Saddle hunting has grown big wings over the last five years. In fact, it’s now the talk of the whitetail-hunting world, and for many this intro to saddle hunting article will be very beneficial. But to understand where we are now, it might help to understand a bit of saddle history. Many folks don’t realize that the tactic has existed at least since the mid-1980s. In talking saddles with longtime expert, Brad Kuhnert, his favorite of the few available back in those early years was the Anderson Tree Sling.
The Early Years
While saddles have existed for more than three decades, interest in them sort of died on the vine. They were all but forgotten by most hunters for many years, but now saddles are the “smoking gun” everyone’s talking about. Worth mentioning, Kuhnert, who continued saddle hunting even when the buzz had faded, introduced the first known saddle-hunting platform, the Assassin, and mini Climbing Sticks under the Lone Wolf earmark back in 2007. While the products generated some interest, they didn’t exactly garner worldwide recognition. So, why did saddles take so many years to catch on?
“Back in the earlier years, we had few ways to promote saddle hunting,” Kuhnert explained. “People didn’t know about it as much, and the ins and outs could only be articulated at trade shows or in hunting magazines. This style of hunting back then was almost something you needed to see in person to understand all of the benefits. In contrast, social media has blown it up today. Not only are people learning that it’s a great hunting tool, but the general public has access to tons of informational resources on how to get started, and how to maximize the saddle’s potential. That’s why it has gained so much traction recently. Social media is helping people understand the advantages.”
With some history out of the way, perhaps trying out saddle hunting has been on your radar. However, you might not know much about it, or simply, don’t know where to start. Let’s explore some benefits of saddles for hunting. Then, we’ll discuss who is a good fit for saddle hunting, some of the challenges that new saddle hunters can expect to encounter. In addition, we’ll examine a brief overview of what you need to get started. Follow along.
Benefits Of Saddle Hunting
If you currently hunt from treestands, then you might question why saddle hunting is even a thing. It’s because saddles offer advantages treestands don’t.
“The main benefit of saddle hunting in general is the idea of weight savings,” Justin Zarr, co-host of the Bowhunt or Die YouTube show, said. “You no longer have to pack a full-sized treestand. Another key benefit is versatility. A saddle lets you hunt from many different trees, including some that won’t accommodate a conventional treestand. Bowhunting is all about getting close, and sometimes we find an ideal spot to ambush deer, but fail to locate a tree that will work for a treestand. Saddle hunting opens additional opportunities to hunt because you don’t need a ‘perfect’ tree.
“A lot of the focus around saddle hunting is directed toward public-land hunting due to the mobility aspect, and it’s certainly ideal for that,” Zarr continued. “But, many of us are saddle hunting on private land, too. If you’re carrying camera gear or a decoy during the rut, reducing cumber and weight is extremely beneficial.”
Kuhnert agrees. “Back when I began saddle hunting, regular treestands were very heavy,” he said. “I did and still do a lot of public-land hunting. A saddle setup allows me to hunt more efficiently and carry less weight. Plus, conventional treestands just don’t work in many of the places that I hunt. With the saddle, trees don’t need to be straight. Further, today’s saddles are certainly more comfortable and user-friendly than the decades-old models I started out with.”
Is A Saddle Right For You?
Does saddle hunting require monkey antics and a brawny build? Is it only for the young, in-shape and flexible? Zarr and Kuhnert called those misconceptions.
“Many folks misconceive that saddle hunting is only for the ‘elk hunters of the deer-hunting community,’ if you will,” Zarr explained. “But, that just isn’t the case. I’ve met a few older people and some heavyset people who are comfortably using and hunting from saddles. The reality is that people of different ages and weights can leverage the same benefits of saddle hunting that young and fit people do.”
Kuhnert agreed. “It’s good for just about everyone,” he told. “In many cases, people hunt much lower to the ground with a saddle, and that creates a perception of safety. Saddle platforms are also easier to hang than most conventional treestands. I know guys getting up there in age who are still hunting from saddles.”
Challenges Of Saddle Hunting
Though saddles can work for most hunters, consider your hunting area and the time of the season when you hunt most, as there are given scenarios where using a saddle is a bit more challenging. Zarr gave three examples.
“I’ve found that really big trees aren’t good for saddle hunting,” he said. “Most of us have tried hanging regular treestands on trees that required us to max out the straps. I’ve found that such trees present challenges for saddle hunting. They obstruct more of your view, and you have to move a lot more in order to see around them and shoot.
“Really cold weather also makes saddle hunting more difficult,” Zarr explained. “You’ll most likely need to dress down a bit while hiking in and hanging everything. You’ll probably work up a sweat, and then you’ll have to layer up and get in the saddle, trapping condensation in your layers. You’re more restricted, too. Saddle hunting in cold weather is doable, but not ideal. In really cold weather, I prefer to hunt from a pre-hung treestand or pre-set blind.
Perfecting Your Own System
“Figuring it out is a challenge at first,” Zarr continued. “There are so many different ways to do it. I was previously a ‘run-and-gun’ treestand hunter, and after doing that for 20 years—10 with camera gear—I had it mastered. Switching to a saddle presented a learning curve, and now I’m going through the same perfecting process I did with treestands, in order to nail down ‘my’ system.”
While today’s diminutive saddle platforms are an easy carry, Kuhnert believes they create challenges. “Back when I was using the Anderson Tree Sling,” he said, “there weren’t commercial platforms. I had some platforms welded up for me, but other guys were standing on tree limbs or screw-in pegs. It made sitting for long hours less comfortable, plus it inhibited shooting coverage to an extent. Today’s tiny saddle platforms aren’t much different. That’s why I believe accepting roughly an additional pound or so to get a slightly larger platform like The Kuhnert’s Ambush from Lone Wolf Custom Gear is advantageous. It allows you to make every possible shot with minimal movement.”
Kuhnert also mentioned that it takes time to acclimate to the saddle-hunting position.
“Leaning back away from the tree can make a person feel uncomfortable,” he explained. “At times, people have difficulty in trusting the ropes and the saddle to hold them up there safely.”
Like riding a bicycle for the first time or learning to drive a car, becoming proficient with saddle hunting takes practice.
“It’s always a good idea to start out low,” Kuhnert suggested. “Practice just a foot or two above the ground. While saddle platforms set up easier than most traditional treestands, you need to practice setting one up so you can learn what works best for you before you hunt.”
Gear To Get Started
The number of accessories that are available can be overwhelming.
“When you watch YouTube videos and see guys that are modifying all of their equipment, cutting their sticks, drilling holes in stuff, replacing things and mixing and matching different products,” Zarr said, “it’s a lot to chew on. It doesn’t need to be so complicated and overwhelming. The reality is that you only need a saddle, the ropes and a way to climb the tree to get started. That’s it.”
Of course, as you gain familiarity and become more comfortable, by all means, you can jump into some different accessories to increase your effectiveness.
Climbing Options Abound
“I would say that one of the biggest aspects of saddle hunting that most guys focus on is the climbing method,” Zarr said. “Most saddles are designed similarly, but when you consider climbing methodology, saddle hunters have options to play with. In the same way that you cut down on weight by eliminating a treestand, hunters try to reduce weight with their climbing systems.
“That’s where you get into the more-advanced stuff, such as one-sticking and using aiders,” Zarr continued. “You can certainly use the same climbing sticks you’ve always used with treestands—I started out with the same Lone Wolf Climbing Sticks I used with hang-on stands. But, some of the streamlined climbing mediums can increase your mobility.
“Extra back support is always nice, too, especially for longer sits,” he added. “So is having good pouches to store and transport your ropes in. Sure, you can just throw them in your backpack, but pouches make a substantial difference. For example, Tethrd has the SYS Haulers, and when I got them, they immediately improved the experience.”
Kuhnert said that accessories boil down to personal preference.
“There’s a lot of different equipment to choose from,” he said. “People might find that different sticks, saddles, ropes, platforms and carabiners work better than others. It’s all about finding what you’re most comfortable with. Personally, I prefer Lone Wolf Custom Gear when it comes to sticks and platforms because they’re lightweight and packable.”
Join The Saddle Craze
What’s Zarr’s opinion on saddles since adding one to his arsenal? I think his “beginner’s luck” speaks for itself.
“I shot a nice buck the first time I ever hunted from my Tethrd saddle,” Zarr said. “It was a private-land hunt. The weather was unseasonably warm for early November. Temperatures were in the mid-70s and winds from the south. The area I really wanted to hunt had nothing set up for a south wind.
“I went out for an afternoon hunt and packed the saddle,” he continued. “I’d previously scouted the location and knew I wanted to hunt it, but just never had. I got in there, hung and hunted. Interestingly, I shot the buck behind me, which is sort of a worst-case scenario for saddle hunting, especially since I was self-filming the hunt. Fortunately, I’d watched a lot of resources on how to address this type of opportunity and was prepared. I was able to put a great hit on the deer from only 8 yards. Oh, and I was definitely hunting from a tree that would’ve been nearly impossible to hang a conventional treestand in, but it was no problem for the saddle.”
Kuhnert is looking at coming out with a new saddle design that addresses some of the issues that the originals and even some current saddles have.
“I’ve met a lot of folks at trade shows over the years that would not get into saddle hunting due to some of the limitations of traditional saddles,” he said. “Some of those same people that have seen the saddle that I’m coming out with now want to try it.”
Kuhnert said that Lone Wolf Custom Gear will be launching the product later this year, so keep an eye out for that.
Make The Leap!
Are you ready to make the saddle hunting leap? Hopefully this article has clarified some of the mysteries around this trending tactic. Maybe Kuhnert, shown above with a fine saddle-bagged northwoods buck, summed it up best. After 30 years of saddle hunting, Kuhnert continues to consider his saddle to be “another tool to have in my arsenal,” as he put it. And it’s another tool you can add to your own arsenal, as well. My take? If you’re curious, the unique advantages make exploring this option well worth the time and effort.