In the Scout Course I cover the three things that give us away in the woods: Shape, Shine, and Silhouette. These three are immediate cues our eyes give us to that which is unnatural. Awareness in nature really begins with understanding these three. And with said, its built on the most dominant sense of the civilized man- our eyesight. Humans are predators too, and we’re the best pack hunters on earth when we wanna be. In the end, that’s what small unit combat really is, is it not?
Shape alerts us to the basic forms within nature. We can recognize, almost immediately, what belongs and what doesn’t. It also plays into silhouette when recognizing either animals or people. The human head and shoulders are an instant recognition cue to either friend or foe (normally followed by eye contact). This is an instinctual response going back to our earliest hunter-gatherer societies as a means of recognizing threats. Shine either alerts us to the presence of water or to that which is unnatural- reflections, artificial lights, etc.
Awareness begins with understanding how our eyes actually function. But in nature, all animals pay attention to all senses at once for an early warning of danger. More often than not, predatory animals are in tune to all of their senses at once but their eyes are only a minor part of their ability to successfully hunt their prey. The most successful and adaptable pack hunters, the Canine, uses a domain we humans often neglect- The Fourth ‘S‘: our sense of Smell.
What is the purpose of our ability to smell? For most, whether you’re aware of it or not, is either to locate the aroma of food, get a whiff of pheromones, or to avoid something rancid. We’re doing this all the time and it can give us an early warning of danger usually before we can see it. In the civilized world, we ignore this for the most part. All sorts of scents get ignored in our day-to-day lives, the exception usually being food or overwhelmingly bad smells. But to those who’re acclimated to the outdoors and built that awareness, we detect all sorts of scents that the civilized world has otherwise dulled. I remember a friend of mine who’s a gunsmith and Desert Storm Vet who ‘knew’ when a turkey was over the next ridge. Not because he heard that gobbler, but because he smelled him. And while it was something you’d have to see to believe, his was a level of awareness that few achieve in a modern era. And he always comes out of the woods with meat to put on the table.
Scent is something that most of us become aware of the longer we’re acclimated to the wild. With more dirt time comes the awareness of just how much, and how different, the human scent really is. To animals, we’re foreigners in a foreign place. The crazy thing is that this was very much the case in the Middle East and in many parts of the world as well. Americans have a distinctive smell to us, primarily due to diet and regular bathing. The rest of the world smells very different and after a short amount of time, we’d come to immediately know the presence of a local national in the area, especially if we were trying to stay hidden or out of sight. That certainly worked both ways.
There’s two techniques for defeating scent. One requires a change of habits, the other a change in technique. Something folks who’ve trained with me know is that I’m very comfortable in a natural setting, usually packing light even in the winter months. But what many probably don’t immediately recognize is that I’m also masking my scent by wearing older, well-worn clothes that have not been washed with scented detergents. They’re also air-dryed and allowed to age a bit in the sun. All of your gear should be. Something you can also do is simply rinse your clothes off to remove body oils and salt from the fabric, but no unnatural smells will be embedded. I also avoid bathing with with scented soaps two or three days prior to hitting the woods. Pine Tar soap is a good one for masking your natural scent; you’ll just smell like smoke for the most part, which confuses the senses of your prey. Just to back that up, I’ll build a really smokey fire from some green pine wood just to mask any residual scents on my body or gear.
The second technique is knowing how to always stay downwind. Our scent travels much like a stick down a stream. It flows with the air and down draws into valleys in the terrain. There’s not always much you can do to stay downwind when moving, but its critical to attack from an downwind position as to not give an adversary an advance warning. Its another consideration, coupled with always wanting the sun to your back when fighting in daylight.
Scent is not something we pay much attention to in the civilized world- there’s little need. But to the warrior, the hunter of the most dangerous game, no sense should be overlooked and every opportunity should be taken to hone those skills and awaken that awareness that modernity has done much to dull. Unlock your mind.