Updated: Jun 1, 2020
I was walking through the archery section of the 2018 Great American Outdoor Show when something unique caught my eye. There was a company called Wild Edge Inc. there and at their booth was a representative casually hanging in something that I had never seen before, a hunting saddle.
It didn't look comfortable, it didn't look safe, and it was not something that I was in the least bit interested in trying over my comfy Summit Viper Climber. Flash forward to 2020 and here I am writing about my excitement of joining the saddle hunting craze this season and to hopefully answer the common questions I'm asked when talking about my new found tool.
So what changed in 2 years? As I begin hunting more new public land spots that I'm not familiar with both in and out of state, having the ability to be mobile is crucial until you are really able to figure a spot out.
In my home state of Pennsylvania, I'm lucky enough in most of my locations to find trees in hot-spots that are relatively straight and branch-less, in Ohio however, some of the best spots are swampy areas or areas with thick underbrush that both only offer the gnarliest of trees not suitable for your traditional climber.
I'm not a big fan of hang and hunt hang-on tree stands such as the Lone Wolf Assault II simply due to personal preference so I conceded better stand locations for second or third best spots with climbable trees. Even if I did like these types of hang-on stands, with sticks they still weigh about the same as my climber at 20-22 lbs and have a very bulky profile.
With popular YouTube hunting shows such as The Hunting Public beginning to use hunting saddles, I was regularly seeing the versatility offered by the saddle at a massive weight reduction compared to tree stands and I thought to myself, "These things have to be more comfortable than I thought or so many people wouldn't be switching to them!".
Although hunting saddles have been around for 30+ years, they are still not something you are going to be able to just walk into a sporting goods store and try out for yourself.
So you either need to take a risk and order one without trying, know someone who has one and is willing to let you try, or go to a hunting expo such as the Great American Outdoor Show. I chose the latter and as soon as I sat in the Ambush Lite by Trophyline and felt how comfortable it was, I was hooked and pulled the trigger immediately.
Pros and Cons
So why make the switch? Here is a quick list of what I consider to be the Pros and Cons of a hunting saddle:
-Extremely light weight and small profile, my entire setup to get me 20ft up the tree hunting is 12-13lbs with just 7-8lbs on my back
-Mobile and versatile, you can climb just about any tree that is alive
-360 degree shot opportunity around the tree
-tree conceals movement because it is between you and expected shot
-Small learning curve
-Not quite as comfortable as a climber, but pretty dang close
The biggest Pro is the reduction in both weight and profile. You can see the significant difference in size between your standard climber (for me a summit viper SD) and my current saddle hunting pack.
All in all, my ropes and climber weighed around 23lbs where my saddle hunting pack and saddle combined weighs 12.7lbs and will get me to 20ft. The second picture shows everything I'll be wearing when heading afield this season.
Couple this with the fact that you can climb nearly any tree and have 360 degrees of easy shooting and you have yourself a very efficient setup.
As for cons, there will be a learning curve in getting used to the setup process just like you may have had when first using any type of stand. It will also take time getting used to the shooting angles and sitting positions but this is hardly a deal breaker. The saddle is actually quite comfortable out of the box but adjusting the tether height to your preference will enhance your experience.
Are Hunting Saddles Safe?
Okay, so saddles are mobile and light, but are they safe? This is typically the first thing that people ask me when they first see my set up. The short answer is yes. If used properly, a saddle is probably the safest type of elevated hunting system that you could possibly use.
The ropes and carabiners used are the same ones used for several elevated situations such as rock climbing, swat/tactical repelling, tree trimming, and power line work. They are often times rated to have breaking strengths of thousands of pounds both statically and dynamically.
Many of the saddles themselves have been tested independently and been proven to handle the same types of weights as the ropes and carabiners. You will use a lineman rope to keep you attached to the tree at all times, even when climbing and transferring to a platform, with some even using it as a back up to their tether when hunting.
In hunting situations you will likely be using a platform or ring of steps to place your feet and these will have weight ratings comparable to any type of tree stand you would use, in the
ball park of a 300lb capacity. Lastly, can you fall out of a saddle? I guess anything is technically possible but I had to try my hardest to even go completely horizontal, let alone upside down in my saddle, so it's not something I would be remotely concerned about. For some further piece of mind, here is a little piece of humor that addresses any further worries:
Are Hunting Saddles Comfortable?
So they're safe, but are they really comfortable? This is one of those questions I get as often as the safety concerns and it's one of those things where you truly need to see for yourself to be a believer.
Let's face it, they look awful to sit in, but the reality is they're way more comfortable than any hang-on I've ever sat in and nearly as comfortable as my bulky summit climber. The saddles are actually designed to take all your weight in your rear end, not your legs or back. In fact, the leg straps in my saddle don't even tighten, nor do they need to.
You will need to spend some time tweaking your set up to your liking but once you find that sweet spot, you'll never look back. There are so many different positions to sit in that its easy to mix it up and find a position that you prefer, here are a few of the common ones:
Leaning and Sitting
Standing and Side Sitting (perfect for naps)
So What About Shooting?
One of the biggest benefits of hunting out of a saddle is that a deer could approach you from any direction and you would have little difficulty getting into position for the shot. It also forces you to bend at the waist, which helps in maintaining good form from an elevated position. Although typically seen in bow hunting, the saddle can and has been used by many when hunting with a firearm.
With a hunting saddle, you usually face the tree while hunting which on a clock would be represented by 12:00. You will typically set up in a way that 7:00-2:00 is your ideal shot and the shot you would expect to take in that situation.
For me, I like to put the trail, scrape, or funnel at the 12:00 position so the tree is between me and my target, concealing much of my movement. This position would be known as your strong side shot, which is to the left for a right handed shooter.
5:00-7:00 is directly away from the tree and still very easy to reach, it is known as a drop shot.
The 2:00-4:00 shot (for right handers) is considered the weak side shot and can be achieved 3 different ways. You can either swing the whole way around to your left or pass the bow under the tether and turn to your right, which is a little bit more difficult. My favorite option for this shot is to pass my right arm under the tether and stand so that the tether is over my shoulder and I'm standing with my back to the tree. By doing this I'm effectively using my platform as a traditional hang-on stand and have turned my weak side shot into a strong shot.
To demonstrate how easy it is to cover a wide range of shot angles, here is a quick video of me swinging from the 2:00 strong shot position counter clock-ways all the way over to the weak side 4:00 position in a matter of 10 seconds.
So as you can see, the hunting saddle is a very efficient hunting tool to add an element of mobility and versatility to any hunting style. It will make those long walks on public land much easier with reduction in weight and will open up areas that you simply couldn't hunt before with traditional tree stand options.
It is not an end all be all as I still plan on using my climber stand for some situations that don't require long walks and have good trees to climb, but the saddle will be my primary hunting method moving forward. So if you're given the opportunity to try one out, be sure to open your mind and do it!! You just might be surprised and find yourself in a saddle to this fall!
If you're interested in learning more about saddle hunting, be sure to check out our article, Saddle Hunting for Beginners, to learn the basics of a saddle hunting setup and everything you need to get started!!
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