Scent: My Own Sense of Smell

As I spotted a coyote hunting, a gust of wind wafted a smell in front of me — I definitely smelled a skunk. Oh no, I thought, the coyote had found a skunk. But as I continued watching, I realized that the coyote was after a squirrel which evaded capture. I knew it was a squirrel because of the way the coyote soon kept looking up into a tree. But I got another whiff of that smell.  I then thought that maybe it was the smell of a carcass — a capture from the previous night?  But that idea evaporated because the coyote would have approached such a carcass, and I didn’t see him do so.

Someone stopped to talk to me, and I lost track of the coyote. When the conversation ended, I decided to pick up where I had last seen the coyote on a path off in the distance. When I got there, there again was that stink. Ahh! I realized that this coyote must have been sprayed, and was carrying around a thick blanket of skunk perfume on itself, and leaving a trail of this odor behind as he passed through. I wondered if I myself might be capable of following the smell! Would it be possible for me to experience a sense of what it must be like to actually smell what I was looking for and follow it’s trail, in the exact same way as dogs and coyotes do? So, I became a coyote.

I lost the odor in several places, but reconnected with it in others. Although the odor did not help me find the animal, it did allow me to know several places where it had been. And I did glimpse the coyote again at the end of the trail. After I participated in this little adventure, I felt somewhat “initiated” into a canine reality.  Smelling for humans tends to be rather vague and not always “turned on”, but for canines it is intense and probably constant — it is one of their prime methods of gathering information.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Charlotte Hildebrand
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 14:54:34

    So this makes me wonder, was the coyote hunting the skunk when it got skunked? You mentioned that coyotes eat skunks (skunk carcasses) in your area but do they actually hunt them? It seems like a dangerous, or smelly, proposition….


  2. Charles Wood
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 10:32:04

    The smell doesn’t bother a canine, its more that the spray creates a burning sensation in the eyes and on the face. Skunks will position their rears rather effectively towards the approaching predator, sense when the direction of the charge changes and quickly shift around as the predator shifts. The skunk has to be aggresively approached, its space threatened, before it does that dance. Once that bomb hits a canine face, the irritation may cause the attacker to take some time trying to rub it off on the ground. That time gives the skunk a chance to run and hide, run which they can do effectively. An ill aimed discharged or a canine that doesn’t care about pain: its over for the skunk almost instantly. Canines don’t seem to be bothered by the skunk smell, other than maybe as a reminder of how that stuff really burns when it hits them in the face and eyes. To us it stinks, but its main effect is as a sort of pepper spray.


  3. Renee
    Mar 26, 2020 @ 16:09:25

    it is the coyote itself that reeks. I’m in the woods all the time and i know this for a fact. There is no skunk involved. I’m thinking of re-naming these critters “skunk dogs” because they really do reek. I smell them very strongly before i see them, or when i’m close to their den. I had to scientifically repeat this experience over and over to prove to myself that there WERE no skunks involved. I just got home from seeing two coyotes in the woods……. and once again smelled them before i saw them. Nothing else has that stink. It’s mustier than skunk to me. I can certainly smell the difference. And anyway, i think that the average, clever coyote would not get itself sprayed……. they’ve certainly come to understand what a skunk can do.
    And in my neck of the woods, i only see skunks at night. Had three coyote sightings in the last couple of days….. all about 7 or 8 in the morning……. all foretold of their presence with their stank.


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