Saddle hunting is overrated.
There, I said it!
But before you skip down to the comments section to tell me I’m an idiot, hear me out.
I’m currently in my third season of saddle hunting, and still find myself choosing the saddle over other climbing methods more times than not. But for whatever reason, I think the benefits of saddle hunting have been over-hyped.
Heck, I’ve probably overstated them myself a time or two.
The truth is saddle hunting can be a great tool in your deer hunting toolbox, but it’s NOT the only tool. There are situations when other tools make more sense, whether that be a climber, a hang-on stand, or even a ground blind.
In this article we’ll break through the hype and take an objective look at saddle hunting, when it makes sense, and when a different hunting method may be a better option.
Perceived Pros of Saddle Hunting
Can saddle hunting provide weight savings over a climber or hang-on stand? Absolutely! But I think if most hunters did the math, the savings would be minimal. Especially for guys (and girls) who are hunting whitetails east of the Mississippi River.
Is five, or even 10 pounds really going to make or break you, when you’re walking less than a mile to your hunting spot?
I can understand it if you’re chasing elk out west, walking rugged terrain for several miles a day, but that’s not what most of us whitetail hunters are doing.
Now I realize that some of you go to extremes to make your saddle hunting setup lightweight. I’m looking at you, one-stick guys! In those cases, the weight savings can be more significant. Is it worth the trouble and expense? Only you can decide that.
In my mind, the biggest perk to saddle hunting is the increased mobility it provides. Not because of any weight savings, but more due to the reduced profile of the setup. Having everything strapped to a comfortable backpack that you can easily maneuver through thick brush or saplings is a big step up from packing a big, bulky climber on your back.
I was reminded of this recently, when I carried in my Summit Goliath for the first time in a long time. I only had to go a few hundred yards to where I was hunting, but that’s all it took to be ready to get that thing off my back and onto a tree.
If you’re hunting areas with limited straight, limbless trees, then saddle hunting can definitely provide some versatility over a climber by allowing you to climb and hunt in a variety of tree types. Of course, that same benefit can come from a hang-on stand setup as well.
Comfort in the saddle really varies from person to person and even from one saddle model to another. Personally, I find the saddle more comfortable than any hang-on or ladder stand I’ve ever used. But it’s definitely not as comfortable as my Summit climber.
But I can stay comfortable enough in my saddle setup to keep me from packing in the bulkier Summit for most hunts. There are a few exceptions that we’ll dive into below.
Cons of Saddle Hunting
So while saddle hunting certainly has some benefits over other methods of hunting, it also has its share of cons. The main three that come to mind for me are:
Saddle hunting is expensive! Fortunately, its increasing popularity has resulted in more and more manufacturers popping up, with some of those offering more affordable gear options. But it’s still not cheap.
We did a whole article discussing the cost of saddle hunting, but in short, expect to pay from $600 to well over $1,000 to get started.
This is one we’re actively working on by providing lots of great saddle hunting resources and information on this site, but the learning curve is still pretty steep. Saddle hunting is much different than any other style of hunting, so it takes a lot of practice to get comfortable and proficient at it.
Just figuring out what gear you need to get started can seem overly complicated.
It’s not. But it can definitely seem that way.
The Fidget Factor
This is something I don’t hear anyone talking about, but I think it’s a real issue when saddle hunting. At least it is for me. When I’m in the saddle for long periods of time, I have a tendency to move around much more that I would while sitting in a climber or other type of deer stand. I shift from standing to sitting, rock back and forth while leaning, and just move around more overall.
And movement = more of a chance of getting busted by an approaching deer.
And while many saddle hunters mention the benefit of being able to hide behind the tree from an approaching deer, I think if the deer approaches from any other direction, you stand out more than if you had your back against the tree in a climber or hang-on stand. And where I hunt in the heavily forested south, deer rarely come from the exact direction you expected.
Sometimes Other Hunting Methods Make More Sense
As I mentioned early in the article, saddle hunting should be seen as another tool in your deer hunting toolbox. Use it when it makes the most sense. But even as a diehard saddle hunter myself, I realize there are times when other hunting methods make more sense.
If you’re only hunting a short distance from your truck, and there are plenty of good, straight trees available, then it probably makes more sense to hunt from a comfortable climber rather than a saddle. This is especially true if you’re hunting with a rifle or crossbow, where the railing of a climber can provide a steady rest for shooting.
If you’re hunting property you own or you hunt the same area consistently, then installing some semi-permanent hang-ons makes more sense. Then you don’t have to pack in much gear at all. Just show up with what you need for the hunt, and climb up in the tree. It’s quieter, and you’ll be less likely to break a sweat before the hunt. Win-win.
More and more I’m finding myself seeking out thick cover to hunt. In the south, that typically means focusing on areas that have been clearcut within the last 10 years. The problem is, unless you’re hunting the edge of the clearcut, there’s rarely a good tree to get a stand or saddle in. The only option is to hunt from the ground.
If you truly want to get away from the hunting pressure and have the place to yourself, find areas where there are no trees to climb! It’s the ultimate lightweight hunting, and there’s nothing like making a shot on a whitetail at ground level. I think this will be the next trend we’ll see in deer hunting, but for now it’s still an underutilized method.
I’m glad I gave into the hype a few years ago and picked up my first saddle hunting setup. It’s been a great tool for staying mobile and hunting public land here in the south.
But it’s not the only tool!
When the occasion calls for it, I’ll still break out the climber. I also have a ladder stand on my personal property where myself or guests can go sit safely and comfortably. And I’m finding myself leaving the saddle and platform at home more and more to hunt from the ground.
The take home for me is not to get caught up in the hype of any one style of hunting. Use what makes the most sense for the situation, and most importantly, have fun and stay safe!