4 Ways to Avoid Bonehead Mistakes of the First Deer Hunt

September 20, 2023 By: Lindsay Thomas Jr.

The long wait was over. Opening morning of archery season and with it a new deer-hunting season had finally arrived. I rose early, showered, dressed, geared up and headed to the woods. In the glow of a flashlight, I navigated from one landmark to the next along the trail to the climbing stand that waited for me near a loaded persimmon tree. Killing the light, I rigged my lineman’s belt for the ascent and began to slowly, quietly climb the tree. 

When the slow climb finally brought me to hunting height, I connected my safety harness and stowed the lineman’s belt. I screwed in a tree hook for hanging my bow and another for hanging my small gear pack. I attached my Thermacell to the rail of the climber. I strapped on my release. All seemed ready for the approaching dawn, and I hadn’t spooked any deer, and I’d barely broken a sweat. A great feeling. So, I began the final preparation. I picked up the line to hoist my bow into the tree with me. I kept expecting the line to draw tight with the weight of my bow, but it never did.

I’d forgotten to attach the clip to my bow. In my head, I could hear Homer Simpson: “Doh!”

It could have been worse. I could have left the hoist rope at camp, which I’ve done before. I could have left my release at camp, and I’ve done that before, too. I could have left my Thermacell at camp, and I’ve done that before, too. Correcting this latest mistake involved reversing my entire setup to climb back down and get out of the stand, clip to the bow, climb up, and set up again. That’s better than driving back to camp for a release, arrows, or some other essential piece of equipment.

In many cases when we return to the deer woods each fall, it’s been several months, if not the better part of a year, since we last sat in a deer stand. That means a long time since we last went through the preparation and action of hunting. So, I wasn’t too surprised to find I’m not alone. When I asked other deer hunters on social media if they’ve pulled bonehead mistakes on the first hunt of the year, I heard several stores similar to mine.

One hunter told me he usually wears Crocs in the truck on the way to the stand and puts on his boots after he steps out of the vehicle – except for the time he forgot his boots. It was too far to go back, so he hunted in the Crocs, which provided convenient portholes for mosquitos.

Another hunter said he left his bow release. With home four hours away and the nearest store nearly an hour, he spent opening morning as an observer. Naturally, multiple does passed by and presented several wonderful shot opportunities.

Then there is an entire genre unto itself of “Forgot the Toilet Paper” stories. Enough said.

Bonehead Prevention: Dress Rehearsal

There are several things we can all do to help prevent a ruined opening day. First, and most important, I like to conduct a dress rehearsal if possible. Before opening day, I go through the motions of actually packing my gear and climbing into a stand. It might only mean climbing into a tree in my backyard, but I go through the full exercise. A practice run is great for refreshing all the vital steps, like packing your release and clipping your hoist to the bow.

This year, dress rehearsal is especially important for me, because I’m trying saddle hunting for the first time. Those who saddle-hunt know this means a whole new collection of ropes and specialized gear you can’t forget, plus learning and practicing a new method of climbing. This summer, I spent time in my backyard shooting my bow while hanging in a saddle. This not only helped me get familiar and comfortable with all the new shooting angles possible in a saddle, it made me very familiar with all the pieces of gear I must have with me, and how to use them.

Since he’s trying saddle hunting for the first time this fall, Lindsay spent the summer practicing with his bow and his saddle gear at the same time to get familiar with the new stand system.

Testing and learning to use new gear before a real hunt is also a great idea. That’s especially true if you bought a new safety harness. Makes sure all your new gear works right and that you know how to use it, because it’s going to be much more difficult to figure it out in the dark when you’re trying to be quiet and stealthy.

Bonehead Prevention: Checklists

Just like packing for a long camping or hunting trip, developing a check-list can help you ensure you’ve got everything before you head into the woods. Use you smartphone to send yourself reminders or record an actual checklist.

Here’s part of my own checklist. There are things you can’t hunt without, like ammunition. There are things you shouldn’t hunt without, like a a safety harness. And there are things you really may not want to hunt without, like insect repellent.

Bonehead Prevention: Totes and Tubs

My home is four hours from my primary hunting location, so hunting usually involves weekend trips. It’s critical that I pack everything I need before I leave home. Rather than pack, unpack and re-pack my gear on each trip, I use several big containers that I can grab, knowing everything I need is inside plus spares.

For example, I have a couple of Rubbermaid tubs with lids that hold all my clean camouflage clothing. I have a tote bag that is dedicated to all trail-camera accoutrements, like batteries, straps, flash cards and card readers. I have another tote bag with skinning knives, sharpener, disposable gloves, plastic storage bags and other gear for deer processing. All these items stay in their appropriate totes or tubs all season long, unless I’m using them. Knowing I have packed a small number of essential containers is easier than trying to remember every single item in a list that is dozens and dozens long. 

Bonehead Prevention: Backup Systems

We can’t carry duplicates of everything, but during hunting season it can pay to have some redundant gear in your vehicle’s glove box in case of emergency. A spare release stowed in your vehicle can save you if you leave your main bow release at the house. Extra ammunition, Thermacell refills, toilet paper, and a skinning knife might be a good idea, too. A length of rope could have many backup uses, whether hoisting a bow or dragging a deer.

Before you head to the woods for the first time this year, conduct a practice run. Make sure your gear is all in working order, in good supply, and that you remembered you’ll need it. You might have a much more enjoyable – and safe – first hunt!

About Lindsay Thomas Jr.:

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is NDA's Chief Communications Officer. He has been a member of the staff since 2003. Prior to that, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.