Saddle hunting is quickly becoming a go-to method for hunters looking to gain an edge while hunting whitetail deer. Compared to traditional treestands, tree saddles offer greater mobility and comfort, allowing you to hunt from virtually any tree in the area.
Not only does this lightweight system provide improved visibility of your surroundings, but they also help keep you safe and secure from your elevated hunting spot. With a wide range of features available on modern tree saddles, it’s easy to understand why this type of hunting has become increasingly popular among experienced outdoorsmen and women alike.
As turkey seasons are winding down, many hunters are starting to get into the whitetail frame of mind, and there’s not a better time to start thinking about your saddle hunting system.
While there are a lot of options for climbing methods, most hunters use lightweight climbing sticks to get to their elevated hunting position. I’ve used quite a few different brands of climbing sticks in just about every price range. All of them work, so if you’re on a tighter budget, there should be no issue finding something in your price range.
Once Tethrd came out with the ONE Stick, the choice was obvious for me. Developed by a team of passionate hunters at Tethrd, these sticks are designed with one goal in mind – to give you the lightest weight climbing stick on the market without losing any functionality. Coming in at only one pound per stick (including the DynaLite Rope attachment), it’s easy to see why this is a popular option among serious hunters.
The ONE Sticks, and most other climbing sticks, come in a set of three. For a short guy like me, three sticks is only going to get me to a hunting height of about 12 ft, which is okay in some situations. However, here in North Alabama the tall pines and mature hardwood stands reign king on the majority of our landscape.
While I highly recommend getting comfortable with your climbing stick of choice before adding any other moving parts, I also recommend finding an aider system that works for you.
Adding an aider to your climbing system can help you reach greater heights. Aiders are essentially rope ladders made of webbing loops and heavy-duty carabiners that attach onto the climbing sticks. While it’s possible to DIY an aider, there are several small companies designing them specifically to work with climbing sticks.
I use the GC One 3 step aider from Backwoods Mobile Gear, and have really liked their design better than the DIY options I’ve used before. The GC One, like most of BMG’s other aiders, attach to the sticks using heavy duty, double stitched webbing loops around the top step of the One Stick. BMG carries a wide variety of stick-specific aiders, as well as some universal options to work with whatever climbing sticks you decide to use.
With 3 sticks and an aider, I’m able to get about 21’, which is perfectly fine for just about every hunting scenario I’ve been in.
Check out how this aider works with the ONE stick in the video below…
If you’ve read this far and have a little bit of “information overload,” I can promise you I was right there with you before taking the plunge into hunting from a tree saddle. We hear a lot of comments like, “It just sounds like too many moving parts to keep up with,” or “There’s no way that’s safe,” concerns. Again, these are all thoughts that I had initially.
Essentially, what I learned was that with a little bit of practice, and developing a good system, it was actually way easier to use a tree saddle than a conventional treestand. Not only that, I actually felt safer. It all comes back to getting your reps in during the off-season, and developing your system well before your first real saddle hunt.
What do I mean by, “getting your reps in?” Easy – PRACTICE CLIMBING! Developing your saddle hunting system might be the most important factor in determining whether or not you stick with saddle hunting for the long haul.
Unfortunately, many hunters don’t actually start their season prep until just weeks, or sometimes days before the opener. While I don’t start my actual climbing reps until sometime around mid July, the time to start shopping for new gear is now.
Most of the saddle hunting specific companies are small businesses with limited inventory. The closer we get to deer season, the more “sold out” labels you’re going to see. We continue to see it year after year, and it’s easy to avoid. If you’re serious about getting started saddle hunting, don’t wait to buy your equipment. Get it now before it’s gone!
When it comes to practicing your climbing method, the goal is to develop muscle memory. If you were to ask any of my hunting buddies, they’d tell you that once I find something I really like in my system, I’m probably not going to change until it breaks or lets me down.
Even in the case a piece of gear wears out, if it’s a product I liked enough, I’m probably just going to replace it with another just the same. However, in the case I do decide to add or change something in my system, it’s imperative that I give myself enough time in the off-season to learn how to use it.
A pack is a perfect example of this within my personal saddle hunting gear list. When you think about it, the pack you choose might be the most important part of your whole system. Your entire hunt starts and ends with your pack. It’s important that each part of your saddle hunting system is placed inside your pack in the order in which it should be taken out. If you think this is something that can be learned at 4:00am on opening day, you would be wrong!
It’s extremely unsafe to attempt to climb a tree for the first time in the dark. In addition, you’ll likely spook every deer in the woods.
Safety is the number one priority, and climbing a tree in the dark can be a little bit daunting. So it’s important that we are extremely familiar and well practiced with our climbing equipment long before it’s time to hunt.
As mentioned, there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to the equipment needed to start saddle hunting. It can seem like a never ending dark hole with gear and equipment. Some folks will never be satisfied and always seem to be in search of the next groundbreaking piece of gear.
Others, like me, will find a system that works and probably not venture too far from it. Regardless of which category you’re in, there’s a good chance that your first few off-season practice climbs will have you back online shopping for gear that will make your saddle hunt much easier.
I had quite a few things I didn’t think I needed, but after a few reps learned that they would be necessary. Here are a few of those items.
Ropeman 1 Ascender
The Ropeman 1 is essentially just a mechanical prusik, allowing one handed adjustment to your lineman’s belt and tether. While most saddle systems come with a regular rope prusik, life is just so much easier with a Ropeman 1. Don’t question it. Don’t hesitate. Just trust me!
If you’re like me, you probably think wearing knee pads to deer hunt is a little bit ridiculous. However, the first time you try to rest your knee on tree bark, you’ll quickly change your tone as I did. The good news is that many companies like Tethrd have brought some great knee protection accessories to the market. I used knee pads for years and just recently switched to the Knushion, which is just a small cushion pad that clips around the tree at knee height.
We’ve already mentioned the importance of a good pack. A cheap pack from your local sporting goods store will work if you’re on a tighter budget, but I’d highly recommend splurging a little bit for the right pack. I searched and searched for the “perfect” pack for quite awhile and landed on the Eberlestock X2 day pack. Another great pack option for a hauling all your saddle hunting gear is the Mystery Ranch Treehouse 38.
Again these items aren’t “required” to start saddle hunting. However, with a few practice reps, there’s a good chance you’ll start to see why these few items might find their way to the top of your “wants” list.
Speaking of practice…SHOOT YOUR BOW! Shooting from a saddle might be the greatest learning curve for the entry level saddle hunter. Invest a couple of afternoons into learning to shoot from your saddle. Far too many hunters take their first shots from a saddle at a living deer and not only is it irresponsible, it’s also just not smart.
I highly recommend finding a tree and trying to simulate a real-life hunting scenario to practice. If that’s not possible for you, find a small tree or really any structure to wrap a tether around and practice with your saddle at ground level.
Pivot points and shooting around a tree are not things you want to learn with a big buck standing at 20 yards. Put in the time practicing with your bow from your saddle to ensure that you’ll be ready when the moment of truth comes.
Now that you know the gear and knowledge needed to start saddle hunting, it’s time to get out there and practice! The off-season provides a great opportunity for hunters to develop their system with tree saddle, and with proper use, your saddle hunting experience will be safe, comfortable, and successful.
So what are you waiting for? Get outside this season and hone in on those skills! Practice makes perfect when it comes to mastering the art of saddle hunting, so don’t wait another moment!
If you’re just getting started with saddle hunting, be sure to check out the video below…