The Nose Knows: An Overlooked Hunter’s Sense

Jan Chase Newbill | February 17, 2020

I was born in Michigan in 1953 and moved to Georgia in 1969, which is where I now live.

It was at a very early age that I learned what game smelled like. Whenever my dad would come home from a hunting trip, I would go out and handle the animal, getting its smell on my hands. Then I would go off and just smell the scent on my hands. I really believe that imprinted on my mind what dead game smelled like.

As I grew older and squirrel hunted, I found that rainy days were the best to smell the little critters. If I walked through the woods and one was nearby, I could smell it. I wasn’t always lucky enough to shoot them, but smelling them usually led to me at least seeing them.

I can remember my first buck, which I shot in Georgia. While sitting on the ground, there was a strong smell of a buck coming in. I shut my eyes and made a 360 while sniffing the air. This made it possible to tell exactly which direction he was coming from. I propped my rifle up on my knees, looked down the scope, and he walked right into site. Bang!

Finding and eating muscadines was a real treat during my time in the Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama. I would just walk around the woods sniffing, and when I got on the scent of the delicious grapes, I would stop and look around, locating them and harvesting as many as I could to take back to the barracks.

A few years later, my husband shot a deer with his bow behind our house in McDonough. It ran off, as deer do many times when shot with a bow, so he went out to track it. When he told me what he was doing, I quickly volunteered to help.

“I believe it went this way,” he said.

“No, it’s in here,” I said pointing to a thick area of planted pines.

He decided to go his way and look, but stubborn me… I was going to look where I smelled something. It was no time at all when I started calling him, letting him know I found his deer. It was so easy, just closing my eyes, opening up my nostrils and following the scent straight to the deer.

A few years ago, I was turkey hunting in Nebraska. A friend of mine shot a turkey. It went down and just laid there, but when he went to retrieve it, it got up and flew across a dirt road to some planted pines. The pines were encircled by a barbed wire fence and a cow pasture. He, his dad and I went over to look. We looked and looked. I told them I wanted to go to the downwind side to see if I could smell it.

“Yeah, right. Go ahead Jan,” he said.

So, I did. I went to the other side, stayed inside the fence close to the trees, closed my eyes, opened my nostrils, got down on my hands and knees and started sniffing. It was no time at all before I was calling, “Ernie, here’s your turkey!”

Jan Chase Newbill

Another time in Nebraska, my husband, Jim, and our friend, Michael Tull, and I were turkey hunting. Michael went off to hunt by himself. We heard a shot but didn’t see him for a long, long time. When he came back to the vehicle, we asked, “What’s up, Michael?”

“Well, I shot one but can’t find him. I have been looking all this time but didn’t want to come back to you two because I knew you would stop hunting to help me look for my turkey and time here is too valuable,” he said.

I said, “Well, Michael, if you want me to, I can try to sniff out your bird. I can do that.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard about that,” he said. Michael later told me he didn’t believe anyone could actually do this.

So, we went to the hill where he shot his bird. He showed us where the bird was when he shot and which direction it went. I gave him my shotgun, so I could get down on the ground and sniff. I later found out he just propped it up against a tree because he really didn’t think we would find his bird.

Immediately the smell was strong.

“Michael, the bird has gone through here. He’s headed that direction,” I said.

Then we saw blood. It was fresh, still wet. No doubt the bird was close. I knew that, but the guys didn’t believe it and went off on their own. But the bird was close. Pretty soon, after getting a really strong whiff of him, I found him. There he was, still alive but up against a tree.

“Michael, come get your bird, he’s here! You need to shoot him again!” I yelled.

He came running, no shotgun in tow. I asked him where my shotgun was, and he said he had propped it up against a tree but knew exactly where it was. He quickly retrieved the shotgun, came back and dispatched the bird.

He said, “If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I would have never believed it. I have heard about you doing this but sure didn’t know it would ever benefit me.”

There haven’t really been any circumstances for me to sniff-out game lately. However, there was one southern situation a couple of years ago with a very invasive vine called wisteria. While it does produce a very lovely lavender clump of flowers that smell wonderful, the vine kills trees.

When you have a tree farm, as I do in Shiloh, you don’t need any competition. I was out one day looking for wisteria to kill. You have to cut the vine and put straight herbicide on it. Sometimes just locating the vines can be difficult. If there are runners along the ground, they are easy to locate and eradicate. However, the ones way up in the tops of the trees are a different story. I was riding through the woods, looking for wisteria. Unfortunately, there were very few runners laying on the ground. However, I stopped and knew the smell. Wisteria blossoms were close. Sure enough, up in the top of a tall pine tree was a mature vine with blooming flowers. Dead!

Moral of the story: We all have great abilities and senses, if we just learn to use them. By the way… no, I don’t “bay” when I am on a scent. And, I am not for hire!

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