As a fellow deer hunter, you have probably heard the term “Saddle Hunter” by now. The method of hunting has been around for over 30 years but has gained a ton of popularity recently due to companies like Tethrd. Many well established and serious deer hunters are now endorsing and using a saddle. You may not know, however, exactly what it means. Before I began saddle hunting I pictured it as some sort of very uncomfortable series of straps that attached me to the tree. I thought to myself why use a saddle when I have several perfectly good treestands?
What is it?
The short and sweet of it is this. A tree saddle is a harness like device (similar to a rock climbing harness) you wear which has a rope bridge that you carabiner onto a tether you have connected to a tree. The tree tether is the same concept you would use if using a traditional safety harness for a treestand. The difference in the saddle, is typically it ends at the waist. Another notable difference is that you sit in the device facing the tree instead of facing out like most tree stands. Some hunters use a small platform to rest their feet on and some use simply the top of their climbing stick or no platform at all, but your seat is the saddle itself. The beauty of the saddle is that the heavy-duty fabric harness cradles your backside so you can sit or stand or lean.
Why switch to a saddle?
The benefits of saddle hunting are many, but here are the most compelling ones:
- Comfort. It’s hard to understand without trying one, but the saddle is surprisingly comfortable and supportive.
- Shot Selection. While up in the tree in your saddle you can shoot 360 degrees around the tree. You can also swing to the left or right of the tree to use the trunk as cover.
- Safety. You are connected to the tree via a linesman’s belt from the moment you leave the ground and then with your tree tether. The tether is used with no slack in the system so even if you lose your footing on the platform you can’t fall. You could kind of swing left and right a little bit, but it is unlikely if not impossible that you fall. In a tree stand harness your tree tether has slack in it so you could fall off the stand and hope the tether breaks your fall after dropping several feet.
- Mobility. Probably the single most compelling advantage of the saddle is that the system is extremely lightweight and the whole thing could fit inside a backpack depending on your climbing method.
A good hunting saddle is not cheap but its also not prohibitively expensive. Expect to spend the same amount as you would on a good treestand ($250 and up depending on options). With a saddle, however, you only need one because the lightweight and packability allow you to easily bring it with you to each hunt rather than having to purchase multiple treestands.
Ok…but how do I get up the tree?
This was what confused me the most before I began saddle hunting. You can ascend the tree the same way you would in a treestand (except a climber stand, though some saddle hunters even use the bottom section of a climber to ascend). The most popular method of climbing while saddle hunting is just to use a set of climbing sticks. Some hunters use specialty steps that secure to the tree with ropes, the old screw in Ameristeps, climbing spurs (the kind arborists use), and even arborist rope climbing techniques.
I want to try it. What do I need to get started?
At a minimum, you will need:
- Climbing method (start with sticks)
- Saddle Harness
- Tree Tether
- Lineman’s Belt
- Knee Pads (because you sit facing the tree)
- Small saddle platform (recommended for first-time saddle hunters)
In summary, I was skeptical at first, but after a season of testing out a saddle system, I do not ever see myself going back to using a traditional treestand. It has solved every problem I used to have with stands. It is lightweight (my whole system is under 10 lbs). It packs down small so no lugging in a bulky treestand on my back (the biggest thing is your sticks). I feel so much safer. I would have no problem sleeping in the saddle for a short nap while waiting for the sun to rise. Before, I had nightmares about falling asleep in my treestand and falling off. The feeling of being supported by active tension is incredible (rather than a slack rope with an old school safety harness). Anyone can do it. If you can climb a ladder you can saddle hunt. Most of the systems even support weights up to 300 pounds and waist sizes well over 40″.
Saddles are not sold in many stores yet, but I’m sure that will change before long. Find a friend who has one and make them let you try it out. It will quite simply change the way you hunt by making you lighter, faster, and more adaptable.
One of our favorite saddle gear sites is Tethrd. Their site has tons of info on saddle hunting and sells the awesome Phantom saddle. They even do a “Teach and Train” tour where they go around the country letting hunters test out a saddle. Aerohunter, Trophyline, and H2 are just some of the other companies making saddles, though more are popping up every day.
We will be talking more about specific saddle techniques and different climbing methods in future articles.