The First Time in

posted by Bill Winke on 10.06.15

A familiar tension came over me as I sneaked up the slope toward the stand. It was the first time I had been there all season and now the hair on the back of my neck was standing up – letting me know I was in the right place. It sure felt like I was going to shoot a buck that morning. I had been saving the spot for the best days of the rut and now they were here – the best spot for the best time. It was a magic formula.

I could start almost every story about a successful hunt using the paragraph you just read. Ten of the last 15 bucks I have shot during the rut fell the first time I hunted the stand in which I shot them. I bet if I went back over all the bucks I have shot with a bow, 75% of them came on the first hunt.

If there is one simple rule you can follow this November to greatly up your odds this is it: don’t hunt your best stands until the best times. There is no better way to guarantee a good season than maintaining the element of surprise on all the stands you hunt during the best week of the season. If you are hunting fresh stands from November 3 through November 10, you are very likely to have a good season.

Using a wind indicator will help you determine where the wind is blowing once you are in the stand. WHY IT WORKS

It was a mystery to me when I first started bowhunting, but the reason this works is actually simple. Deer are much better at recognizing when someone is hunting them than we realize. And when they figure it out, they vacate. Consider the many things we do in the woods. Here is how the deer register these actions and how they react to them.

Ground scent: When I used to wear waders to and from my stands I don’t think any deer smelled where I walked. Elimitrax booties work nearly as well. Short of taking these measures, deer generally pick up some level of human scent trail (usually on aboveground vegetation) and react to it.

When a mature buck hits human ground scent, they usually tuck tail and slink away – no looking back. When a mature doe hits the same trail, she often stalks warily closer looking for the source of the danger so she can stand back and snort at it. It is often their undoing. I have shot many does that were sneaking in along my trail looking for me, but I have never shot a good buck that way. Young deer of both sexes tend to be less concerned about human ground scent and sometimes seem to ignore it altogether.

If deer smell human scent in places where it is common, such as walking trails, paths and roadways, it is not a huge concern to them. However when they smell it in an area where they used to feel safe, it unnerves them. It makes them much more cautious in that area in the future. I have seen them completely stop using an area as a result, especially if they encounter fresh human odor there a second time. At the very least, they stop moving naturally making them much harder to kill.

Airborne scent: I have never tried anything that eliminated airborne human odor completely. Unless I have a perfect wind advantage where no deer can get downwind of me – those kinds of locations are very hard to find – it seems that deer eventually pick me up and that starts a chain reaction. Soon every deer within sight is staring and stomping. Then the deer that smelled me will communicate through body language that the spot is questionable every time they come through in the near future. As a result, my stand is not going to be as good again for about a week.

Sightings: If a deer sees me walking, I don’t feel that is a big deal over the long run, especially if they see me along a trail or roadway. People are out milling around in places like this regularly. However, if they see me on stand or see me sneaking through one of their perceived sanctuaries, the damage last longer. Again, as a result, the deer become wary and less likely to move naturally in that area in the near future.


Save your best stands for the best times. It is that simple. The rest of the time, hunt stands where you stand to present the least amount of human intrusion. Some of these stands may not be in great locations, but at least you are hunting, watching and learning. Bucks often do the unexpected so these observation stands can occassionally produce good bucks, as well.


There is no such thing as positive intrusion. You may think you got away with something, but you probably didn’t. Every trip into the woods works against you; that’s why the first time on each stand is the best and why it has to be so well timed and carefully planned. To make the most of prime time, you need to hunt fresh stands as often as possible.

Tip: Figuring out how often you can hunt a stand is as much an art as a science. Pay very close attention to the deer that you see. If none of them shows any alarm, you probably didn’t do a lot of damage and you can hunt the stand again soon. However, if you know you alarmed some deer on the way in, out or while on stand, wait at least four days before hunting it again – a week is better.