Saddle hunting 101

(Photo by Corey Hunt)

Saddle hunting can offer new opportunities for deer hunters.

Saddle hunting has swept the whitetail community in a flood of information and hype the past 5 years. What used to be a fringe style of hunting has entered the mainstream. Saddle hunters were once a small tribe of DIY enthusiasts that hung from trees in homemade apparatuses. Now close to a dozen commercially available options make saddle hunting more accessible to the masses.

Saddle hunting offers hunters many advantages, such as the ability to shoot in all directions. (Photo by Corey Hunt)

Switching from stand to saddle

While hunting out of a tree is nothing new, hunting out of a saddle can unleash many advantages to the average hunter. For those looking to hunt deep in the woods while carrying a fraction of the weight of a normal treestand, saddles are a great solution. 

Other hunters may not be comfortable in most commercially available treestands. Tall, short, or wide hunters are limited in options with traditional lock-ons and ladder stands. The distance between the seat and the foot platform can cause knee and back pain for hunters whose dimensions are not the same as the bulk of customers for whom most products are made. Saddles are infinitely adjustable for any size. 

Another reason to switch to a saddle is the variety of trees that can be hunted. Trees with leans, forks, or otherwise tough-to-deal-with anatomy are easily hunted with a saddle. 

Basics of saddle hunting

A saddle is composed of a saddle, bridge, and tether. The saddle is a piece of cloth or webbing that resembles a camo diaper. The bridge is a piece of rope that connects both sides of the saddle in front. The tether attaches to the tree and the bridge. The size of the saddle, length of the bridge, and positioning of the tether all play important roles in the comfort of a saddle. 

To rest your feet, the most popular option is a platform. These resemble miniature lock on stands without a seat. Some people prefer to use a ring of steps or screw-in steps. But foot comfort during long sits leads most hunters to a platform. 

Climbing with a saddle

Any climbing methods of treestand hunting can be used with saddle hunting. A set of climbing sticks, the bottom of a climbing stand, and pre-set sticks or ladders are all common ways of climbing while saddle hunting. 

A set of sticks seems to be the most popular, while ounce-counters are becoming proficient climbing with no sticks or one stick with a webbing loop. A quick search on the internet will lead you into a never-ending rabbit hole of climbing methods in the saddle community. 

Saddle safety 

When used correctly, it is nearly impossible to fall out of a tree while climbing or hunting. Since a lineman’s belt or preset safety rope should be used at all times, the hunter is never disconnected from a rope. 

At hunting height, the tether is connected to the bridge with a carabiner. At that point, the hunter can lean into the saddle making sure the tether is secure, then disconnect from the lineman’s rope or safety rope. 

Saddle comfort

Once safely tethered to the tree, it is time to get comfortable. The best way to be comfortable during a hunt is to have practiced before you hunt. Some hunters like their saddle high and lean into the saddle. Others wear the saddle lower and sit like in a swing. Figuring out if you are a “sitter” or a “leaner” requires practice. 

Try to sit in a saddle for at least one hour straight. Any issues with “hip pinch” or other discomforts will become evident during that time frame. Any pain you encounter has been felt by others before. The saddle community is very helpful and a quick post on social media or a forum will surely be answered with helpful advice. 

For sitters, the most common issue is pain from your knees touching the tree. Knee pads, pieces of foam, and seat cushions are all options to avoid this issue. 

Leaners should have footwear that offers lots of support. And they should test out their footwear and find the most comfortable way to position themselves on the platform. 

Another factor for saddle comfort is tether height. No certain height is correct, but it is best to start around eye level. This height is comfortable for most and allows greater movement around the tree. A tether lower than eye level will be shorter, thereby limiting movement around the tree. A tether higher than eye level will allow for easy 360-degree movement around the tree, but will make the hunter feel like they are being pulled into the tree. 

Many variables are involved in being comfortable in a saddle. No saddle hunter sets up in the same way. While daunting at first, an almost infinite number of methods can make a comfortable hunt based on saddle position and tether height. 

Saddle shooting

Once you are safe in the tree and have outwitted the prying eyes of wily whitetails, the last aspect of saddle hunting shows up. Shooting a bow or rifle from a saddle is very simple. Just like every other aspect of saddle hunting, it requires a bit of practice. 

Many bow hunters claim it is easier to shoot from a saddle. Hunters have three anchor points for stability when saddle hunting — two feet and the tether attachment. These provide a solid base for shooting. Practice beforehand, shooting different angles around the tree to become comfortable and ensuring the bow cables do not contact the tether or bridge. 

Gun hunters usually rest their firearm against the tree or tether. With a little practice, it is simple to find a steady hold to take a good shot. 

Is it for everyone?

The short answer is no. Not everyone will find saddle hunting comfortable or relaxing. Everyone should give it a try though. The ability to hunt any type of tree, bring new life to a heavily used stand, and lightening your load when hunting deep in the woods should be reason enough to give saddle hunting a try.

Hunting Club Hacks

As mentioned before, the saddle has made a splash in the public land running and gunning community. Many hunters in the Carolinas hunt private land, leases, and hunt clubs that have pre-set stands in proven areas. 

Hunt clubs always seem to have a doe that will check if someone is in the stand next to a good plot or feeder. The staring contest that ensues when a hunter’s outline is spotted usually ends with a blow and white tails bounding away. 

A saddle allows the hunter to set up on the opposite side of the tree that the pre-set stand is located. Climbing is easy with the ladder or sticks present on the tree stand. Once in the stand, attach the platform to the other side of the tree, secure the tether and slip behind the tree. 

With small movements, the hunter can keep the tree in between the observant deer and their silhouette. Heavily used stands and stands on feeders can possibly pay off when the rest of the club members have accepted defeat from the deer that check the stand before they come into range.

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