In the Apr/May 2019 issue of TBM, I penned an article introducing saddle hunting to those who may be unfamiliar with the concept. I had no idea of the explosion that was about to take place in the saddle hunting world since submitting that article. Back then there were only two commercially available saddles and no manufacturer was marketing any type of saddle hunting specific platform.
To review, a saddle, sometimes called a sling or harness, is a means of securing oneself to a tree while hunting from an elevated position. A saddle is worn under the wearer’s backside, supporting the hunter’s weight, and is tethered to the tree by either a rope or strap. The wearer of the saddle faces the tree unlike in a conventional tree stand. The hunter can lean back into the saddle like leaning back against a table or counter, or sit in the saddle, whichever is more comfortable and lets the hunter change from one to the other in an instant. This set up allows the hunter the ability to move completely around the tree and shoot in any direction unlike the usual 270 degrees that he can shoot from a conventional tree stand. It also allows the hunter to keep the tree between himself and approaching game, reducing his silhouette. A saddle also weighs only a couple of pounds instead of 15-25 pounds like most conventional tree stands.
But what do I do with my feet? That is the next question most commonly asked. The saddle hunter needs somewhere to place his feet while tethered to the tree and there are two options available: a ring of steps or a small platform similar to but much smaller than a conventional tree stand. In the past, most platforms were generally homemade affairs using whatever the builder could find to serve as a small perch to place his feet on or a ring of steps made from several strap-on steps like the obsolete Ameristeps placed on a single ratchet strap. The saddle hunter still needs to get up in the tree and will need some form of tree steps to accomplish that.
Today, however, there are more saddle options than ever. One of the older saddle manufacturers (New Tribe, a long-time maker of saddles for arborists), offers their Aerohunter Kestrel, which has been out for a couple of years now replacing their older Evolution version. In addition to the Kestrel, Aerohunter now offers a newer model, the Kite, a lighter weight version of the Kestrel using a mesh fabric and lighter weight hardware. This model weighs in at only 1 lb. 8 oz.! Later this summer, Aerohunter will release an even newer saddle version, the Kestrel Flex, which is similar to their Kestrel but has a built-in pleat to allow the seat to expand or contract to accommodate a custom, personal fit for even greater comfort. It also hosts a variety of improvements to make the saddle even more enjoyable, yet still weighs less than two pounds.
Tethrd, a new company, is dedicated to saddle hunting. They offer their version of a mesh saddle called the Mantis, another lightweight choice for those looking for an extreme lightweight hunting set up. Tethrd shook up the saddle hunting world last fall by offering the first platform dedicated to saddle hunting. Their Predator platform is a simple sand cast aluminum platform that attaches to a tree quickly and quietly. It weighs only 55 oz. and can be transported to your hunting location by slipping it into your backpack.
If extreme light weight isn’t as much of a concern to you as comfort, the JX3 Hybrid saddle may be more your style. It offers all of the features of other saddles but has a well-padded, rigid frame that makes hunting from it like sitting in your favorite chair. The JX3 is truly the Cadillac of saddles and an awesome choice for all-day sits.
A repeat entry into the saddle hunting market is Lone Wolf Custom Gear. Years ago, Lone Wolf offered their Assassin platform and harness (they didn’t call it a saddle back then) before eventually dropping it from their line. Today, their new Kuhnert’s Ambush platform and saddle is back in their line up, with new features including a Soft Touch coating on the platform to greatly reduce noise.
Many saddle hunters prefer a ring of steps to a more traditional style of platform due to their lighter weight, ease of transport, and increased ability to move around the tree. For those with that preference, there are now three options available. Bullman Outdoors has introduced their Silent Approach strap-on tree steps, which can be used individually for ascending almost any tree to hunting height. They also offer a ring of steps on a quality ratchet strap, providing a stable ring of steps platform once hunting height is achieved.
Eastern Woods Outdoors offers their high quality, lightweight Squirrel Steps machined from billet aluminum. They can be used for ascending to hunting height individually or to form a platform by placing several steps on a single ratchet strap or a strap with an OCB (over center buckle).
Wild Edge has been making their Stepp Ladder for years, a very lightweight, innovative way to get up a tree. They’ve been used as a platform as well by strapping two or three around the tree at hunting height. This year they’ve added a dedicated saddle platform to their lineup, the Perch, which requires no additional Stepps for a platform. A single Stepp serves as a base for the Perch, which attaches to the Stepp in seconds with no tools. The Perch weighs just 1.25 lbs. and makes a very stable, compact platform.
Last but certainly not least, Out on a Limb Manufacturing. has a new offering, the Podium platform fabricated from aluminum and weighing in at a scant three pounds. An even newer version they are now offering called the Ridge Runner is shaped similar to the Podium but is made of flat aluminum bar stock instead of aluminum tubing and expanded aluminum like the Podium. The Podium and Ridge Runner both strap to the tree and are cammed over, creating a very stable, solid platform. Both the Podium and Ridge Runner feature a non-slip coating for better grip and an even quieter platform. The Ridge Runner has a heavily notched surface to create exceptional grip.
As hunters become more mobile and seek to improve their hunting opportunities by moving farther back into public lands far away from the crowds, saddle hunting is really becoming the most logical means to accomplish that. Instead of carrying a large, heavy tree stand clanking and rattling through the woods and getting hung up on brush and tree limbs, a saddle hunter can slip through the same underbrush like a silent ninja.
Once hunters travel way back away from normal hunting traffic, safety is an even greater concern than usual. If a hunter were to fall from his tree stand or have a stand fail, he could be facing a life-threatening situation. Again, saddle hunting makes sense. Most agree that saddle hunting is the safest form of hunting from an elevated position, since the hunter is attached to the tree from the ground using the lineman’s belt that is part of every saddle sold. Once at hunting height, the saddle hunter transitions from his lineman’s belt to his tether. At no time is he detached from the tree.
Most hunter fall injuries occur while transitioning from their steps to the tree stand before they’ve even had a chance to attach their safety harness. Tree stand failures are not uncommon either and even with the push to get all tree stand hunters to wear a safety harness, the fact is that many still don’t. A saddle needs to be attached to the tree in order to function, so the wearer doesn’t have the choice not to be tethered to the tree. Should a hunter somehow slip from his steps or platform, he won’t fall since a saddle is virtually impossible to fall from or fall out of.
Saddle hunting is not in the mainstream yet, but growing interest is pushing it in that direction. It’s different, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons. There has never been a more exciting time to be a saddle hunter with the many options available now. For someone who is interested but can’t quite picture how a saddle works, there are many videos on YouTube that can enlighten you to new ways of elevated hunting. Saddle up and give it a try.