These days it seems like you shouldn’t show your face at the local archery shop or 3D range if you’re not hunting whitetails from a tree saddle. This lightweight, mobile strategy feels like the new, popular trend in town, but it’s actually been around for a couple of decades. However, recently it’s received some real love from deer junkies.
Whether you consider it a fad or old news, saddle hunting is something all whitetail hunters should at least consider. There’s nothing else that offers both the mobility and flexibility in tree choice that a saddle offers. Plus, it’s damn fun.
If you want to get started, there are a lot of things to consider. It all starts with saddle choice.
Quality isn’t cheap, but it’s usually worth it. A good saddle kit will run you at least as much as most out-of-state deer tags. If sticker shock is an issue, consider that one set of sticks and one good, comfortable saddle, can replace unlimited fixed tree stand sets. It’s a buy-once, cry-once situation.
While they look uncomfortable to newbies, the truth is that buying a good saddle boils down to matching saddle size to your, um, size. The best options out there should offer back support add-ons, and multiple adjustment points to keep your hips from protesting. The difference between the most minimalist designs, and the cushiest, might amount to a pound of material.
If you're looking for ways to make your saddle more comfortable, check out this video: Making Tree Saddle Hunting More Comfy.
We're big fans of Tethrd & Timber Ninja gear at MeatEater, here are a couple of our favorites:
When you’re shopping for a new saddle, you’ll see lists of extra gear—saddle bags, carabiners, ascenders, and a host of other things you can spend your money on to enhance the experience. If you’re a private land hunter, that might be where your shopping experience ends. If you hunt public land, which might restrict the use of screw-in accessories to hang a bow or a backpack, keep looking. There are tons of options to set up your mobile hunting station during each sit.
At the very least, buy a saddle kit that offers a saddle, lineman’s belt, tether, and platform. If you start using your saddle and want more, buy more. But, the basics for a good setup don’t change.
Here are a few products to help you get started:
When you get your kit, read the instructions. Watch YouTube tutorials. Make sure you understand how a saddle functions before heading to the backyard or the local park. When I introduced my daughters to them, we locked the platform on a cottonwood in our backyard, and I had them adjust the saddle at a height of maybe a foot above the ground.
Unless you’re a lineman for the local energy company, you probably aren’t going to be comfortable the first time you lean back and let the saddle hold your weight. If you feel too tippy, you need to tighten up your bridge, snug up your tether, or both. This is easier to learn when there isn’t the feeling of dangling over the abyss.
Do not buy a saddle and then take it to the woods to hunt out of it without first getting to really know it someplace safe. I can’t stress this enough.
Be sure to watch these videos before you bust out the saddle for the first time: Pros and Cons of Tree Saddles, Next Level Saddle Hunting Tips, Should You Always Hunt High in a Tree?, and Perfecting a Stealthy Ascent into Your Saddle.
A saddle is great, but without some way to get off the ground, it’s mostly a hammock for your butt. My personal preference is to pair my tree saddle with lightweight, carbon-fiber or aluminum climbing sticks. To me, it doesn’t make much sense to ditch treestands only to opt for heavy, steel sticks or ladder sections.
Pair your saddle with appropriate sticks or steps, and then head to the backyard again. Once you safely attach your first set of sticks, use your lineman’s belt to keep you secure and safe the whole way up. A dress rehearsal, or several, without the pressure of actually hunting, will help you get comfortable with climbing, and help you understand the overall setup.
Again, don't skip this step.
No matter your weapon of choice, target practice from a saddle is important. When it comes to bowhunting, you have quite a few different positions to shoot from, and almost none of them are comfortable at first. If you aren’t confident in your saddle, you will have a tough time maintaining proper shooting form from most positions. This boils down to backyard practice.
Check out these articles and videos to help establish your own archery practice: The Archery Routine That Will Help You Kill More Deer, How to Not Miss When Bowhunting From a Treestand, and How to Perfect Your Elevated Archery Shots.
Not only will this help you understand shot opportunities, but it’ll also help you envision setups. Most saddle hunters try to hang in such a way that they can peek around the trunk of the tree to where the deer should be. How that goes will depend on being a right- or left-handed shooter, but the goal is almost to hide from approaching deer and then shoot them as they present a broadside or quartering-away shot when they are already looking past your setup. Practice makes this possible, and it’s a deadly setup tactic to learn.
The key to successful and enjoyable saddle hunts is confidence in your system. If you have everything you’ll potentially need, within easy reach, you’ll be able to set up quietly and safely. Knowing where every adjustment point is, and every piece of gear is, will shorten the learning curve in the field.
This is the final piece of the puzzle, and it’s important. You won’t want to be 17 feet up and scrambling to find a piece of gear you need or be unable to figure out why your left leg is falling asleep. Confidence comes with familiarity, and when you get that with saddles, you have a new world of hunting laid out before you.
All it takes is the right gear, some time spent learning the whole thing, and a few practice sessions. After that, you’ll wonder why you ever limited yourself to fixed stands and a less-than-mobile hunting style.