Saddle Hunting 101
Imagine it is November 5. You head to the woods to your favorite ladder stand, all excited. After all, it is November, and the rut is in full swing. You attach your harness and head up the tree. As the sun comes up, you see the first buck of the morning. He’s 100 yards out and cruising for a doe. This gets your heart pumping, and you hope he circles back around under your stand. A few minutes later, you see another on the same path; this one is even bigger. You realize you need to move over, but that’s no easy task. Whether you’re using a ladder stand or a self-climber, it’s not easy to get down and move without making some sort of scene.
Let me introduce you to tree saddle hunting. It is the safest, quietest, most mobile method of hunting out there. It can be a big investment both mentally and financially, but it is well worth it.
Let’s get started with the basics of the hunting saddle and all its parts. The heart of this method is the saddle itself—the part of the gear that you sit in. It is a large piece of fabric. Several companies make saddles, but they are all basically the same. Then, attached to the saddle is a rope that goes from one end to the other. This is the bridge. The bridge is the part that attaches to the tether to hold you to the tree. The bridge can either be permanent, like on the latitude saddle or removable, such as the one on the Trophyline saddle.
There are also two different ropes. There is a lineman’s rope, which is the rope you use to help climb the tree. Then two large “D” rings are sewn into the saddle; this is where the lineman’s rope attaches. You attach a lineman’s rope with carabiners and a prusik knot. Prusik knots are knots that slide up and down the rope and pull tight once they have pressure on them.
Once you get to the right height, you wrap your tree tether around the tree. You attach this to your bridge with a carabiner attached to the prusik knot. You can adjust the tether height to where you feel it is most comfortable. (I like to keep mine about level with my eyes.)
The great thing about hunting saddles is that there are several ways to customize them to make them more comfortable. Speaking of custom, one thing I use in place of a prusik knot is a Tethrd Nation ropeman. This is a mechanical device that allows your rope to slide through easily until pressure is applied. You can use one on both your lineman’s rope and tether. They are perfect for making fast adjustments with one hand while not making too much movement.
Customize a Saddle
When it comes to customizing your saddle hunting gear, there are several items on the market you can use. My best advice is to get the basic things you need to get started, then learn them inside and out. Once you find what works for you, then take a look at how you might improve them.
Now that you know the basic parts of a saddle, let’s discuss how to get up in a tree. There are a few other things needed for saddle hunting. You will need a way to climb the tree, something to hang your bow and pack on, something to stand on, and a pack to carry all these things in. One thing you won’t need is a lifeline, such as you do in treestand hunting. This is because you are attached to the tree the moment you leave the ground. This makes using a hunting saddle one of the safest methods of hunting out there.
Let’s start with a pack. I have tried everything from a Walmart bookbag to a frame pack and everything in between. The best two packs I have found both came from Trophyline. (This makes sense because this is a saddle hunting company and the proprietors themselves saddle hunt.)
The packs I like are the C.A.Y.S pack and the Platow pack. Both have a specific purpose, depending on what you plan to do. The C.A.Y.S pack is a large pack. It has straps to secure your climbing sticks and platform. It also has several pockets and tons of room for all your gear. I like to use this pack for all-day sits when I want to pack in food, or extra layers, or camera gear. It is perfect for hunters who take in lots of gear.
The Platow pack is more of a minimalist pack. It wears like a backpack and has a small pouch on the bottom. The platform goes across your back and your sticks attach to the bottom of the pack. It has room for my bow hanger, light, my Ozonics, a grunt call, and a bottle of water. It is lightweight and very mobile. This is the main pack I run because it allows me to be mobile and fast.
There are several ways to climb a tree. Some hunters use screw-in steps, some use climbing sticks, and others even climb with only one stick and a rope, then rappel down. I prefer to use climbing sticks. There are several different styles and different companies that make them. I like to use three full-length sticks. This system allows me to get to the right height without a lot of bulk. I also use Hawk Helium Steps, but there are several other varieties. Just find what works best for your style.
Once you get to your hunting spot, you need something to stand on. There are several different styles of platforms and steps. My go-to is a platform made by Trophyline called the EDP platform. It is lightweight, affixes to the tree securely, and offers lots of room. This is important because you don’t want to feel like your platform is going to kick out when you’re reaching around a tree to shoot the buck of a lifetime.
The Hanger, Rope
Other things you’ll need once in the saddle is a good bow hanger and pull-up rope. I use a paracord and a carabiner to pull up my bow. My Dewclaw Bow Hanger is from Innovating the Outdoors. The hanger consists of a seven-foot Amsteel rope, which wraps around a tree with a cinch-lock device, plus a bow hanger with three hooks. It can be used on both public and private land because it doesn’t damage the tree. That is another benefit to saddle hunting—no tree damage.
Now that you are ready to climb, let’s talk about some benefits of saddle hunting and a few hunting tactics. One of the biggest benefits of using a saddle is that it allows you to move all the way around a tree. This is a perfect way to conceal yourself from a deer while still knowing what’s going on. It also allows you to shoot 360 degrees around a tree and behind you.
Saddle hunting also lets you be extremely mobile without having to carry a bulky stand. This is great for the person who likes to scout and hunt the freshest sign. It allows you to go up and down a tree fast and easily. It’s a perfect tactic for when you go in blind in the dark, then realize you need to be 100 yards over once the sun comes up.
When it comes to picking out a tree, I like to find one with lots of cover. I have climbed both large- and small-diameter trees. If your rope reaches around the tree, you can climb it. I carry three climbing sticks, even if I don’t necessarily have to use all of them. In this case, it’s all about the right tree with the right cover.
If I haven’t convinced you to go out and buy a tree saddle yet, I recommend that you find a hunting buddy who has one and try it out first. If you can’t locate one that way, most companies host teaching events at trade shows and independent events in the summer that allow you to try out the gear.
I believe that after your first time in a saddle, you will find it hard to hunt any other way. If you want the quietest, fastest, most mobile style of hunting out there, get a saddle. You won’t regret it.