Despite the fact that in the early 1900s French author Marcel Proust wrote a seven-volume novel of “recollections” stemming from the taste of a madeleine cake dipped in tea, most experts say our sense of smell has the longest memory. Popcorn in a movie theatre, cherry blossoms in spring, new vehicle interiors, rotten sneakers…I’ll take the aromatherapy of hunting season to bring back memories and sooth my soul.
Before tossing an empty shell cartridge into the bird vest, a pass under the nose is – for a hunter – like smelling salts for a fainting victim. Same too with that last waft of gun powder scented smoke curling from the open barrel. And speaking of guns, how about gun oil? Hoppe’s No. 9 or Ballistol are excellent for an olfactory delight, especially paired with a whiff of Eagle Rare, you know, the single barrel Kentucky bourbon sitting on the gun cleaning pad next to the rods and patches.
Then there are leather gloves. The best memories don’t come from the brand new ones, although there’s something to be said about the anticipation that comes from the smell of new leather. It’s better to take in the scent of an old, worn pair of favorite gloves to bring to mind clambering up that rocky ledge when the dog, of course, went on point on the far side. Or cradling that pheasant double as the season’s first snow drifted down. Or pulling the shell from a young friend’s gun after she broke her very first clay pigeon.
Food can’t be overlooked, either. The fragrance of mushrooms cooking in Marsala before adding the quail breasts can be rivaled only by the bouquet of Worcestershire on pan-seared ptarmigan. In those aromas, the story of each hunt gently fills the kitchen. Even the livery smell of woodcock pate on a water cracker pays tribute to the previous season’s success.
Best of all smells ever? A warm, dry, extra-large German shorthaired pointer curled on the couch, fast asleep after a long day in the field. I stick my nose, actually bury my entire face, into the curl of his neck far enough for those big jowls to tuck around my cheek. And I take a very slow, deep breath.
Nancy Anisfield, an outdoor photographer/writer, sporting dog enthusiast and bird hunter, serves on Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever’s National Board of Directors. She resides in Hinesburg, Vermont.