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G&A’s Most Nostalgic Shooting Smells

by James Tarr   |  June 18th, 2013 22

Humans have very associative memories. By that, I mean something we see, hear or smell immediately makes us think of something else. It takes us back like a time machine to memories from long ago.

Music is a well-known way of forging links to memories of the distant past. As a child of the ‘80s, I can’t hear a certain song by Madonna without flashing back to a club outside my alma mater, Michigan State University. It isn’t necessarily the greatest memory, but it’s mine.

When it comes to guns, ammo and shooting, smells trigger the ol’ memory parade for most people. Every time I smell bleach, I think about my first job as a dishwasher at a seafood restaurant—even though that was almost 30 years ago. The smell of guns and bore cleaners ping my memory banks just as hard, and I know I’m not the only one. Throw out the term “nostalgic smell” to most gun owners, and I’d bet nine out of 10 folks would respond with “Hoppe’s No. 9.” Hoppe’s is just one of many odors which trip the mental triggers of gun owners. Here are our top eight most nostalgic smells in shooting:

  • Tracy Thorleifson

    Hoppes No. 9. For me it’s ambrosia. For my beloved, not so much. ;-)

  • Fieldkorn

    Whoa, there, Mr. Tarr. I would have squeezed in Bick 4 or else mink oil if I were you. Leather gun slings, Bean’s Boats, horse saddle, leather game bag. Mix a brew of Hoppe’s No. 9, some white smoke oozing out of the chambers of an opened double-barrel shotgun with a nice hint of Bick 4 or mink oil… No, sir, Mr. Tarr, you left out one powerful ingredient, if’n you ask me…

    • jjfitch

      Winchester Super X .22 aroma still takes me back to the 60′s as a young shooter working my way up the Jr.NRA ranks!

  • Fieldkorn

    That’s Bean’s Boots… Got myself carried away just thinkin’ about how good properly conditioned leather smells there, Mr. Tarr…

  • Josep King

    Though I recognize the smell of Hopps #9, it still has to be Break Free for me. Like you I have also been using it since the 80′s

  • squareWave

    Hoppes #9 smells straight up good in my opinion, they should consider making an after shave. I remember taking organic chemistry in college and having a lab session about benzene ring chemistry and how such compounds were called aromatics. The stuff smelled exactly like Hoppes #9.

    The smells of gunpowder, both in the canister and freshly fired, are also burned into my memory. Smokeless powder in the canister smells like ether, and burned powder varies from nostalgic to acrid (i.e. Russian surplus, it smells like a cat’s litter box!). The smell of bulk .22 and I’m instantly 12 years old again, getting handfuls out of those milk carton style boxes they used to use.

  • RMP52

    The shotgun smoke would be number 1 for me. Pop open a fresh fired double barrel, that smell hits the nose, and it’s a crisp winter morning in 1962 and I’m hunting rabbits with my dad, great memories from a long time ago. Of course Hoppes is a big one also, but I agree with the fellow about the saddle soap, it brings back the memories too.

  • Alakar

    The one I would have added would be Military Dry Solvent. Used that stuff every day for years in the Armament Shops I worked in.

  • Sarah Weaver

    Hoppe’s… and that weird metallic smell of spent cases.

  • Jim Shellhamer

    Oh the smell of Hoppes #9 !! I use it constantly. there might be better stuff out there but that aroma . . . Heaven at the workbench ! 8-))

  • Paul Washa

    Were shooting prairie dogs in SD, we cleaned our guns before we left the field, I said to my shooting buddy, I love the smell of Hoppes #9 in the evening, when we got to the motel room there is the article on the internet, I said to my friend Dave, they better mention hopes #9 and there it was. Good show! Paul Washa

  • Robert Wolfe

    You left out the smell of burning printers ink from melting down linotype. Just got to smell that today!

  • Colin

    Hoppe’s #9, longest memory for me.

  • Colin

    Hoppe’s #9, longest memory for me.

  • shermr

    Nearly every shooter can recognize the aroma of Hoppes #9. There are other smells associated wiht shooting, but Hoppes is the only one you can wear as an aftershave.

  • shermr

    Nearly every shooter can recognize the aroma of Hoppes #9. There are other smells associated wiht shooting, but Hoppes is the only one you can wear as an aftershave.

  • Wade

    .22 single shot rifle after each shot

  • Don Mowzoon

    Gotta go with good ol’ Hoppes #9. WD-40 is used on too many things to be gun-exclusive – and I loved the comment I read on a different article about how gunsmiths say about half their business comes from people using it and it gumming up the works, espcially on semi-auto shotguns!

    • squareWave

      That’s true. WD-40 is more of a water displacement agent than a true lubricant. When the volatiles evaporate it leaves behind a heavy varnish.

  • Charlie Tillman

    Hoppes #9 is way up on my list, but the smell of burned powder from a shotgun takes me straight back to the hardwood bottom where i shot my first squirrel in 1955.

  • Robert Johnston

    For me, it’s the scent of fired cordite…it brings back a lot of memories when I shot my AR-7 at the gun range.
    –RKJ

  • jim krafft

    The smell of cosmoline takes me to the day I bought my first surplus rifle, a boat paddle of a SKS that I immediately put 500 rounds they. I had the wonderful goo dripping one range and the air full of smoke

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