Last updated on August 1st, 2023
Saddle hunting has taken the deer hunting community by storm. Unless you just got paroled from a five-year stint in Facebook jail, you’ve undoubtedly seen and heard the buzz surrounding this unique style of hunting.
Ironically, it isn’t a new phenomenon. Saddle hunting has been around for decades. However, it wasn’t until recently that innovations in equipment and some creative online marketing brought it to the mainstream.
If you’re wondering what all the buzz is about, or if you’re trying to decide if it’s right for you, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll cover everything you need to know — from the basic equipment involved, to climbing methods, comfort and safety concerns, and more.
If that doesn’t cover it, you can always post your question in the comments. I’m wrapping up my second season in a saddle, so between that experience and all my personal research on the subject, I should be able to answer most questions about the basics.
What is Saddle Hunting?
Saddle hunting is simply the act of hunting in an elevated position from a tree saddle. Not real helpful, huh? Before we go any further, I first need to explain what a tree saddle is. The best description I can give you is a rock climbing harness with a fabric seat sewn into it.
Instead of hunting from a traditional treestand, saddle hunters typically hang in the tree from their saddle, with their feet supported on some type of small platform. If that still doesn’t help clear things up, we’ve included a photo below to help you get a visual.
Take a look at the image below to get a better idea of what I’m trying to describe.
Is It Comfortable?
I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing too when I first started hearing the buzz around saddle hunting and seeing the photos.
“There’s no way that’s comfortable!”
I can tell you after a year of hunting exclusively from a tree saddle that it’s surprisingly comfortable once you get used to it and figure our the best positions for your situation.
Now I’m not saying it’s as comfortable as my Summit Goliath climber, but what little bit of comfort you sacrifice is more that made up for by the light weight and portability of the saddle. Besides, there are several steps you can take to make saddle hunting more comfortable.
Is It Safe?
Another common concern is the safety aspect, but I can assure you that hunting from a saddle is as safe or safer than any other style of elevated hunting. I understand at first glance why you may think otherwise, but consider the fact that you are attached to the tree from the time you leave the ground until the moment you return to the ground. As long as you’re using the saddle system properly, there’s really no way to fall, short of a rope breaking. And that’s not likely considering you are using the same type of rope that rock climbers use.
The final concern about this popular style of huntinig is the initial investment required to get started, and that is a legitimate issue. Expensive is a relative term, but a full saddle hunting setup is definitely not cheap. If you’re starting from scratch, you’re probably looking at $600 minimum to get the basics discussed below. That’s not cheap, but neither is a good climber or hanging stand/climbing stick combo.
Is It Better Than Treestand Hunting?
While I really enjoy hunting from a tree saddle, I don’t know that I would say it’s better than any other style of hunting. It’s really a matter of personal preference. If you only have a short walk to your hunting spot, and comfort is your primary concern, then a climber or ladder stand may be better options for you.
Where a saddle really shines is when you have long walks to where you hunt and want to stay mobile. Saddle hunting also gives you more tree options as opposed to a climber.
Let’s take a look as some of the most obvious pros and cons of saddle hunting.
- Extremely lightweight and mobile setup
- Unlimited tree options as opposed to a climbing treestand
- Can shoot nearly 360 degrees
- Because you’re facing the tree, it’s easier to hide from approaching deer
- Takes time to get used to hunting from a tree saddle
- Can be difficult to shoot to your weak side
- Comfortable, but probably not as much as a good climber
One of the biggest roadblocks I ran into when getting started saddle hunting was figuring out exactly what equipment I needed, and what I didn’t. There are lots of different options on the market, and lots of guys modifying their equipment to best suit their hunting style. I was overwhelmed.
What I finally realized after a lot of research was, at it’s core, there really wasn’t a lot of equipment needed. In fact, it really comes down to five core pieces:
The explosion in popularity of this style of hunting has resulted in a similar rise in tree saddle manufactures, so there are now a wide variety of options on the market to choose from in both single panel and two panel designs. Some of the more popular manufacturers are:
- Aero Hunter
I can’t speak to which saddle brand is best. I use the Tethrd Phantom, and I’m very happy with the quality and comfort. Tethrd was one of the first companies to bring saddle hunting to the current mainstream and always seem to be at the forefront of the latest saddle hunting technology. I’m sure some of the other companies produce great products as well, though.
My advice would be to try some of the different companies and models and see which one best suits you. You can use some of the saddle hunting Facebook groups to find guys in your area with saddles to try, or some of the manufacturers now host “training days” around the country where you can see and try out their equipment.
There are two ropes you’ll use to saddle hunt — three if you include the bridge rope, but those are typically made into the saddle itself.
The first of two ropes you’ll need is a lineman’s rope. This is the same lineman’s rope you may already have from using a hang-on stand or climber. The lineman’s rope will have a carabiner on each end. The rope goes around the tree and attaches to each side of the tree saddle. It keeps you attached to to the tree as you climb or descend it, as well as while you hang your platform.
Once you reach hunting height, you use the second rope — your tether — to attach your saddle to the tree. The tether is very similar to the lineman’s rope, but has a sewn-in loop on one end so you can run the other end of the rope through the loop to cinch it to the tree. The non-looped end has a carabiner that attaches to the bridge rope on your saddle. Once your tether is attached, you can remove the lineman’s rope, tuck it in your pack and start hunting.
A Platform of Ring of Steps
A small platform is important to provide you with a place to rest your feet while you lean away from the tree or sit in your saddle. Saddle hunting platforms come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. Some guys forgo platforms and just use screw in steps or a ring of steps, but I’ll take the comfort of a platform over saving a couple pounds of weight.
A Way to Climb the Tree
Now that we’ve talked all about the saddle and how you attach to the tree, we need to touch on how you get yourself into the tree at hunting height. In most cases, this will be with the help of some type of climbing sticks. There are LOTS of climbing stick options on the market at a broad range of prices that are typically closely tied to the weight of the sticks. In most cases, the lighter the sticks, the more you’re going to pay. So you’ll have to balance your desire to be as light and mobile as possible with your overall saddle hunting budget.
Aside from climbing sticks, some saddle hunters use screw-in or strap-on steps. Some go as far as using climbing spurs similar to what an electric lineman would use. Personally, I’ll stick to my Tethrd One climbing sticks!
Packing It Together
Once you have all the key pieces discussed above, you’ll need a way to carry it all to your hunting location. Surprisingly, there’s only a couple of companies making backpacks specific to saddle hunting, and that is Trophyline, and more recently, Tethrd. But there are lots of great options on the market that will fit the bill.
If you’re looking for an affordable option that works great, consider the TideWe hunting pack. You can see my review of it in the video below.
The key features you’ll want are an easy way to hold your platform and climbing sticks. For this, I like a pack with strapping options on the outside of the pack for securing that equipment.
While you can start hunting with just a saddle, lineman’s rope, tether, platform and climbing sticks, there are a few accessories that will make saddle hunting a little easier.
An ascender for saddle hunting is a mechanical device from the rock climbing world that replaces the prussic knot on your lineman’s rope and/or your tether. It makes it possible to adjust the length of your ropes with one hand rather than both. While it’s far from a necessity, I’m really glad I have them on my setup.
Back Strap or Recliner
This is another accessory that’s worth its weight in gold. The back strap – or recliner – is just a strap that hooks into the carabiner on your bridge and goes around your body up under your arms to support your back as you lean away from the tree. It doesn’t look like much, but it adds a whole new level of comfort to saddle hunting. When a deer comes in, you can lean forward just enough to release the pressure and the recliner should fall down around your waist and out of your way for a shot.
As I mentioned above, if you’re going to spend time in the sitting position with your knees against the tree, you will want knee pads or a cushion that straps around the tree. I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t take long with your knees digging into the side of a tree to get very uncomfortable.
Accessory Strap/Bow Hook
The last accessory item I recommend is some type of strap and hooks to go around the tree and hold your gear. Tethrd makes a simple one with a series of loops to attach hooks to so you can hang your pack, binos or a rangefinder, grunt call, and even your bow.
Did I miss any important accessories? If you think so, be sure to let me know down in the comments, and I can add to the list!
While saddles have taken the deer hunting world by storm, they aren’t for everyone. They are just another tool in the deer hunter’s every-growing toolbox. If the thought of going into the woods light and mobile appeals to you, then I would encourage you to get with someone who saddle hunts and give it a try. You may be surprised just how appealing it is once you spend a little time in one.