How certain smells can bring back hunting memories

Hunters may never have as keen a sense of smell as a squirrel dog, but there are some aromas that stick with you through the years and bring back fond memories of past hunts.

How certain smells can bring back hunting memories

I recently hunted with my friend Jim who raises world-champion squirrel dogs. We stood on a hillside and watched his treeing cur, Ranger, take up the chase. The dog gave no indication he was trying to pick up the scent of a squirrel. He raced quickly out of sight. Within seconds, however, the cur barked and treed. It was the first of dozens of squirrels Ranger led us to.

“How does he do it?” I asked Jim. “He never even puts his nose to the ground.”

“His sense of smell is so keen that he can smell a squirrel even while running with his head up,"Jim replied. "He can smell one in a treetop that’s never been on the ground that day.”

“I wonder what it’s like to have a sense of smell that keen,” I said. “What does a squirrel smell like when all you can smell is a trail of molecules left behind as he races from treetop to treetop?”

Related: A call for a squirrel-hunting revival

A better nose equals a better hunter

For some reason, thinking about Ranger’s keen nose made my own sense of smell sharper, or at least I became more aware of the many smells around me. I thought about that as I started another day of hunting and found myself surrounded by familiar aromas: Coffee brewing. Bacon cooking. The spicy smell of hickory smoke from the campfire. These things tantalized my nose when I awoke in camp, and I can still smell them as I write about them weeks later.

As those aromas swirled about my head, they brought back memory-smells from other camps. Years have passed, but I can smell my uncle’s pipe smoke and the Hoppe’s No. 9 he used to rub down his guns. I can smell the leather of my boots drying by the fire and the wet fur of my uncle’s bird dog sleeping by the potbelly stove. I can smell the acrid, but strangely wonderful, odor of gunpowder after a shot and the warm musty smell of a cottontail rabbit pressed against my face.

These smells move me. How quickly they can be conjured up!

As I sat on my deer stand this past weekend, I shut my eyes and breathed in the aromas of the woods around me. When I focused on the balms of the forest without the distraction of sight, I became instantly aware of a whole new sensory world.

Photo credit: iStock

Related: The benefits of taking the dog for a walk

There were big smells like the redolence of rich bottomland earth, oak leaves and fields of grass. And I became aware of little smells apart from the big ones — the musty blood-smell of my hunting vest, the pungent odor of burnt powder permeating my shotgun and the languid fragrance of cypress needles.

As the day passed, I realized that morning smells different than noon, and noon does not smell like night. And I noticed the autumn air possessed a scent quite different from the hot bouquet of summer or the frigid sterility of winter.

I could smell persimmons and deer scrapes, the quiet smell of wild mint and the loud smell of a skunk.

But as hard as I tried, I could not pick up the scent of a single squirrel.

Till the end of my days, I will wonder what that must be like.

Featured image: Watching a treeing cur use its keen nose to track squirrels through the treetops awakens the author’s own memory-smells from past hunts.

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


Discussion

Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.