Early HIV-1 infection is marked by rapid evolution of both CD8(+) T lymphocyte (CTL) epitope targeting and viral sequences, while chronic infection demonstrates relative stability of these parameters. To examine the interactions of changing CTL targeting and viremia in early infection, we assessed CTL targeting and viremia levels in persons during early HIV-1 infection (estimated 15-271 days post-infection) who were placed on effective antiretroviral therapy. Pre-therapy, CTL targeting of viral proteins varied between persons depending on time after infection. Across individuals, increasing time after infection was associated with increasing Gag and Pol targeting, suggesting increasing targeting of conserved sequences. The intensity of Gag targeting correlated to lower viremia levels, while Env targeting correlated to higher viremia levels during early infection. This suggested that shifted targeting towards more conserved sequences is involved with the drop of viremia during early infection, consistent with prior observations of correlation between Gag targeting and lower viremia during chronic infection. After suppressive antiretroviral therapy, CTL targeting was generally static, indicating that HIV-1 replication and evolution drives the evolution of CTL targeting in early infection. Overall, these data suggest that early CTL targeting is directed towards more variable epitopes, causing escape and re-targeting until more conserved epitopes are recognized stably in chronic infection. Circumventing this natural history by pre-targeting CTL against more conserved epitopes with a vaccine could minimize the initial period of viral escape and immune damage during acute infection, improving long-term containment of HIV-1.