tin between his nose and the longed-for butter, be unable to get a taste of it. Unless the 'coon dialect has plenty of cuss-words I don't see how he could ever ger over it"