I first heard about tree saddles more than a decade ago. At the time I thought hanging from a tree by a waist harness seemed uncomfortable, impractical, and downright foolish. But it turns out I was the fool.
Ten years later I finally gave saddles a try—only to realize I’d been missing out in a big way. I’ve used saddles extensively in the last few years and now see them as one of the most effective tools for hunting deer from an elevated position.
Over that same time, saddle hunting has become one of the hottest trends in the hunting world. Here are my responses to three of the most common questions I receive about hanging from a tree by a waist harness. Trust me, it’s better than it sounds.
In my mind, tree saddles are preferable to portable stands for three reasons (especially if you hunt public land or private ground that requires you move to new locations frequently). A saddle is more comfortable and convenient to pack into the woods, quicker and quieter to get set up in a tree, and more versatile to hunt from.
Even the lightest tree stands on the market are about 15 pounds heavier and their platforms are much bulkier. Strapping a stand like that on your back and then hiking for miles through thick brush is uncomfortable, loud, and cumbersome. With a tree saddle, you can wear it as you hike with no more added weight, sound, or inconvenience.
Rather than hoisting a traditional heavy metal stand into a tree, with a saddle you simply ascend the tree, attach a step or small platform (like the Tethrd Predator), loop a rope around the trunk, and clip in.
With a saddle, you can also hunt from more types of trees. In situations where you wouldn’t be able to use a regular stand, a saddle will allow you to swivel, pivot, and swing into shooting and glassing positions. It’s already helped me kill a buck that I wouldn’t have been able to get a shot on from a normal hang-on stand.
No, but it is different. Rather than facing away from the tree and standing up, you are facing the tree and hanging back from it. This inevitably requires an adjustment from your old ways of shooting and some practice time. But it’s not necessarily harder. I got my first saddle one week before my first hunt in it and was able to feel proficient inside that timeframe. Practice hanging and shooting from a saddle in your yard at both ground level and from an elevated position.
It’s important to note that shots to your front and off-hand side are easiest, while a shot over your shooting hand side is a little harder. This shot requires you to spin in your saddle or bring your bow up and over your tree tether. This can be a little tricky, but the same can be said for certain shots from a normal stand.
So yes, shooting from a saddle is a new experience and requires proper preparation, but it also opens up new possibilities. Because you’re attached at the hip by a rope rather than your feet to a permanent platform, you can swing around the tree to get almost any shot angle or opening you could want. In the right tree, saddles can offer almost 360 degrees of shooting opportunities.
Yes. Is it a walk in the park? No. But neither is sitting all day in a traditional tree stand. What this question is ultimately getting at, I think, is whether or not a saddle is actually comfortable. The answer for me is a resounding yes.
Sitting in a saddle is somewhat akin to sitting cross-ways on a small hammock. For that reason, its much more comfortable on your back end than a hard tree stand seat. Second, a saddle setup allows for a variety of different sitting and standing positions so that you’re never stuck in one stance for too long. You can stand straight up on your platform, you can lean back into your saddle with your legs straight or bent, you can sit down in the saddle and have your legs up against the tree or around it, and so on. Finally, there are a multitude of ways to adjust your saddle to fit to your unique body shape—including leg straps, back straps, and multiple adjustments along the waistline. Take note though, if you want to take advantage of various knee-on-tree positions, you’ll want to have a good pair of kneepads.
And for those of you wondering if you can nap in a saddle, the answer is yes. Quite comfortably, in fact.
Tree saddles are not for everyone or for every situation. But if you want to be a more mobile and versatile whitetail hunter, they’re at least worth a try. For too many years I avoided them and now I’m racing to make up for lost time. Don’t make the same mistake.
If you’d like to learn more, listen to our roundtable conversation on the Wired to Hunt Podcast with saddle hunting experts John Eberhart, Andy May, Greg Godfrey, and Ernie Power.
Feature image via Captured Creative.