Saddle Hunting 101
Saddle hunting has many benefits and can bring a successful hunt. Being above passing deer, you can blend in among the cover of treetops. Plus, unlike tree stands that require you to stay in one position, saddles allow you to swing about for a completely unobstructed 360-degree vantage point. If this sounds like the perfect way to catch that elusive buck, we have you covered! From choosing the best tree saddle to taking the perfect high-angle shot, here are some saddle hunting basics to get you started.
Saddle Hunting Gear and Equipment
Available are many tree saddles and tree saddle kits. However, like much of the gear, one size doesn’t fit all, so you need to find the best tree saddle for you and your hunting style. Luckily, with brands like Mantis and Phantom, there are countless options to keep a hunter secure and comfortable as they await their game. You can even find a tree saddle that allows you to store ropes and accessories.
As a general rule of thumb, use your waist size to find the right fit for your tree saddle. Hunters with a fitter physique and leaner build find smaller sizes to work fine. However, hunters with a stockier frame might want to size up. Also, don’t worry too much about your layers when hunting in winter temps unless, of course, they are exceptionally bulky.
A lineman belt will keep you connected to the tree from the ground, allowing you to set up your climbing method and scale the tree safely. Once you find your ideal hunting height, the safety tether will attach you to the tree. While you can find decent rope at a climbing equipment store, seek out stronger factory-spliced tethers and lineman belts from hunting stores, as they are much stronger than climbing knots and designed to reduce weight and bulk.
Unless you like shooting willy nilly as you dangle mid-air, get yourself a platform to rest your feet and steady your aim. Not only does it take the weight off the saddle, but it allows you to pivot entirely around the tree to hide yourself and have a full shooting range. For safety purposes, attach the platform after the tether is attached to the tree. For a quality platform, take a look at the Predator Platform. Many hunters swear by it!
Other than these must-have gear for saddle hunting, bring along a headlamp so you can climb the tree early before dawn. And be sure to protect your shooter with a gun case or a bow case, whichever you prefer to saddle hunt with.
How to Climb a Tree
If you don’t have great upper body strength to raise yourself into the tree, there are some accessories you might want to consider to get you into an elevated position. Whether you choose a climbing stick or climbing step, you’ll be waiting for your game in no time. Just keep in mind that your method might depend on your hunting style and even local legal considerations.
Saddle Hunting Aim Shots
Unlike shooting from land, hunting game from a tree saddle offers some limitations but also advantages. While proper shooting form is easier to maintain in a saddle, as opposed to a tree stand, there are roughly only four different shots you can take:
- Strong Side Shot | 10 o’clock to 7 o’clock
- Drop Shot | 7 o’clock to 5 o’clock
- Weak Side Shot | 5 o’clock to 2 o’clock
- Top Shot | 2 o’clock to 10 o’clock
Being on higher ground allows you to shoot a deer from above. For this angle, you’ll want to aim higher on the deer near the chest cavity, penetrating the heart or lungs. When deer are a little ahead and not directly below the stand, as in most cases, aim through the shoulder blades so the bullet hits the spine or other nearby vitals.
Comfort and Safety
Many hunters wonder if the saddle hunting method is comfortable or even safe. But you’ll be relieved to know that a tree saddle is exponentially more comfortable than your typical hang-on tree stand. In fact, the ones who complain about minor “hip pinch” discomfort or pain in the lower back have, more often than not, set up the gear or saddle components incorrectly or simply ordered the wrong size. However, once you mold into your “saddle shape” and your bum adapts to certain pressure zones and angles, your comfort will only improve in time.
As for being safe, it’s practically impossible to fall. Tree saddles are much safer with a tether, lineman belt and all the hooks and other safety devices that tree stands just don’t have.
So what are you waiting for? Elevate your next hunting trip and try saddle hunting!