Updated: Jun 1, 2020
The first time I saw a hunting saddle back in 2018, I didn't have a clue as to what I was looking at. There were various ropes seemingly everywhere and the user was sitting in an obscure piece of stitched together mesh that the ropes were attached to. It looked confusing and cumbersome to say the least and I immediately thought, "Not for me."
As I learned more and more about the saddle hunting setup, the terminology became less confusing and I became more interested in adding one to my mobile hunting setup instead of my summit climbing stand.
If you find yourself in a place where you're very interested in trying saddle hunting but have no idea the first place to start, you're in the right place! Here we're going to discuss the various parts of a hunting saddle and what you need to get started, how they work, how to climb the tree, and where to put your feet.
If you've never heard of a hunting saddle or what it's all about, I suggest checking out my article, What Is Saddle Hunting?, to learn why it's something every bow hunter should know about. Let's dive in!
How Does Saddle Hunting Work?
The first thing you'll need for saddle hunting is, well, the saddle itself! There are several companies out there producing saddles and they'll all have their own unique look but but with the same core essential parts. Starting from the bottom and working up, you'll first notice that
saddles have leg loops or straps. Some companies will allow you to tighten these and others will not but they function the same either way and act as added security and safety.
The next thing you'll notice is the body of the saddle, typically made of some sort of high grade mesh. This is what you will be sitting in and it, along with the straps it's sewn in to will be supporting all your weight when in use.
As we go to the top of the saddle, towards the front you will see lineman loops on both sides and another strap,or rope, going between them, known as a bridge. The bridge is what your tether will attach to when at hunting height and will be discussed later.
Inside the saddle will be a belt which is used for added comfort and to keep it from falling down while walking in the woods but can typically be loosened some once you're tethered in as it does not have any weight-bearing responsibility.
Lastly, most saddles will have molle loops around the back of the saddle for hanging accessories as well as gear bags to store your ropes, extra carabiners, a pull up rope, or whatever else you want.
All setups will utilize 2 different ropes, the lineman's rope and the tether. The lineman's rope is used for ascending and descending the tree and when transferring to your ring of steps or platform. It keeps you connected to the tree at all times, keeping you safe, and allows you to have free use of your hands for hanging climbing sticks, wild edge stepps, or whatever your climbing method is.
The lineman's rope will feature 2 climbing rated carabiners such as the Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner and a prusik knot or any other type of friction knot. A prusik knot is a type of friction knot that is designed to slide freely with your hand when unweighted but immediately tighten when weight is applied to it. It is used to adjust the length of available rope that determines how close or far from the tree you are.
Some people choose to use a prusik tender such as the figure aider for one handed operation, or replace the knot altogether with a mechanical device such as the Ropeman 1 to allow for extremely smooth one handed operation. Here shown is how the lineman's rope looks when set up on the tree, you can adjust how close or far from the tree you want to be depending on preference.
For easier one handed use, some choose to replace their prusik knot with a mechanical device such as the Ropeman 1 by Wild Country, shown here:
The second rope that you will need is called your tether. The tether differs from the lineman's rope in that it only has one loop and utilizes just one carabiner. Just like the lineman's rope, it uses a prusik knot or mechanical prusik to adjust the length of the rope depending on comfort.
When you reach hunting height, the tether will be placed at about forehead height by passing the free end through the loop, which essentially lassos the tree. How high you place your tether will vary from hunter to hunter and all depends on personal preference.
The carabiner, which is attached to the prusik knot, is then attached to the bridge. In the picture below you can see how the tether goes around the "tree", with the carabiner attached to the prusik knot and my bridge, the excess rope of my tether is tied around itself to be out of the way. You'll also notice a red piece of paracord and brass ring that I use as a tender to my prusik knot. The entire setup will look something like this:
From the side, I would be "hanging" in the tree like this if I was in what is called the leaning position with my feet on my platform:
That is all there is to the saddle itself! In review you have the following parts:
Saddle with gear pouches
Lineman's Rope with prusik knot and 2 carabiners
Tether with prusik knot and 1 carabiner
Optional Mechanical prusik or prusik tender
As stated, there are several companies who manufacture saddles and all of them offer full kits of some kind to get you started, here are some popular brands to check out:
Saddle Hunting Climbing Methods
So you have a saddle and are ready to go, but how do you get up the tree? There are several methods that hunters use when getting to hunting height and they do not differ much from when using a hang on style tree stand.
The simplest method would be screw in steps
as once they are installed they are there for good. Unfortunately, these aren't legal for public land and you would need to install them on every tree you want to hunt anyways, taking away some of the mobility aspect.
The most popular climbing method you will see many saddle hunters employ is the use of climbing sticks such as the hawk heliums or shikar sticks. They all vary in weight and pack-ability but essentially function the same way, simply pick your desired height that allows you to reach the bottom step, strap them to the tree, climb to the top, and repeat with 3 or 4 sticks until reaching hunting height.
Climbing sticks are a hunter favorite because they're very easy to use with little learning curve and rather light at 2-3lbs per stick depending on brand.
Depending on how tall you are and what length sticks you buy, most hunters will be able to get to a hunting height of 18-22ft. with 4 sticks and a platform.
The only real downside to sticks is that they are bulkier than other options but recent improvements have made these sticks extremely light weight and pack friendly. Follow the link below to check out some of the prices and reviews of popular sticks offered on Amazon:
Another popular climbing method worth discussing is the Stepp Ladder offered by a company called Wild Edge Inc. Stepps (spelled after the inventor Jim Stepp) require you to wrap a rope around the tree, tie a quick knot, and then "cam" the step over into place to form a very strong and sturdy step that is also public land friendly.
They weigh just under a pound each, are very pack-able as they stack together, and spaced 2 feet apart, 9 stepps would get you to 18ft. For me being 6ft. tall, I can space them 2.5ft. apart and use just 7 stepps to get to the same height without the use of an aider. It would look like this on the tree:
An aider can be used for climbing sticks and Stepps alike and is designed to provide extra climbing height with the use of an adjustable rope or ladder, such as this one.
The advantage of an aider is that it gets you higher with less equipment and therefore less weight in your pack. For instance, using the adjustable aider offered by Wild Edge, I am able to climb to 17-18ft. with just 5 stepps rather than 7 or 8, reducing the weight of my climbing method from 8lbs. to just 5lbs.! Rather than have stepps at 2.5, 5, and 7.5 feet, my first two steps would be at approximately 4.5ft. and 7.5ft. with the rope acting as my first step.
The down side to Stepps is that there is a small learning curve to learn the proper knot, but once you get the hang of it, the versatility this climbing method offers with the reduction in weight is nearly unrivaled. Set up on the tree it would look like this:
Other methods of climbing in addition to climbing sticks and the Stepp Ladder are a follows:
SRT/DRT Technique- This wild looking technique makes it look like you're repelling up the tree and is demonstrated here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=980_kMoKryc
Spurs- Just like a lineman would climb a telephone pole, with this method you wear special "boots" with spurs on them and dig into the tree as you climb with the use of your lineman's rope. Not legal on public land in every state however.
Single Stick Method- This technique uses just one climbing stick and use of your tether to climb the tree as shown here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVakPWFmD2M
Single strap on steps- These steps such as the Silent Approach Steps from Bullman Outdoors work just like screw in steps but are public land friendly as they just ratchet onto the tree.
As you can see, the climbing methods are numerous as this list is not exhaustive and hunters have gotten very creative in how they get up and down the tree. Its up to you to find a method that works best for you and your comfort level.
Saddle Hunting Platforms
The next thing you'll want to figure out is where you want to put your feet when hunting. There are 2 primary options available to you, a platform or a "ring of steps". Platforms in essence are a smaller version of your typical hang on tree stand.
A popular option offered by Tethrd is called the Predator Platform and is the platform I use in my current setup. The platform itself is 12" wide by 12" deep and like other platforms on the market is designed to take side pressure extremely well as shown here:
Wild Edge offers a platform called the Perch and it is actually designed to sit atop one of their Stepps
Other platform options include the Ridge Runner or the Podium, both manufactured by Out On a Limb. Some hunters even opt to just stand on the top of their last stick or step, but this doesn't leave much room for your feet when sitting, shooting, or moving around the tree.
If a platform is not really your thing, some hunters choose to use what's known as a "Ring of Steps", or "ROS for short. It involves hanging single steps such as the Wild Edge Stepps or Silent Approach Steps in a circle fashion either the whole way or half way around the tree,
allowing for foot placement even on the back side of the tree.
The advantage of running a ring of steps over a platform is they are cheaper option than platforms, they're lighter in most cases, and they offer superior foot support for all shot options around the tree. Regardless of the platform you choose, its important to practice as much as possible to get comfortable with the different sitting and shooting positions so you can figure out where you're most comfortable in any possible scenario you could face when hunting.
Now that you know all the basics, its time for you to go out and get yourself in a saddle in time for next season! If you're new to saddle hunting, or just need a refresher on the different sitting and shooting options while hunting in a saddle, be sure to check out my article, What Is Saddle Hunting?! Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have and comment below what you think!
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