When I first started looking into saddle hunting, I was overwhelmed. There seemed to be lots of equipment options, unlimited ways to climb a tree, and modifications to be made on every piece of gear. And no two saddle hunters seem to agree on equipment or technique.
But once I finally bought my gear and got started, I realized it didn’t have to be complicated at all. All you really need is some basic equipment and plenty of practice time to get started. Once you learn the ropes (pun intended) and get comfortable in the saddle, then you can look into upgrading or modifying equipment, if you want.
My goal with this guide is to walk you through the basics of what you need to know and buy to get started in as simple terms as possible. If you have any questions after reading this, please don’t hesitate to drop them in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
What is Saddle Hunting?
Saddle hunting is a method of elevated hunting that involves wearing a tree saddle or harness that is tethered to a tree with ropes. The hunter typically rests their feet on a small platform or ring of steps and leans away from the tree, with their weight supported by the tether rope.
If that sounds confusing, we’ve included a photo below to help you get a visual.
Why Saddle Hunt?
While I really enjoy hunting from a tree saddle, I wouldn’t say it’s any better than hunting from a treestand or ground blind. It’s really a matter of personal preference.
If you only have a short walk to your hunting spot, and comfort is your primary concern, then a climber or ladder stand may be better options for you.
Where a saddle really shines is when you have long walks to where you hunt and want to stay mobile. Saddle hunting also gives you more tree options as opposed to a climber.
Let’s take a look as some of the most obvious pros and cons of saddle hunting.
- Extremely lightweight and mobile setup
- Unlimited tree options as opposed to a climbing treestand
- Can shoot nearly 360 degrees
- Because you’re facing the tree, it’s easier to hide from approaching deer
- Takes time to get used to hunting from a tree saddle
- Can be difficult to shoot to your weak side
- Comfortable, but probably not as much as a good climber
Saddle Hunting Necessities
One of the biggest roadblocks I ran into when getting started saddle hunting was figuring out exactly what equipment I needed, and what I didn’t. There are lots of different options on the market, and lots of guys modifying their equipment to best suit their hunting style. I was overwhelmed.
What I finally realized after a lot of research was I really only needed five pieces of saddle hunting gear to get started:
- A hunting saddle
- Ropes (lineman’s and tether)
- A platform or ring of steps
- A way to climb the tree
- A backpack to hold all your gear
The saddle and ropes are typically bought together in a saddle hunting kit. I’d recommend going that route to simplify the process. You typically save a few bucks buying it all together, and it will ensure that everything works together correctly.
You’ll then just need a platform to rest your feet on, some climbing sticks to climb the tree, and a backpack to pack in all your gear. To see what gear we recommend for each, simply click on the links above.
While you can start hunting with just a saddle, lineman’s rope, tether, platform and climbing sticks, there are a few accessories that will make saddle hunting a little easier.
Back Strap or Recliner
This is another accessory that’s worth its weight in gold. The back strap – or recliner – is just a strap that hooks into the carabiner on your bridge and goes around your body up under your arms to support your back as you lean away from the tree. It doesn’t look like much, but it adds a whole new level of comfort to saddle hunting. When a deer comes in, you can lean forward just enough to release the pressure and the recliner should fall down around your waist and out of your way for a shot.
Our recommendation: Latitude Back Band
As I mentioned above, if you’re going to spend time in the sitting position with your knees against the tree, you will want knee pads or a cushion that straps around the tree. I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t take long with your knees digging into the side of a tree to get very uncomfortable.
Our recommendation: No Cry Professional Knee Pads (Amazon)
Accessory Strap/Bow Hook
The last accessory item I recommend is some type of strap and hooks to go around the tree and hold your gear. Tethrd makes a simple one with a series of loops to attach hooks to so you can hang your pack, binos or a rangefinder, grunt call, and even your bow.
Our recommendation: Tethrd HYS Strap
Did I miss any important accessories? If you think so, be sure to let me know down in the comments, and I can add to the list!
Is Saddle Hunting Comfortable?
Saddle hunting is surprisingly comfortable once you get used to your equipment and figure our the best body positions for your situation.
Now I’m not saying it’s as comfortable as my Summit Goliath climber, but what little bit of comfort you sacrifice is more than made up for by the light weight and portability of the saddle. Besides, there are several steps you can take to make saddle hunting more comfortable.
Is Saddle Hunting Safe?
Saddle hunting is as safe or safer than any other style of elevated hunting. I understand at first glance why you may think otherwise, but consider the fact that you are attached to the tree from the time you leave the ground until the moment you return to the ground.
As long as you’re using the saddle system properly, there’s really no way to fall, short of a rope breaking. And that’s not likely considering you are using the same type of rope that rock climbers use.
Is Saddle Hunting Expensive?
Expensive is a relative term, but a full saddle hunting setup is definitely not cheap. If you’re starting from scratch, you’re probably looking at $600 minimum to get the basics discussed above. That’s not cheap, but neither is a good climber or hanging stand/climbing stick combo.