November 15, 2021
By Brian K. Strickland
From a distance, I could quickly tell it was a buck I had not seen before — his tall and heavy rack was distinctive. As I scrolled through some trail camera images filed on my phone, he obviously wasn’t one of them. For the past two mornings, I watched him slip down the edge of a dry creek bed well out of bow range. He hardly gave a passing glance when I sent a couple of grunts his way. If I was going to kill him it would be on his terms, so as I headed back to my truck after the morning hunt, the wheels began to turn planning my next move.
Slipping in the following morning with a set of climbing sticks, a tree saddle and my recurve bow in hand, I shinned up the tree well before first light with hardly a sound. The crooked tree only allowed me to get 10 or so feet off the ground, but the cover was thick and I would certainly be in the buck’s wheelhouse if he decided to travel up the creek again.
As first light broke a young buck strolled by, making a great test case to my relatively low setup. A few minutes later, a couple does did the same, confirming — even more — my hidden position. Although I’m not one to pass any mature buck, I certainly hoped the specific buck I was after would pull the same routine as before.
As the morning ticked by I had pretty much resigned that the buck was going to be a no-show when I noticed a doe and fawn heading my direction. At first glance I wasn’t surprised, this part of the farm seems to have its share of slickheads. But when the doe looked behind her it was obvious something else was in tow. Grabbing my recurve I slipped behind the tree to cover any noticeable movements, and when I peeked around, he magically appeared.
He was taller than I originally thought, and his mass screamed mature. Appearing from a direction I didn’t expect, I edged around the platform and leaned into position. With his attention on the girls, I pressed my bow into service and released. The arrow’s impact said it all, and I wasn’t surprised when the buck made a last-minute dash and fell just 50 yards away.
I’ll be the first to admit, when it comes to hunting whitetails and even targeting a specific buck, it generally does not work out like this. It usually takes long sits with countless hours of preparation and scouting. That said, I’ll take all the help I can get and luck was no doubt a huge factor in this particular outcome. But as I re-live those events from just a couple of years ago, I can honestly say it would not have worked out if it wasn’t for the tree saddle. It’s really as simple as that. But before you roll your eyes and click to the next page, let me explain. Not only did the saddle allow me to slip in quietly, but the crooked trees in that location were less than ideal for a hang-on. Also, because I was relatively low to the ground, the saddle allowed me to hide behind the tree from approaching deer.
Don’t get me wrong; I love traditional-style treestands. I’ve killed countless deer from them and will continue to do so when possible. But unless you’ve been living under a rock the past few years, you can’t ignore the effectiveness and popularity of bowhunting from a tree saddle. Fact is, it’s a trend that has taken the whitetail bowhunting community by storm, especially the public land bowhunting crowd. And after a few years hunting from one myself, I can attest to their effectiveness — especially when a specific situation demands it.
Why Bowhunt From A Saddle?
For me, the greatest attribute it provides the bowhunter is mobility. Most saddles weigh about 2 pounds or so and you can wear them to your stand. And when you throw in a few lightweight steps and a platform, and a few other odds and ends, you’re barely in-to double-digits. Add to the fact that you can use an average-sized pack to haul everything, it’s obvious to see why many bowhunters are choosing this option. Especially those who hunt secluded patches of public dirt.
The second factor would be efficiency. Let’s be honest, it sucks carrying a 12-pound hang-on (plus climbing steps on a pack) while also carrying your bow. Although it’s not a particularly heavy load by western hunting standards, it’s noisy. The platform and steps are constantly getting hung up on branches as you slip into position, and it’s virtually impossible not to clang metal together as you’re setting up. Not so much with a saddle. Because most are equipped with Molle Loops, you can separate and attach your steps to your saddle to eliminate unwanted noise. This not only provides an over-all quicker, more efficient set-up process but much quieter as well.
Another benefit is a tree saddle’s versatility. We’ve all seen bucks from a distance move through a particular area only to find later that the trees there were either too skinny or crooked for a traditional treestand setup. Although this doesn’t happen all the time, it has happened enough for me to take notice, and the past few times a tree saddle was the answer. Because you are leaning out away from the tree, trunk splits and angles are acceptable for a tree saddle and are even preferred in some cases because of the concealment they provide. Chances are, if you can climb the tree, you can hunt from it with a tree saddle. Also, with the ability to pivot around the tree more freely to conceal your movements, skinnier trees are in play.
This versatility is also a factor when it's time to release an arrow. When set up with the right equipment, namely a platform or pegs that allow you to pivot around the tree easily, saddles provide nearly 360-degree shooting opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, it takes some practice learning how to effectively move and shoot from the various positions, and I would always set up in a way that your strong side is where your likely shot opportunities will come from. That said, traditional treestands don’t come close to offering this.
The two remaining factors for me are safety and comfort. These two elements really go hand-in-hand, and now that I’ve breached the age of 50, they have become even more important. When you first lean back in a saddle you have to trust it. You have to know that it won’t fail if set up properly. Because the saddle is set up with both a line-man’s rope for climbing and a tether once you’re in shooting position, there is virtually zero chance of falling once your feet leave the ground.
As for comfort, well, in my opinion, it’s kind of like sitting in a hammock. Even when I’ve embarked on a few all-day sits, I’m able to stay more focused and find myself fidgeting less trying to get comfortable. Simply put, their sling-style seat feels good on the derrière, and when you factor in all the adjustability a good saddle offers around the legs, back, and bridge, you can find your sweet spot relatively easily. Throw in a couple of knee pads and you can even attain a sitting position while resting your knees against the tree when the action slows down.
When it comes to picking a saddle, there are a ton of options available now. Trophyline has been my go-to setup because of its higher back support and overall comfort. Their new Covert Lite is even better than their predecessor with additional adjustability and updated bridge rope. That said, other noted saddle companies like Tethrd, Aero Hunter, Wild Edge, Latitude Outdoors, Hawk, H2 Saddles also have quality products to choose from. Although saddles are designed relatively the same, the key is to find one that has a comfortable fit for you.
It seems about all saddles today are available as a starter kit, which makes the process easier. Other things you need to have to make your system complete is a platform, a set of lightweight climbing sticks, ascenders, knee pads, and climbing aiders for those who want to tackle this lightweight bowhunting approach. Aiders are designed to at least double the length of your steps, allowing you to carry less in the field.
As long as whitetails are still walking and bowhunters are still shooting, traditional treestands are not going away anytime soon. But when it comes to the benefits of a tree saddle, it's easy to see why today's bowhunter can't afford not to have one in their whitetail tool kit.