Saddle Hunting for Beginners

Outdoors Allie • June 26, 2023

What is saddle hunting?

Simply put, saddle hunting is a method of deer hunting from an elevated position. It is an ambush approach much like that of a treestand, but at the same time very different. A hunting saddle is essentially the combination of a safety harness and a treestand built into one unit. It allows you to connect and suspend your body from the tree, alleviating the separate needs for a bulky platform, seat, full body harness, and lifeline. I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, but after 4 full seasons of hunting from a saddle, I’m hooked. For me, a saddle is the ultimate setup for the mobile hunter.

What gear do you need?

There are a few main components to every saddle hunting system. A climbing method, the saddle itself, and a platform or perch of some sort. The most common climbing system is a set of portable climbing sticks. I have used a few different models over the years and they all have their own advantages. Hawk Helium, Muddy ProSticks, and Tethrd One Sticks are my go-to. As far as the saddle system goes, you’ll need the saddle itself, a lineman rope, a tether rope, and a platform. Those are the bare necessities. You’ll also want to consider some dump pouches for organizing ropes, as well as a Rope Man 1 Ascender. This device makes adjusting rope slack much easier than the traditional prusik knot. Other pieces of gear to look into are gear hanging systems once you’ve reached hunting height, knee pads, and other typical archery accessories like a bow rope and backpack.

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The Pros

I primarily hunt large public land areas, and the main advantage that saddle hunting offers me is unrestricted mobility. With this lightweight system, I can walk miles upon miles, hunting and scouting my way into new areas. I can climb crooked trees, trees with lots of limbs, large-diameter trees, small-diameter trees, and everything in between. And if I don’t like the particular zone I’ve set up in, it’s no problem for me to climb down and readjust mid-hunt or the next morning. This is the main reason I love saddle hunting. It provides me with the freedom to explore and hunt in an active way. And those micro-adjustments from one tree to another are so vital for me as a bowhunter. Especially on larger swaths of public land, it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly where the deer are going to move through. With a saddle, I am able to hunt and observe where the deer are walking, then make a micro-adjustment that is just 10 or 15 yards closer to the deer. This method has worked well for me over the last few years and has solidified my passion for this style of hunting.

The next major advantage of a saddle is increased shooting ability. With the way I set up my climbing sticks, 90 degrees offset from my platform I can essentially shoot the full way around the tree while using the trunk as concealment. This does require some practice, so don’t be shocked when you are fumbling around the first few times in the saddle. However, once you get the hang of it, there will be no more missed opportunities from the deer walking on the “wrong side” of the tree.

And last but not least, the comfort and safety are equal to if not better than that of a tree stand. With a saddle, I'm always connected to the tree. Between the lineman rope and tether, I am connected to the tree from the bottom all the way to the top. Now, that’s not to say that you don’t need practice before hunting with a saddle. I practiced using my saddle in the backyard for a few weeks until I became comfortable enough to use it in the field. With patience and reps, it becomes routine. And as far as comfort goes, I’ve never had an issue. Now of course there will be pressure points here and there, just like with sitting in a tree stand all day, but the beauty of a saddle system is that you can customize and adjust your position on the fly. I consider myself more of a “sitter” but when my knees get sore or my toes get cold I like to pop up on the platform and “lean”. Tether height, using a back band, having the right boots, and other such things will factor into comfort and the customization of your setup.

The Cons

Most of the criticism and questions about saddle hunting involve safety and comfort. And while these are valid concerns, I personally don’t have issues with either. If anything, I feel safer in a saddle than a traditional tree stand because of the way you are tethered to the tree. And as far as comfort goes, that’s a little harder to address. It’s similar to shoes. One pair of hiking boots may work for one person and not another. I will forewarn those with hip or back problems, saddle hunting may not be the best choice for you. Also, for those in poor physical condition, I wouldn’t recommend it because climbing with sticks does require a fair amount of strength and coordination. Lastly, I don’t think saddle hunting with a firearm is nearly as advantageous when compared to a bow. For me, it has been challenging to find a stable shooting position when hunting with a firearm, but that is something I’m in the process of working on. I know others who seem to have that dialed in though.

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If you are in good physical condition and searching for a lightweight alternative, saddle hunting is worth further research because it is here to stay! And if I could make one last recommendation, it would be to attend a local event or ask a friend for a tutorial before making the investment. Getting some hands-on experience will help to solidify your decision one way or the other!

--Outdoors Allie