April 11, 2023
By Bill Winke
Most whitetail hunters with a few years of experience have noticed that the first time they hunt a new spot, or the first time they hunt a spot after a long layoff, is the best chance to shoot something from that stand.
This has to do with the fact that deer don’t feel a need to be cautious in that area and, therefore, they're moving more naturally in daylight. After they detect that a person is (or recently has been) there, they become a lot more careful — and harder to kill.
If you take nothing else from this column, at least take away the fact that you have some very important equity in this element of surprise and you should use it carefully. When you make your first hunt is very important; don’t waste the opportunity by hunting a good stand at a time when bucks aren’t likely to be moving.
That All-Important First Hunt
There are three great times to play your first-hunt cards. The first time is when a cold front is passing in late October. The second time is when you think you know where a buck you would shoot is living right now. Often, this is based on a recent sighting or a daylight trail-cam photo. The third time is when the rut of early November starts to get rolling. In other words, save your best stands for the best times.
This is all good advice, for sure, and you possibly already knew these things. So, next I want to work through the ways we might take further advantage of this critical element of surprise. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could hunt a new stand every day? That would assure we would be hunting fresh deer even if our entry and exit routes aren’t perfect.
I am going to explore two questions in this column: is it even possible to hunt a new stand every day and, if so, how do we go about it?
Is It Possible?
I think it is possible if you have enough ground to hunt or if you only hunt weekends. It gets a lot harder to maintain this first-time freshness if you have a rut vacation and within those nine days you hunt a limited area. When you're dealing with limited areas, you must tread a lot more carefully, only hunting spots you can get to and from without any deer knowing of your presence. If you try to hunt several locations, you'll sour some of them and very soon all the deer in your hunting area will know you're hunting them. That’s when it gets tough!
Assuming you have at least 120 acres to hunt, you can likely spread out a bit. You might have four or five good stands in that area — roughly one every 30 acres. Maybe they aren’t all perfect and a few deer will pick up on your scent trail or see you sneaking out at dark, but they're good spots — any one of which could produce an encounter.
With a handful of good spots, you have maybe three days of hunting (given variations in the wind direction) before you have to rotate back to one you've hunted already. That means if you hope to hunt super-fresh stands every day for a nine-day vacation, you need roughly 350 acres. Some public lands are way bigger than this, and if you have access to multiple public areas with remote spots where you can get away from other hunters, you can easily do this. However, if you're hunting private land, 350 acres is a big piece of exclusive real estate, and knowing that not all of it will be good all the time, you probably need more like 400-plus acres. So, if you have access to 400 or more acres, I do think you can pull this off. And, as I mentioned, if you only hunt weekends, you can likely do it on 120 acres as the spots you hunt have a week to rest between assaults.
How To Do It
I've been fortunate to hunt most of my life in places where I wasn’t limited by hunting land. When I was growing up, it was nothing to get permission on just about every farm in my county. At one point, I actually had permission on more than 60 farms. Obviously, I didn’t have time to hunt them all, but I did scout most of them. I rarely hunted the same stand twice; if I did, it was generally after resting it for several days between hunts.
Then, as I got older and land-access tightened up, I was fortunate to be able to start buying land when it was cheap. My first purchase was a one-fourteenth interest in a partnership farm that controlled 4,000 acres. If I told you how little I paid for that you would be shocked. It cost less than the price you would now pay for a nice truck. Again, I never had to worry about hunting the same spot twice — I nearly always hunted fresh stands every day.
As time went on, I cashed-out of that corporation and started buying land under my own name. Even then, I was fortunate enough that I always had at least 400 acres to hunt each season. Again, I spent most of my time hunting fresh spots each day.
It has only been over the past 15 years that I've slowed down my run-and-gun style and started hunting my best stands multiple times in a season. With all that said, I have a pretty good feel for how this can be done. Here is how I managed the logistics required to hunt a new stand every day:
Pre-Set Your Morning Stands: I figured that placing a stand near a feeding area or trail in the afternoon would be easy enough, but placing one in the dark of morning near a bedding area would be tough.
I mostly hunted bedding areas in the mornings back then. So, I had maybe 10 stands already up on the fringes of bedding areas before I started hunting. I tried to hang these stands as far in advance as possible, but I found that as long as I was in and out quickly at midday, I could get away with hanging them as little as two weeks in advance of hunting them without noticing any caution in the deer when I sat there the first time.
Hang Afternoon Stands the Day You Hunt: I hung all my afternoon stands the day I went in to hunt those spots. By not making a separate trip, I was able to keep from giving the deer any advance warning that might make them the least bit uncomfortable in those spots.
For this method, you have to use a lightweight stand and quick climbing system — typically sectional ladders. There are many options on the market now, but by using such a system I was able to hang my stands in roughly 20 minutes. I then carried the stand out with me at the end of each hunt because I only had a few of these lightweight models.
Some of the spots I hunted were ones I had scouted and marked on my maps from the previous winter, but many were simply guesswork based on current study of aerial photos and trails found along the fringes of the timber. There are a surprising number of obvious spots (mostly funnels) that jump right out at you when you spend a few minutes looking at an aerial photo. I hunted as many of these as possible. By choosing fairly open trees, I was able to keep my need to cut shooting lanes to a minimum. This further reduced human scent in the area, and it worked like a charm!
Using this hunting style, I always hunted undisturbed deer that were active in daylight. Since I wasn’t running trail cameras in those years, I didn’t have specific targets in mind so the field was wide open. I killed a lot of nice bucks back then and, without a doubt, this hunting method worked as I had hoped.
If you have enough ground to hunt, or if you only hunt on weekends, it's worth focusing on a portable stand system that allows you to hunt as many fresh stands as possible during the season. If nothing else, you'll learn tons about your hunting area, how the bucks move and which spots you can sneak in and out of undetected. By changing up your spots frequently, you will enjoy a lot of success while accelerating your learning curve. And those are two awesome goals for any season!