Skunked at Peck Ranch!

October 12, 2017

A rare moment when a striped skunk lifts its head from gorging on grubs at Peck Ranch Conservation Area.

I drove to Peck Ranch this morning (3:45 A.M. departure) in search of a nice image of one of Missouri’s free and wild elk. As you can see from the title of this post, I was “skunked,” but not in the usual sense of the word. During my hunt for elk, I spent most of my morning in a struggle to obtain a nice image of a striped skunk that I discovered in one of the food plots. The featured image was my final attempt at the busy little critter and it turned out to be the best of the morning.

I have some experience photographing skunks, as you might know from reading my blog over the years. The best time to photograph skunks is right now, as they are gorging on grubs and other morsels in preparation for the possibility of a long winter. Keep in mind that skunks don’t know about issues such as climate change so they have to err on the safe side and assume winter will be brutal.

Once you find a skunk, the next step is to position yourself in its path as it feeds nonstop, head to the ground. I have watched skunks feed for as much as 20 minutes without ever lifting their head so be prepared for a frustrating experience. The first mistake of a novice skunk photographer is to make sounds, including squeaks, grunts, whistles, chirps, or the old standby, just yelling, “Hey skunk!” I’m here to tell you that you are wasting your time because I haven’t found any Missouri mammal more oblivious to sounds as a skunk. I suspect their hearing is just fine but they seem to only hear what they want to hear. Perhaps the screech of a hawk or the yip of a coyote might put them on alert.

So, how the heck do you ever get an image of a Missouri skunk’s face? Well, I’m feeling generous today, so I’ll tell you how I do it. The first step is to position yourself in line with the stinky little critter’s path, as I’ve said before. Hopefully, that path will be somewhat toward the sun so you will have some light on the skunk from over your shoulder. Due to its high dynamic contrast (white on black, with black eyes) you’ll need all the help you can get from natural sunlight to expose the skunk’s face.

Next, I make sure that my tripod is collapsed low to the ground, as always, in order to get at eye level with my subject. I do this with everything, not just skunks. Finally, I approach the skunk in a crawl, slowly and patiently. No need to get in a hurry when you have made it this far.

Now you are in line with the skunk’s path, hopefully with the sun at your back, and approaching slowly to its location. The last step is to make the skunk lift its head. This step is a little tricky, depending on the wind. At some point, as you approach the skunk, it will detect your nasty human odor and lift its head and snout skyward. If the wind is to your back, you don’t have to get too close and you can just let your 500 mm lens do its job. If the wind is coming from the skunk, you will have to get much closer, uncomfortably close, but at some point the skunk will lift its nose up (see next image). That is when you start shooting! Don’t expect the moment to last too long because once you are winded, the skunk will amble off into the brush leaving you either elated or dejected, depending on how well you took advantage of the aforementioned moment. Nothing to it, right? Good luck.

A striped skunk lifts its nose in the air once the odor of a human is detected.

I only go to Peck Ranch C.A. once or twice a year and I often get sidetracked by critters other than elk. A couple of years ago I discovered otters at the beaver pond on the nature trail near the headquarters. I must have spent three hours trying to get a shot of those busy otters. On another trip, it was wood ducks and kingfishers at the same pond. That is the great thing about our conservation areas and natural areas. If you are willing to put in the time, you will almost always come up with something.

By the way, I did make a few elk images on this trip and I was fortunate to find a bull without a radio collar or even a tag. Its antlers were unusual, as the brow tines were curled completely around back towards its skull. I don’t know much about elk, so I don’t know how unusual this is. Below is an image of the interesting critter.

A bull elk with interesting brow tines at Peck Ranch C.A.

A had a great road trip to Peck Ranch this morning and it was icing on the cake to share the experience with you. Maybe some of you will make it out there yet this year. Be sure to check ahead because the elk driving tour is closed during managed deer hunts. As a matter of fact, they are having a managed hunt this weekend.

Thanks for looking,


Contact me with comments or questions at:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

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America is beautiful. I “vote” to keep it that way.


4 comments on “Skunked at Peck Ranch!”

  1. My method of getting a good image of a skunk is very simple….LDBDIFM…Let DB Do It For Me! After having smelt Eau de Skunk a couple of times, photography has never been on my mind when I saw these creatures. Thoroughly enjoyed the post, which makes me glad about that!

  2. I love your fascinating stories just as much as the awesome photos. Thank you for sharing your adventures!

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