I’d heard about it for a decade and considered it for years. In 2018, I decided it was finally time to give it a try. I was going to hunt from a tree saddle.

Of all the questions I’ve received since making that decision, no topic has been more common than tree saddles: What did I think about the tree saddle? Why are tree saddles worth considering? What tree saddle do I recommend? Are tree saddles comfortable? Should folks swap their stands for a saddle?

Today I want to discuss these questions, and what has arguably become the most buzzed piece of gear in the whitetail world.

What’s a Tree Saddle?
Quite simply, a saddle is an alternative for anyone wanting to hunt from an elevated position without the need for a tree stand. The product itself looks like a modified rock climbing harness comprised of nylon straps and a mesh “seat”  that wraps around your waist and upper legs. Rather than sitting on a tree stand, when wearing a saddle you simply clip into a secure rope on the tree and then sit or lean back in the harness. Imagine how a climber looks when clipped into a secure anchor on a rock wall, leaning back in their harness with their feet against the wall.

The connecting point to the tree comes in the form of a “tether rope,” which you sling around a tree trunk with an adjustable carabiner that slides along the tag end of rope hanging down the front of the trunk. That carabiner is then clipped onto the “bridge,” a loop of rope extending off the front of the saddle from the left hip bone to the right. Once clipped into this, you’re securely attached to the tree, just like a climber on the wall. To provide pivot points around the tree and additional stability, you can screw a couple steps into the tree trunk or attach a miniature platform to rest your feet on.

Mobility
When I first heard about tree saddles, I had a hard time understanding why anyone would want to try one. It sounded uncomfortable, difficult to shoot from and complicated to set up. But once I gave it a try, I found a hunting tool that provided a surprising number of benefits for an elevated bowhunter, especially one like me who hikes long distances into hunting areas and moves from tree to tree often.

The increased degree of mobility made possible with a tree saddle is likely its greatest benefit. Before using a saddle, I would hike several miles into public land carrying my bow in one hand and a heavy pack on my back, with a bulky, 13-pound tree stand strapped atop it all. Not only was this a heavy load to carry, but it was also constantly getting hung up on branches, bushes and vines. In short, it was a hassle to pack a tree stand into the woods, even the premium lightweight model I used. Once to the tree, I’d need to ascend, pull up the heavy stand with a rope and then take a few careful minutes to clear a spot of branches and attach the hang-on (all while trying not to clang metallic buckles against the platform or seat).

With a saddle, I have none of this to worry about. Rather than an unwieldy and heavy tree stand strapped to my back, now I just wear the saddle on my waist. My pack weight was cut in half and felt significantly sleeker. I can’t emphasize enough how much more enjoyable, silent and stealthy my hikes are with this setup. Once to the tree, the process is much quicker and quieter as well. No longer do I need to worry about hauling and setting up the big, swinging, clanking tree stand. I just ascended with my climbing sticks, attached my tiny foot platform and then clip in to my tether rope.

Before trying one myself, I remember seeing pictures of saddles and ropes, hearing about the set-up process and thinking that it all sounded awfully complicated. Rest assured, it isn’t.

It took probably no more than an hour after getting my hands on a saddle for me to become familiar with the gear and how to properly use it. And after only just one practice run up a tree, I felt comfortable enough to embark on my first hunting trip with a saddle—an 11-day adventure to Montana and North Dakota, in which I hunted with it exclusively.

The ability to quickly and quietly sneak into a new location and set up in a tree is of extreme importance to the way I hunt. A tree saddle allows me to do this better than ever before.

Comfort
Another common concern about tree saddles is whether they are comfortable. Based off my extensive use this past fall, I’d say that yes, the saddle can be awfully comfy. But what’s unique about sitting in a saddle versus a tree stand is that comfort is much more variable. By that I mean that to be comfortable in a tree saddle requires you to customize the setup to properly fit your body, tightening or loosening the adjustable straps until you achieve comfort.

Once the saddle is properly modified to fit, a certain amount of repositioning in the tree can also help achieve greater comfort. Different than a tree stand, you can position yourself in many different ways while hunting from a saddle. You can lean straight back from the tree, stand straight up on your platform, sit down in the saddle and put your legs around the tree, put your knees against the tree, or spin your legs to go on either side. By switching between these various positions, you can achieve a higher degree of comfort by never putting weight or pressure on your body in the same way for too long.

By properly tweaking my saddle to fit my body and then adjusting my position throughout the day, I’ve found the saddle to be comfortable enough even for all-day hunts. But I would suggest that if you plan an all-day sit with a saddle, make sure to use a platform. The ability to occasionally stand straight up and readjust the position of the saddle on your hips and legs can make a big difference after 10 hours in a tree.

 

Maneuverability
I also found that hunting from a saddle made me more versatile in the types of trees I could hunt from and how I actually maneuvered in the tree for shots.

A hang-on tree stand requires a certain amount of space amidst branches and a certain degree of straightness on a tree trunk in order for you to sit or stand on it comfortably. With a saddle, because you’re already leaning out from the tree at an angle, these variables aren’t as restricting. This makes brushier or more angled and gnarly trees viable options to hunt from.

The ability to move around the tree, slowly swinging or pivoting in your saddle, also proved useful. For example, in my saddle I could effectively maneuver around the tree, depending on branches, to easily shoot a larger than usual area of about 330 degrees around the tree. I could also adjust my position in the tree to be closer or farther away from branch cover, depending on the scenario. I found myself leaving more branches in trees when getting set up, allowing me to sit tight to cover when non-target deer were nearby, staying completely hidden, but then being able to swing away from the branches when drawing my bow.

Potential Concerns
As much as I enjoyed hunting from my saddle, there are still some areas of concern worth noting.

First off, while I personally found a saddle to be comfortable, it might not be for all body types. I think it’s fair to say that this style of hunting, and this specific gear choice, requires a higher degree of physicality than sitting in a ground blind or ladder stand. If you’re not already physically fit enough and/or comfortable with setting up climbing sticks and hang-on stands, this might not be the best option. I hunted with a cameraman this past fall who wore one of my saddles and didn’t find it nearly as comfortable as I did. If possible, try one out to see how it fits your body. The two companies I tried saddles from both offer reasonable return policies that should allow you to test the fit and feel of a saddle at home and return it if you’re not comfortable.

It’s also worth considering how shooting a bow from a saddle differs from a tree stand. While I personally didn’t find it more difficult, it’s certainly different.

In particular, if you’re right-handed, shooting the 20- to 30-degree window directly to your right can pose a challenge. To make this shot you’ll either need to practice bringing your bow over the bridge rope and then rotating your body to the right, which is a bit tricky. Or, you’ll need to use a foot platform, stand straight up, and rotate right. Both options should be practiced. Of course, there are also tough spots to shoot when hunting in a tree stand too.

Anyone trying a tree saddle should make sure to practice shooting from different saddle positions. Your archery form, stance and angles are all different than when you’re shooting from a level standing position. You’ll need to account for this with specific practice, and maybe even reduce shot distances if it causes you to struggle. While I haven’t hunted with a firearm from a saddle, I imagine it could be possible with proper practice as well.

My Personal Setup
I tried two different saddle setups this past season, both of which I came to like. One was the Aerohunter Kite, the other was the Tethrd Mantis. I don’t think you can go wrong with either option—they were both easy to use, lightweight and comfortable. But a few differences are worth noting. The Kite seemed to have a slightly larger mesh seat that wrapped around my bottom more thoroughly. For certain body types, larger people I imagine, this might be preferable. The Mantis, on the other hand, was much more minimalist and extremely lightweight, which I really liked. The leg straps, buckles, ropes and adjustment points all seemed slightly more trim and carefully designed.

Regardless of which saddle model I was using, I almost always brought the Tethrd Predator platform. The Predator is a tiny, ultralight aluminum platform for your feet, which significantly increased comfort and maneuverability in the tree. I know plenty of folks that use screw-in or strap-on steps for standing and I’ve tried those successfully too. But the platform, in my opinion, is preferable.

To ascend the tree, I used the same strap-on climbing sticks I used in the past for my hang-on hunts, either the Lone Wolf or the Muddy Pro climbing sticks. Both worked great and are relatively lightweight and quiet to set up. This year I’ll be testing several more mobile options for ascending, but more to come on that later.

Should You Swap Your Stand for a Saddle?
So what’s the final verdict? I’ll let my actions speak for themselves.

Last year, for the first time in more than a decade, I did not once use a mobile hang-on tree stand. I instead switched to the tree saddle for all of my mobile hang-and-hunts. While I do plan to still use hang-on tree stands in situations where I hunt a permanent location year after year, for all of my mobile hunts moving forward I’ll be using the saddle.

After many years of skepticism, I have officially been converted to a tree saddle hunter.