If there’s something foul at Marion County Club, who you gonna call?
For the past month, Lovelady, golf course superintendent, has been skunk busting in the dead of night with nothing more than a Gator and his grandfather’s shotgun to a somewhat notable tally.
“I’ve shot 20 so far,” Lovelady said. “It’s big fun.”
Only Lovelady isn’t hunting for sport or to harvest, perish the rancid thought.
“They’re tearing up the fairways,” he said. “Just one can do a lot of damage; I’d say maybe a 100 square feet a night if left unchecked.”
He said skunks had not presented a noticeable problem the past three years, but this year he discovered skunks were compelled by one relentless end, foraging for savory grubs and moth larva.
“We usually spray a product that takes care of the larva,” Lovelady said. “This year we had the sprayer go down at a bad time. It took a while to get the part we needed and we ended up spraying a little late. Golfers were saying they saw larva every time they made divots in the fairways.”
Much to the chagrin of his wife, Karlene, he usually hunts skunk between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. about four times a week.
“He stinks, what I can say,” she said. “But I can’t sleep without Joe in the bed. I’m up all night after he leaves.”
He usually dons running pants, a long-sleeved T-shirt,a hoodie, work shoes, and a bandana.
“He pulls up the hood and ties the bandanna around his face,” Karlene said. “All you can see is his eyeballs, and it looks like he’s there to rob the whole county.”
Once on his Gator, Lovelady zigzags fairways by moonlight, scouring the horizon for smelly black and white varmints. He has to act fast when he sees one, because the ATV’s noise scares them back to the shelter of native grasses on and off the golf course.
“Anytime they hear me they take off, so I have to go pretty fast,” he said. “Then I just pop the clutch and shoot.”
He tried using his .22 first but moving targets were harder to hit when shooting from a moving vehicle.
“I switched to my shotgun on a full choke,” Lovelady said. “It gives you a tight pellet pattern that goes further.”
When he hits his mark, he usually busies himself working on equipment in the shop, giving the carcass a little time to air out. Then he returns to collect them, and transports them to a place where the smell won’t bother anybody.
“The turkey buzzards usually come and devour them,” he said. “They just rip them to shreds.”
Lovelady had evaded the skunks’ defenses until recently when he was reaching down to grab one he thought he had killed.
“It spun around, jumped up, and sprayed my shoe,” he said. “It barely grazed me, but the smell was just putrid.”
The stench followed him when he returned home to give Karlene her usual cup of coffee and a skunk update.
“It only got a tiny part of his foot and ankle, but oh my God, I could smell it,” Karlene said. “I told him, ‘Take those clothes off right now and get them down to the washer.’ The whole house smelled. We went through the house spraying Febreeze and opening up all the windows. That smell just followed him, and the dog kept smelling his foot.”
The Loveladys refrained from using tomato juice to avoid the possibility of staining, instead using vinegar and baking soda to get rid of the horrid smell.
As of Tuesday, Lovelady said there hadn’t been much more, if any, skunk-inflicted damage to the golf course, but he was a still little dubious about their return.
All smells considered, Lovelady was a good sport about the gag-worthy “point” the skunks scored on him.
“They owed me one,” he said. “But I’d say I got the final word.”