You’ll want to know these saddle hunting pros and cons if you’re thinking about switching from conventional treestands to saddle hunting to determine if saddle hunting is right for you.
If you’re new to tree saddle hunting and are looking for tree saddle suggestions, you may find my tree saddle reviews helpful:
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Saddle Hunting 101 | What Is Tree Saddle Hunting?
A tree saddle is basically a safety harness on steroids and it is worn while hunting and used instead of a conventional treestand like a climber or ladder stand. It features more padding and high adjustability to allow hunters of most shapes and sizes to sit comfortably for long hours while hunting.
Tree saddles are typically made with high strength fabric and rope with carabiners which make up a tree rope that goes around your tree of choice, a bridge rope that attaches to this tree rope, a lineman’s belt, and of course the saddle itself (see picture below).
In a tree saddle, you are tied to a tree and you are semi-suspended facing toward the tree. To maneuver around the tree you must have some sort of platform which is usually not included with the purchase of tree saddles currently on the market.
Saddle Hunting Pros
If you are a serious whitetail hunter, tree saddles are a must to have in your arsenal, here are 11 reasons why:
Saddle Hunting Pros
1. Imperfect Tree Set-ups
Tree saddles allow you to get around trees that are full of branches without ever having to completely detach from the tree. This allows me to climb ugly trees that are full of branches during run and gun setups. This ensures you can be in the right spot, rather than having to settle for another tree further from where the action is. You can also hunt trees that are leaning. With a higher selection of trees available you can put yourself into better positions, making hunts more successful.
2. Tree Size Adjustability
Tree saddles also you to climb trees of any size that will support your weight. I have found this to be important in swamps where vegetation is stunted. Being able to hunt smaller trees gives you the ability to hunt where other hunters cannot. You can also hunt trees as large as the linesman and tree rope will reach. I shot my 2017 buck in a white pine that was around 30” in diameter. If you need to hunt larger trees you can purchase your own ropes to meet your needs, but the standard ropes that come with the tree saddles are usually plenty.
Once you buy a tree saddle you will not have to buy another treestand, making it very cost-effective. It replaces the reason for buying multiple permanent stands like ladder or hang-on stands. Doing this will be costly over time. This is how I think about cost-effectiveness: One tree saddle = an infinite number of treestands. Five hang-on or ladder stands = five treestands.
4. Multiple Stands
I have personally noticed and most successful big buck killers agree that hunting the same treestand repeatedly will quickly burn out spots and that the first couple sits are the most effective. This makes permanent ladder and hang-on stands easy to over-hunt and for big bucks to pattern you. For this reason it is best to hunt permanent stands when conditions are perfect for that particular treestand. This will increase success of particular treestands by keeping them fresh until the timing is right. Hunting only when conditions are perfect, however, greatly reduces the time you are able to hunt.
If you’re like me you’re going to hunt every chance you get one way or another, so being restricted like this was not going to cut it for me. I needed a better option. To increase my success I needed to be able to spread out my hunting pressure within multiple high-odd locations and hunt them when conditions were right in order to keep my stands fresh.
With tree saddles, I am able to hunt any location because the saddle comes home with me after every hunt. It is simple and easy to set-up so I can avoid hunting the same trees over and over keeping them fresh, making each hunt essentially the “first sit”, keeping big bucks from patterning me.
5. Increased Maneuverability
My Ameristep Tree Step platform placed around the diameter of the tree enables me to shoot a full 360º around the tree as well as directly underneath. Big bucks often don’t come in where you expect. Other treestands don’t offer this type of maneuverability, being able to maneuver like this puts the hunter in control so he or she can take shots when they are presented. You can also change your vertical height slightly if you need to shoot just above or below a branch. This is done by fully extending my legs from my platform as it raises my elevation a few inches. Scrunching up close to the tree lowers my elevation.
There is very little metal on tree saddles because everything else is rope and fabric. The carabiners are the largest pieces of metal. Some small strap adjusters are made of metal as well. Out of the box saddles are pretty quiet, much quieter than conventional treestands that are made entirely of metal. To make my saddles silent I usually add some tape to all of the metal pieces and that works well. I feel much more confident in my approach when setting up in bedding areas with a tree saddle rather than a metal stand.
7. Better Portability
Tree saddles don’t weigh much, usually around 5 lbs or so, making them incredibly lightweight. Additionally, it is fabric so it can easily be rolled up into a small bag and placed into a backpack. It can also be worn to the treestand which is what I prefer, I drape the ropes over my shoulders when walking to my stand making transportation simple and noise-free.
8. Better Concealment
Another great benefit of saddles is they enable you to use the tree you’re in to block the view of approaching animals. If animals are coming from a certain direction I can move to the opposite side of the tree to stay hidden. Since you are facing the tree you can straddle yourself right up tight against the tree. Another perk is that since you do not have to cut limbs down to get to where you want to hunt on a tree you can leave some natural cover to blend in better.
9. Added Comfort
Tree saddles are comfortable compared to metal stands. Even when in awkward leaning trees the saddles remain fairly comfortable. Adjustable straps located on the back and leg portions of the saddle allow for customized pressure point relief. After a few hours I do start to squirm a little from the pressure of the saddle fabric, it can pinch circulation so I am regularly readjusting after being on stand for a few hours.
Some saddles come with back bands for reclining. The back band is fantastic for long sits in the tree as your back does tend to get tired over time without one. I have sat in the stand for around 12 hours a couple of times and I do start to ache, but I am able to extend my legs, stretch, maneuver, and change position to lessen the burden. Sitting anywhere for 12 hours would make anyone squirm. I have not been able to sit nearly this long in other conventional treestands.
10. Theft Prevention
Theft can be a problem on public lands, and even on private land! The peace of mind of bringing the tree saddle home at the end of the day is huge for me. There’s nothing worse than getting excited about going hunting only to find your stand missing. With the tree saddles, this is not a problem. Additionally, not having a bulky ladder or hang-on stand permanently placed on a tree prevents treestand locations from being discovered by other hunters.
11. Increased Safety
In my opinion, the tree saddles are just as safe, if not safer than traditional treestands.
When used properly you are harnessed to the tree throughout the entire climb. When ascending the tree you are harnessed in with the lineman’s belt. Once you get to the height at which you will be hunting you’ll need to also use the lineman’s belt to place the tree rope. The lineman’s belt allows for a quick, painless and safe installation of the tree rope. Once the tree rope is secure to the tree you can attach yourself to it via carbineer. Once attached, the lineman’s belt can be removed. To descend the tree reverse the process. It is quite simple.
If you encounter tree limbs that your lineman’s belt cannot get around you can set up the tree saddle as you would to hunt, as I just mentioned, then remove your lineman’s belt and re-attach the belt above the limb and carry on your way up the tree, thus being attached to the tree 100% of the time. A second lineman’s belt could also be added to climb branched trees even quicker.
I’ve often found myself getting lazy and not wearing, or forgetting to bring a safety harness when using a conventional ladder and hang on stands. Tree saddles leave you no option. To climb the tree fast and effectively you must be harnessed in at all times.
Saddle Hunting Cons
There are some aspects beginners should consider before making the switch to tree saddle hunting.
I have never done any videotaping while hunting, but it is something I am definitely considering in the near future. I am not sure how difficult videotaping would be but I imagine the footage would be a little shaky while being semi-suspended from the tree.
A person’s size may also affect their ability to stay in a tree saddle for long periods of time. I am a skinny dude 6’4 and 155lbs and it works great for me. Larger hunters may find it causes more strain at pressure points.
It takes a little bit of practice to use tree saddles effectively. For beginners, tree saddle hunting may seem awkward at first. It does take practice. For me, it felt a little awkward at first with the bridge rope getting in the way of pulling my bow back. Switching sides of the tree to shoot can be difficult too because you have to get a bow, with a knocked arrow, around the bridge.
Target practicing in different scenarios while in your tree saddle will help you figure out how to make shots count in the most awkward of situations. I highly recommend practicing like this.
4. Knee Pads
Personally, I don’t use knee pads when hunting with tree saddles, but many people do. The reason being is; as your knees press against the trunk of the tree for long periods of time they get sore, especially if the bark is ridged. Also, over time, I could see the bark wearing holes in the cloth of your pants at the knees. Knee pads would be a good solution for this. I alternate between straddling the tree trunk and using my knees in order to keep my knees from getting too sore.
Out of the box the fabric and rope may have a chemical-like, factory-processed type smell. It is not a bad smell, but to a whitetail, it is strong and not natural. It took a while to get the smell out, I think it was from the dye of the saddle. I tried soaking everything in warm water and baking soda, I also let it soak in scent killer laundry detergent which helps a little, but not much.
What I observed was the excess coloring of the fabric would come off in the water a little bit after every wash. This was evidenced by the dark tint of the water post-wash. I believe the smell is related to the coloring used because after each wash the smell reduced ever so slightly every time. Each time I washed the saddle less color would come off.
It took about a year for the scent to reduce to a point where I could not notice it. After washing a dozen times or so, letting it dry/air out outside for weeks, and practicing and hunting with it in the elements the scent has finally dissipated enough so that I don’t notice it anymore. I still wash and soak the system in scent killer laundry detergent before each season, and sometimes during the season.
This experience will vary depending on which saddle you choose.
How to Climb & Setup In a Tree Saddle
Mobile Climbing Sticks
There are many ways to climb a tree using a tree saddle. One of the most common ways for saddle hunters is using a set of climbing sticks. They are lightweight, mobile, very easy to use, and only take a few minutes to get high up into a tree. In addition, there is a lot of custom saddle hunting gear out there that lets you customize your sticks to maximize their effectiveness.
Ameristep Screw-In Tree Steps
I also really like Ameristep screw-in steps. However, they can’t be used on public land or without permission on private land (in most states anyway). But I have a few trees in areas that are productive year-after-year as well as permission. On these properties, I prepare my trees ahead of hunting season using these screw-in steps. This way I don’t need to carry my Lone Wolf Sticks into the tree-stand during hunting season. This makes setting up even faster, quieter, and easier. On average it usually takes about 12 steps to make one treestand plus 4 more for the platform ring for a total of 16 steps.
Tree Saddle Hunting Platforms
Saddles are used in combination with platforms. Platforms are objects that are placed around the diameter of the tree at the height you want to stand. The purpose for the platforms is to give your feet something to rest and maneuver on while you’re in your saddle.
There are two types of platforms – ring of steps platforms and single-piece platforms. There are many versions of these platforms on the market. I suggest looking at all the options and deciding which might be best suited for your hunting style.
What Are The Best Tree Saddles?
In recent years there has been an increase in the number of tree saddles on the market. I haven’t been able to try all of them. But I do own and have experience with the Aero Hunter and JX3 Hybrid. These are 2 great saddles that have worked well for me. You can check out my Reviews of these saddles here:
How Much Do Tree Saddles Cost?
Tree saddles are not inexpensive, but they make up for their money fast because you don’t need to keep buying them like other stands. Tree saddles range approximately from 200$-400$ with everything included. Platform prices range because there are so many of them out there. The Ameristep Tree Steps that I use are around 2-3$ apiece, and I rarely use more than 5 per tree. So for 15$, you can have more than an ideal platform.
In my experience, tree saddle hunting is the safest, most lightweight, and versatile option on the market as far as treestands are concerned. This makes tree saddle hunting an excellent option for all hunters. If you’re looking to take your hunting success to the next level saddle hunting is a great option to consider.
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