Saddle hunting has taken the hunting community by storm, and it seems the influx of hunters giving it a try continues to grow. While most hunters who try saddle hunting seem to stick with it, some growing pains are often involved. And sometimes those growing pains are enough to make them hang up the saddle and decide it’s not for them.
I just finished my third season hunting from a tree saddle, and while I don’t see giving it up anytime soon, there was certainly a learning curve and some mistakes along the way that had me questioning if it was for me. In this article, I’ll discuss five common mistakes new saddle hunters make, so you can avoid them and shorten the learning curve.
Want to learn more? Check out our Beginner’s Guide to Saddle Hunting.
You Have Unrealistic Expectations
I think one of the most common mistakes would-be saddle hunters make is going in with unrealistic expectations. Saddle hunting is often hyped as the perfect option for those seeking increased mobility. And while saddle hunting can excel in that area, it doesn’t always live up to the hype.
A full saddle setup can weigh nearly as much as a lightweight climber or a hang-on stand with climbing sticks. It can also be nearly as bulky by the time you fill your pack with a platform, climbing sticks, and all the necessary accessories.
Beyond just the mobility of it, don’t expect saddle hunting to be quite as comfortable as that Summit climber either. It’s certainly more comfortable than it looks, but not necessarily the most comfortable hunting option for spending the day in a tree.
I say all this not to discourage anyone looking to saddle hunt, but I want you to go in with realistic expectations. It’s not the only way to deer hunt, or the best way for every situation. It’s simply another tool in the deer hunter’s toolbox.
You Didn’t Try Multiple Saddles
One of the challenges of getting into saddle hunting is being able to try out different equipment before you buy. Many of the hunting saddle manufacturers sell direct, so you can’t just head to your local Bass Pro or outdoor store and try out the latest saddle hunting gear. That seems to be slowly changing as it gains in popularity, but we still have a long way to go in that regard.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should just go online and buy the same equipment your buddy has or what some guy in a Facebook group recommended. Every saddle is made a little differently, and each of us have our own unique body shape. Just as it is with jeans, shoes, or other apparel, just because a specific saddle is comfortable to me doesn’t mean it will be the best hunting saddle option for you.
I would urge you to take time to try some different saddle types and brands before dropping your hard-earned money on one. I personally use the Tethrd Phantom, and I’ve been happy with it, but you may find a different one that suits your needs better.
Despite not being able to try out the various saddles in your local outdoor store, there are still ways to try some out before you buy. Some of the manufacturers now offer “demo days” across the country where you can try out their equipment. There are also outdoor expos where many of these companies display their products for you to see and test. If neither of those are an option, don’t overlook saddle hunting Facebook groups where you may be able to find someone in your area who has saddle hunting equipment you can try out.
You Didn’t Give it Enough Time
About an hour into my first “sit” in a saddle, I was already beginning to doubt my decision to give this style of hunting a try. I was uncomfortable and my hips were starting to hurt. If I had based my saddle hunting decision on that first experience, I’d be back to packing in the Summit Goliath everywhere I go. Fortunately, I stuck it out long enough to learn what worked best for me in terms of equipment setup and body position to stay as comfortable as possible for long hunts.
I’ve heard a few guys who tried saddle hunting and gave up after a few hunts because it “wasn’t for them.” And that may be true. Saddle hunting isn’t for everyone. But in some cases, if they’d just given it a little more time to figure things out, they would probably still be saddle hunting today.
The lesson here is to give yourself a couple of weeks — and multiple hunts — before you make a final decision on whether saddle hunting is for you.
You Didn’t Practice Enough
Saddle hunting is a whole new ballgame for most deer hunters, especially those used to a climbing stand. There’s a relatively steep learning curve. The sooner you can start practicing prior to deer season, the better off you’ll be.
Not only will you want to familiarize yourself with the equipment and practice the entire setup process, but you’ll also want to spend time in the saddle getting used to the feel of things. It’s a whole different feeling leaning away from the tree you’re tethered to, putting all your faith in a single rope. The best way to get used to that feeling is by setting up and practicing just a foot or two off the ground.
In addition to practicing hanging out in your saddle, if you’re a bowhunter, you’ll also want to practice shooting from the saddle as well. Don’t wait until that buck you’ve been after all season is standing at 20 yards broadside to figure out you can’t make the shot in that direction.
I can’t imagine what a disaster it would have been if I hadn’t practiced numerous times getting setup and shooting my bow from the saddle before opening day arrived. Even with all the practice, it still took time to learn the ropes. Heck, I’m finishing up my second season and still learning the best ways to setup and hunt from the saddle. It’s a continual learning process.
Learn more ways to practice saddle hunting with these 16 Saddle Hunting Tips from Experienced Saddle Hunters.
You Overlooked Key Accessories
While you only need a handful of items to saddle hunt, there are numerous accessories that will make your time in the tree much more comfortable or productive. That topic could fill an article by itself, so we’ll just touch on two of the most popular accessories that we’d recommend getting right from the start to ensure you get the most from saddle hunting.
Knee pads or a knee cushion
One of the primary ways to stay comfortable while saddle hunting is to alternate between leaning and sitting. While sitting in a saddle, you typically rest your knees against the tree, which can get very uncomfortable very quickly if you don’t have some type of padding between your knees and the tree. Most saddle hunters either wear knee pads to stay comfortable in the sitting position, while others opt to strap a small seat cushion to the tree to rest their knees on. I choose the latter because I don’t like having to wear knee pads and constantly adjust them to keep them from sliding down my leg. Either option will keep you comfortable for hours, though.
This is another piece of inexpensive equipment that can make a world of difference in your comfort level. If you’re not familiar with what a saddle hunting backband looks like, it’s simply a nylon strap, with or without some added material and padding, that goes around your back under your arms and clips into the same carabiner where your bridge rope is clipped. The adjustable strap gives your back some support as you lean back away from the tree. When a deer approaches and you ready for the shot, you can simply lean forward and allow the strap to drop down around your waist and out of the way.
Saddle hunting can be a great way to stay mobile and hunt those out-of-the-way locations. Because it’s so different from any other style of hunting, though, there is a learning curve involved. Mistakes made during that initial learning period can be the difference between becoming a lifelong saddle hunter and hanging up the saddle to return to the climber. If you can avoid those common mistakes outlined here, it should make the transition as smooth as possible.