Last year was the first year I hunted from a saddle. I've hunted from hang-on stands that I've pre-hung on private land, ladder stands, and a reasonably compact Lone Wolf climber. I think they all have their place, but the saddle was a game-changer for me last year. It'd be easy to write off saddle hunting as a fad – it's getting coverage everywhere these days. And I was a bit skeptical myself as It didn't seem comfortable or easy to me, but as the saying goes, don't knock it 'til you try it. Here are the reasons I think you should give saddle hunting a try.
Ease of Use
There's something about hunting that can feel very chaotic to me. Rules and regulations can be stressful and confusing, bow limbs and rifle scopes can be fragile, forgetting the Thermacell can be devastating for a hunt, waking up early and making it to the tree late is frustrating, and finding cars parked at the spot you scouted is maddening. These things contribute to the chaos that I sometimes associate with hunting, which is why I like to keep things simple.
I was skeptical that saddle hunting would be simple. The saddle itself is one aspect, but then you need to get up the tree – and boy, have people got a lot of clever ideas on ways to do that. Each choice has pros and cons and carries a different weight penalty. My goal is to get to and up the tree quietly and with little stress.
Hunting from a tree saddle is complex – there are a lot of moving pieces, and it can feel overwhelming. I didn't practice enough before I hunted, but the good news is that it didn't take many hunts to feel comfortable. I developed a bit of a checklist that worked for me, and it all became less chaotic. I'd walk in with the saddle already on. When I got to the tree, I would hang my sticks and platform from my saddle. Then I'd hang the first step, throw my lineman's rope around the tree and move up. Eventually, you get the platform out and hang it, step up, and hang your gear. For ease of use, I'd give a saddle hunting a 6/10.
The biggest thing that contributed to removing chaos is the overall profile and carry weight of the system. If you've ever carried a climber or a hang-on with sticks, you've probably wondered what knucklehead designed the stand but didn't think about how the shit you're supposed to carry it to the tree.
My Lone Wolf Climber has eBay military pack straps attached to it, and it's still a nightmare to carry. Wearing the saddle itself to the spot means you're carrying some of that weight on your hips, not your back or shoulders. You'll still need to carry sticks (or some climbing method) and the platform, but that weight is almost nothing compared to a climber or hang-on stand.
Weight and carry profile is a big factor for us here – we're in the south, and we've got some brutal hills in some of our public land WMAs with thick growth and slick autumn leaves. I look forward to going further now because it's so much more manageable and enjoyable. For weight and carry, saddle hunting gets a 10/10.
The most comfortable tree stands I've used are big hang-on or ladder stands with a mesh seat bottom. They cradle you, so you tend not to get hot spots as bad. I'm also a big stander when it comes to tree stands – I'd prefer to stand and only sit to rest my back occasionally.
I didn't know what to expect with a saddle in terms of comfort, and I was honestly a bit worried about it. Fortunately, I can honestly say that saddle hunting is the most comfortable hunting I've ever done. It's even more comfortable than being on the ground to me. The reason is actually pretty simple – you're sitting in a saddle that cradles you and free to move around within the system. I'm sure that every saddle is a little different, so mileage may vary, but I was able to do an all-day sit without problems with my setup.
There's just so much flexibility with a saddle setup. You can stand, lean back, or sit with your knees against the tree. You're tethered and just feels safe in all directions and angles - it's hard to feel that in a treestand. My current setup even has a back brace that gives you some adjustable back support. On comfort, saddle hunting is a 10/10, which was a huge surprise for me.
Facing a tree with a rope coming up in front of your chest could seem like a problem for making shots. However, I have swung all around and drawn back from many angles in a tree, and I can say that it has more opportunities than a tree stand, period. You can find angles with a tree stand, but you have to watch your step and feel with your feet as you're finding them. When you've already got tension on a saddle, you can move in most directions and feel stable. It's a unique feature of the saddle, and it just can't be beaten. For shot opportunities, saddle hunting gets a 10/10.
Saddle hunting isn't new, but it's been growing in popularity lately. With all the advantages it offers, there's no reason not to try it. You can find reasonably priced saddles and sticks from a handful of companies, and you can't beat the system's flexibility. If you haven't tried it and you've got complaints about your current tree setup, give saddle hunting a try. If you hate it, there's someone out there that would love to buy your setup, as some of these companies struggle to keep stock as the season picks up.