Wednesday, May 23, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Mary Alice Powell

Brush with nature turns into a learning experience

What could have been another dull night here at Posey Lake brightened up considerably when I went to the garage with the garbage. Lo and behold, a live trap had fulfilled its purpose, but the live black-and-white animal in it was not one of the cats I had hoped to catch and place in a home.

It was a skunk. Just how lucky can you get when you are trying to do a good deed?

How many people can you call begging for help or advice on what to do and not be sprayed by what must be the worst odor in the entire world? The answer is many people, until you call the Lenawee County Sheriff's Department and the dispatcher gives you the name and number of the person who is called simply "the trapper."

The trapper is Roger Sherwood of Tecumseh, Mich., who seems to know more about trapping, hunting, and all things pertaining to outdoor animal and bird life than anyone since Daniel Boone.

When I called Saturday night for help, Roger was working as general manager of McDonald's in Clinton, Mich., but his wife, Katrina, who obviously handles many such calls in her husband's absence, advised putting a rug over the trap so the skunk will think it's in the dark.

After dragging trap and skunk by a long rope into the gravel driveway and managing to free it Sunday morning, it was only polite to call the Sherwood home with the report to save Roger a trip to Posey Lake.

In our informative conversation, I learned that had he driven to my home to free the skunk, he might have first performed a skunk procedure.

Roger extracts musk from skunks. You could say it is a cottage industry except that he works out of his garage. I know. I was so fascinated I drove to Tecumseh to see and learn more.

He explained he extracts the musk with a syringe after he has made them unconscious with chloroform. "It doesn't hurt or do any harm," he says, "because they make more constantly." So what would you do with the stinking product that is so feared?

Roger sells it for $8 an ounce and says that he can usually get from two to three ounces of musk from each skunk. When he opened the garage refrigerator door, he made a believer out of me when I saw the supply of vials of musk stashed in sawdust.

"Don't get too close," he warned.

"Don't worry," I assured him.

In the past he sold musk to a cosmetic company, but now he sells to individuals who use it as a main ingredient in making lures for hunting and trapping.

Roger, a Vietnam veteran, has been hunting and trapping since he was a boy growing up on his parents' farm near Jackson, Mich. "We shot everything. It was food," he said. The beginning of the hunting season today will find him in his own 20 acres of woods or as far as Oscoda, Mich., where Katrina's parents have 300 acres of hunting land. He also traps raccoons, possums, and other animals for the fur and admits openly "I am not liked by a lot of people."

As the Lenawee County trapper for 25 years who abides by Department of Natural Resources regulations, Roger says he has used his trapping skills in a wide range of requests that begin each year in mid-March when the baby raccoons are born. His favorite stories include the time when he was called to rescue a resident from a boa constrictor that was lost and didn't know its way home.

Roger may kill a lot of animals for meat, fur, and in his county-wide trapping work, but he also has a soft side. Many animals and birds have been brought home and cared for, including skunks. When he brought home four baby skunks after their mother had been killed, Roger's daughter cared for them until they were mature enough to be returned to the woods. They came back to visit twice, he recalls.

"I like skunks," he said. "They are good mousers, good for the environment."

Just for the record, I like them better today than I did last weekend. During the 12-hour imprisonment the skunk in my trap did not spray. Imagine that.

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.

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