Saddle hunting may look difficult or uncomfortable, but after trying it out for a season I was amazed not only by the advantages it gave me in the field, but also how comfortable and easy it became once I had done it a few times. Keep reading to learn more about saddle hunting and why it’s become an essential part of my hunting strategy.
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What is Saddle Hunting?
Saddle hunting is a mobile style of hunting that requires the use of climbing sticks and a saddle harness to climb into a tree and essentially “hang” out of it during the hunt. Saddle hunting has been around for years but has not gained widespread popularity until the last few seasons in the deer woods. One of the large factors that has led to saddle hunting becoming more mainstream are advancements in technology. Tethrd created and marketed the first hunter specific tree saddle that was based off of a tree saddle an arborist would use to cut down trees. Now, there are countless companies making hunter specific saddles all with their own small variations.
The basics of saddle hunting are:
- Find a good straight tree.
- Use climbing sticks and a lineman’s rope to ascend the tree.
- Strap on your platform at your desired height.
- Attach a tether to the tree and then attach the other end of the tether to you and your tree saddle.
- Stand on the platform and hunt safely and comfortably.
Benefits of Saddle Hunting
There are four main benefits of saddle hunting
- Extremely mobile: the saddle system can be carried in easily on a backpack into almost any habitat a deer may live in. You never have to sit in the same tree, with changing winds and whitetail patterns you can hunt the same area but from a different tree every hunt in order to get everything just right.
- Simple: once you understand the basic steps it takes to set up a saddle system it becomes second nature when ascending a tree.
- Light weight: because of the simplicity of the gear, saddle hunting is the most lightweight option for a run and gun, hang and hunt system for deer hunting.
- Least intrusive: A tree saddle leaves almost no trace after you are done using that tree. This makes it ideal for use on public land as well as permission ground where you do not want to be damaging the landowners property.
A Closer Look at My Setup
Tree Saddle vs Other Tree Stands
When thinking about which would be better for you- a tree saddle or traditional tree stand, it all depends on the situation you are in. If you are a hunter who is bouncing from location to location trying to get on deer and always perfecting where you want to sit, then you should consider saddle hunting.
Even if you know how deer move through an area, if they change their trail by fifty yards then the ladder stand will be obsolete. With a tree saddle you are never confined to one location or tree, I have even taken my saddle down and moved trees mid hunt because I was able to see where deer were traveling that morning, so I got down and set up closer to that specific trail.
Another benefit of saddle hunting is cost, if you want to set up four or five good tree stands you are looking at a price tag around $1,000 but one saddle set up is going to cost you $500-$600 and you can hunt all those same trees and more.
One big difference between tree saddles and standard tree stands are shot opportunities. In a tree stand you are more or less constricted to the shot that is directly in front of where the stand is facing. In a tree saddle you are able to pivot around the entire platform and you have at least 270º of shot opportunities and I know the pros can hit targets almost a full 360º around the tree they are hanging from.
Another pro for tree saddle is concealment. Because of the pivot ability I have in the saddle I am able to set up with the tree in between me and where I suspect the deer will be coming from. And even if the deer comes from a different direction I can slowly pivot behind the tree out of sight and I can then get to full draw before they come by broadside. This adds another layer of concealment between me and the animal that a traditional tree stand cannot provide.
The key difference between a hunting saddle and a traditional hunting stand is versatility. A hunting saddle can be used in almost any hunting situation you find yourself in. Whether you are on public land, private land, out of state or right down the road, your tree saddle can go with you anywhere at any time. Whereas a traditional stand is going to need prior planning depending on the situation.
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4 Ways Saddle Hunting Changed How I Hunt
- Hunting Hard to Reach Areas: Saddle hunting allowed me to hunt areas I had never thought of before. I was able to get into gnarly trees in hard to reach areas and it paid off. Last year I saw 75 deer while saddle hunting on public land. It was by far the most deer I have ever seen from the stand in a season while hunting on public ground. And I was also able to shoot my biggest and most mature buck ever on public land. I was able to set up in bow range of a clearing in a big old sycamore tree thanks to my saddle hunting setup
- Get the Wind Right Every Time: I was able to play the wind more throughout the year. In previous years I was limited by the ground cover by where I could set up but with the tree saddle I could easily plan which side of the ridge or clearing that I needed to set up on, in order to get the wind right.
- Always Hunted Somewhere New: I am a firm believer in the saying “The first sit is the best sit”. Oftentimes it is easier for the deer to pattern you than the other way around and by utilizing the mobility of the saddle I was always able to stay one step ahead of the deer.
- Spent More Time in Stand: Last year was the first season I have committed to being a saddle hunter and I can say without a doubt it is the most comfortable I have ever been while deer hunting. I spent more time in the stand last year than ever before. I found myself easily sitting till 11:00 am on mornings without any issues of being uncomfortable.
Is saddle hunting hard?
Tree saddles may seem more complicated at the beginning but after going up and down a tree a few times you easily get the hang of it. I know of a 70 year old who has taken up saddle hunting in the past few seasons. So with a little effort saddle hunting does become easy.
Is saddle hunting comfortable?
Yes. Saddle hunting has become so popular largely due to how comfortable it is once you figure out what works for you. In your first sit you should be able to get into “saddle shape”. I have had a history of back problems that only got worse during hunting season because I sat for long periods of time. In the saddle I lean/stand up for the entirety of the hunt and I spent more time on stand last year in my saddle than I ever have before and I had zero back issues. All day sits are no problem in the saddle.
Can you gun hunt from a saddle?
Yes. I was able to easily gun hunt from a saddle last year during rifle and muzzleloader season. You just have to make sure that you know where your gun is pointing and do not take shots where you are unsure of what is behind the target.
What do you do with your feet?
The most common place to put your feet is on a platform that you set up once you reach your desired height. There are a few different variations of this, some saddle hunters use the top of their last climbing stick as a platform and other people use tree steps as their platform. It all depends on what you prefer but the most popular is by far a platform.
How do you climb the tree?
You climb the tree using climbing sticks which come in hundreds of variations. Once you find the tree you want to hunt out of you wrap your lineman rope around the tree for your safety then you strap your stick on and step up the stick using the steps. Once at the top of that climbing stick you repeat the procedure with your next climbing stick. I use the short stick from XOP and find them to be a great, I carry in three with me.
What size saddle should you buy?
Saddles mainly come in two sizes, the first size is regular which fits almost any average sized person and the second size is large which is built for big people 210 lbs and up. I am 6’0” 170 and I easily fit into all regular sized saddles.