Tree Saddle Hunting Guide - Gear & Tips for Getting Started with Tree Saddle Hunting
- 26 Jul, 2020
A few years ago, you probably had never heard of one. A tree saddle? Like a seat you put on one of the big branches in your go-to oak tree so you can straddle it and hunt? (That’s exactly what I pictured the first time I heard the term). Then you started seeing YouTube videos of DIY-style, often public lands-focused hunters who seem to just show up in a completely new state and find jackpot whitetail spots. How were they able to get into these tough spots without any pre-season stand setting or carrying climber stands a few miles back in? An increasingly popular go-to piece of gear for that style of hunting is the tree saddle.
Tree saddle hunting has been around for a long time. There have been several different styles made by different companies over the last few decades, but recently saddle hunting has been gaining rapid popularity. Why would you want to trade in your tried and true tree stands you’ve been using your whole hunting career for a piece of fabric and some ropes? Well, that mostly depends on your hunting goals and style. In many cases, hunters who choose to saddle hunt are wanting a lightweight and/or mobile option for public land hunting.
But even for someone with 100 acres of private food plots and plenty of places to leave a permanent stand, saddle hunting has its benefits. For one, you can save money on tree stands by using screw-in steps and the saddle. A few dozen steps is a lot less expensive than the dozen-plus tree stands a hunter might have on a property.
Some other advantages to using a saddle include:
- The ability to conceal yourself from animals by positioning the tree between yourself and the animal
- Versatility in tree selection—you can get into trees with branches down low that would impede a climber stand, as well as trees with a wide variety of diameters
- Since you’re tethered to the tree the whole time, using a saddle is very safe
Sold on the benefits of saddle hunting yet?
There are several companies that make tree saddles, but there are also plenty of people who have made their own. Saddle hunting really is very DIY-friendly. There are some basic components everyone needs, but how you complete your setup is up to you. The saddle itself is a piece of fabric to support your body, similar to a rock climbing harness but with more rear support. A carabiner and rope tether you to the tree, and you use a lineman’s belt for safety while ascending the tree. There are endless ways to set up your system so that it works for you, but those are the basics.
In addition to the saddle, you will need a method for climbing the tree. Some popular options include climbing sticks, tree steps that go in a fanny pack and strap around the tree, screw-in steps, tree climbing spurs, or a combination. Some states prohibit screw-in steps on public land, so that is something to keep in mind even though they are often the cheapest option.
Hunter preferences vary when it comes to the rest of the system. Many hunters face the tree and rest their feet on branches or pegs, often using knee pads for added comfort when resting their knees against the tree. You can also buy or DIY small platforms to stand on or rest your feet on. Adjusting the distance from the tree to your carabiner on your tether rope can help with comfort and mobility in the stand. A Prusik knot can be used to adjust the length of the rope tail, but other rock climbing hardware such a manufactured ascender is preferred by some hunters as a quick way to let out rope.
Other things to think about include how to store your bow or gun in the tree with you, as well as your other gear (rangefinder, calls, etc). You can also customize your saddle for comfort and fit by adjusting its size, adding fleece padding, or more back support if desired. Setting up your saddle hunting kit is a matter of personal preference and takes time and tweaking to make it perfect for your comfort level and hunting style.
Just like everything else in the hunting gear department, a little practice goes a long way. Practice shooting from just a few feet off the ground so you don’t have to climb 25 feet repeatedly just to retrieve your arrows. This helps you get the feel for the range of shooting angles you can take, how to maneuver yourself around the tree for different shots, and the ideal height of your tether in relation to your saddle.Whether you are looking to build your saddle setup for your first saddle hunting season or you’ve been using one since 1992, there are plenty of good online resources where you can find advice and ideas. Some of the DIY ingenuity on sites like saddle hunting Facebook groups and forums can really help you step up your game. It might be a different experience than classic tree stand or ground blind hunting, but giving saddle hunting a try will add another tool to your hunting strategy toolbox.
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