Hunting for that smell

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Gerald Swindle

As most of you might know, I’m a fanatical deer hunter. Every winter I spend as much time as I possibly can walking in the woods or sitting in a tree stand.

Hunting has always been a big part of my life. As a kid I grew up hunting with my brothers. I’ve introduced my wife LeAnn and daughter to hunting and to this day it’s still a big part of our family life.

But what drives someone to hunt? What makes someone want to get up at zero-dark-thirty, walk through the woods in the dark and sit in a freezing stand – many times not even to see a deer, or even a squirrel for that matter?

One morning, several years ago, LeAnn asked me that very question.

The hunting season was drawing to an end and I was up at zero-dark-thirty getting ready to go hunt. She had not planned to hunt that day and instead was sitting in her favorite chair at the camp, sipping coffee by the warm glow of the fire.

“Honey, why are you going out there today?” she questioned. “It’s been warm and cloudy; we have not seen any deer movement for days.”

“Because today is the day!” I blurted out.

That was my usual response to that question in hopes that it would pass as an acceptable answer.

 “You say that every morning when you leave – what makes you think today will be any different?” she pried. “What is it exactly you’re looking for?”

I could tell my usual claim of hope didn’t exactly answer her question satisfactorily this time around. And as most married men know, “unsatisfactorily” answers to very direct questions from the better half usually don’t go unnoticed! So I knew it was time to fess up to exactly what it was I looking for while I wandered around for hours alone in the woods.

I sat down next to her, looked her in the eye and said, what I’m looking for out there is not really a deer. It’s not even really a beautiful sunrise or the rare sighting of a fox or a bobcat. What I’m actually looking for is a certain smell.

She seemed confused by my answer, so I tried to explain further.

There is a certain scent that I only smell two or three times a year when hunting, but when I smell it, it’s like a ticket to a time machine that travels straight back to one of the most special days of my entire life. That day was in early December, just three months after my brother Tony had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Deep down I knew it just might be our last hunting trip together.

From the moment Tony and I got out of the truck and started walking down our favorite power line road, it was different than any other day we had walked that road together. It was an absolutely beautiful morning: A light frosty fog sort of swirled around in the air as the sun’s first rays cut through it like a laser show – we were in our own world, just me and my brother. Tony had become weaker from his chemo treatments and he occasionally stumbled a bit and leaned on my shoulder for extra support. I pretended not to notice as we walked together under God’s glory, leaving our footprints – side by side – in the first frost of the season.

And from those footprints came the most unique fragrance, an indescribable mix of cold air, frost, fog, dried leaves and freshly-turned south Alabama dirt. As we sat together that morning watching Mother Nature put on a miraculous display at dawn, that wonderful smell filled the air, carving a memory that I will never forget as long as I live.

On that very morning, my brother shot the biggest deer of his life. Life was good.

As I finished the real answer to my wife’s question, her look of confusion was replaced by her beautiful smile and she said, “Honey, I hope you find what your hunting for…I hope you find…that smell…”