September 01, 2023
While hang-ons, climbers and ladder treestands have been the gold standard for decades now when it comes to bowhunting whitetails, a new standard has risen to the top for many new and established bowhunters. Being in my early 50s and bowhunting for nearly half of those years, I guess that I would fall into the established crowd. And although I have largely used traditional treestand methods and tactics to find my share of bowhunting success, hunting from a saddle the past few seasons has opened up a whole new world for me and a growing number in the bowhunting community.
When it’s time to drop the string, I don’t believe there is anything more versatile today than bowhunting from a tree saddle. There really is nothing quite like it, and once you understand just how effective and efficient they can be for the bowhunter, it’s hard to argue against that. Don’t get me wrong, I still hunt from traditional treestands and always will, but sometimes certain situations demand a different approach, and that’s where a saddle, and its other must-have components, outperform traditional methods.
Without question, the biggest benefit of a saddle would have to be mobility. As a western bowhunter, mobility is a natural aspect of the process, but in the whitetail woods, it can be a double edge sword. Move too much and every deer on the farm will know the gig is up. But there are times when quiet mobility is a must if you expect to find success, so having the right tools that allow you to sneak in and out unnoticed is where hunting from a saddle outperforms traditional methods. With the use of a saddle, the whole idea that your first hunt in a given spot is your best is taken to another level when you consider all the benefits that hunting from a saddle offers.
First off, they are extremely light and quiet. Take the Method 2 Saddle from Latitude Outdoors. Hovering around 30 ounces, it’s super light, and with no noisy metal-to-metal parts banging around as you slip through the woods, it’s ultra quiet as well. Its sleek design wears tight to your body to minimize brush hang-ups when slipping through the woods, and with its adjustable, two-panel design you can easily find your comfort level for those all-day sits as well.
That said, there is more to the mobility factor than just a comfortable, lightweight saddle. As good as saddles are at providing that, if you’re making unnecessary noise with clunky, climbing sticks as you slip in and set up, you’re losing the overall battle. Eventually, you’re going to be noticed and spoil your much-anticipated hunt.
Climbing sticks really should be an extension of the saddle by offering the same level of mobility and stealth that the saddle provides. Obviously, it’s essential that they stack and pack neatly, while also holding tight together, minimizing the risk of noisy metal-to-metal contact. Frankly, it’s the lack of these qualities that is the downfall of many so-called packable climbing sticks on the market today.
Understanding this shortcoming, Latitude Outdoors has taken the concept of quiet and packability to a new level with their Carbon SS Sticks. Metal-free and extremely packable, they sport a streamlined design that encompasses carbon fiber technology with their patent-pending Amsteel attachment system. Not only does this ensure they are ultra quiet and lightweight for easy packing, but with their Carbon Speed Series Technology, durability isn’t sacrificed either.
David Riley, Latitude Outdoors Brand Ambassador and avid Michigan bowhunter, has been using a saddle exclusively for over a decade. “Mobility and stealth is really why I hunt in a saddle,” explained Riley, “and in a state that sees as much pressure as Michigan does, you have to find and hunt in less pressured areas, and be extremely quiet in the process if you want to be successful.” Oftentimes, he finds himself hunting in swamps, and as an old timer once told him, “If you find the ducks, you’ll find the bucks,” and Riley has taken that to heart.
In 2021 he anchored a 158-inch Michigan toad, and although he only made a 16 yard adjustment to his saddle setup mid-day, it made all the difference in a swamp were you can’t see more than 16 yards much of the time. He knew the buck was close, but he also knew an adjustment was needed if he wanted to kill him. Quietly and purposeful he made the slight adjustment and slipped into place and waited. Like so many times before, he heard the buck walking through the swamp before he ever saw him and took advantage of it. Besides making a solid shot on the wise Michigan brute, Riley insists that it was his ability to quietly make an adjustment during the hunt that lead to his success, and as he plainly put it, “I couldn’t have done that with a traditional treestand.”
The second benefit to hunting from a saddle would certainly be their versatility. There is a definite advantage to being able to hunt from almost any tree, no matter its shape, size or relative lean. Sometimes I look for a tree that leans slightly or has splits at a good hunting height for additional concealment, and you can’t do that with traditional treestands.
Although I know this is not an issue in many regions of the country, but on the Kansas farm I hunt, more than once I’ve had to limit where I hang a stand because it doesn’t offer a relatively straight tree that a traditional stand needs to be effective and safe. Chances are, if you can climb the tree, you can hunt from it in a tree saddle, it’s as simple as that! I’ve hunted in trees with a diameter as slim as 6” to fatties nearly 24”. Plus, with the ability to position yourself behind the tree from an approaching deer, they offer enhanced concealment as well.
Versatility is also an element when it's time to drop the string as well. When I first started shooting from a saddle, I limited myself to what felt comfortable. But like anything, experience enhances ability, and in no time I was able to shoot nearly 360 degrees with the right platform, namely one like Latitudes’s lightweight X-Wing Speed Series. With its unique design, you can take advantage of every possible angle around the tree. It even features a slot on the post that lets users integrate a ring of steps for even more versatility and stability if needed.
Not only does this provide unmatched shooting opportunities, but I found my accuracy to be rock solid over time as well. With a saddle, you have three points of contact instead of two, with both feet on the platform and your body firmly leaning in the seat of the saddle.
Affordability would also be an aspect that can’t be ignored. Sure, a quality saddle and the various accessories needed aren’t cheap, but neither are quality treestands with several sets of matching sticks and safety harness. Truth is, even if you hunt just one small property you’re going to need several sets of stands and sticks to hunt it effectively when considering the various winds you’ll encounter. Once you start shelling out the cash for that, you’ll soon realize just how affordable your single tree saddle setup ultimately is.
Plus, if you take the time to prep trees in specific locations you’re planning to hunt, it not only makes setting up in the dark more efficient and quieter, but you eliminate the abuse that the elements cause to traditional treestands that are left hung all season long. Needless to say, this not only increases your saddle setup’s longevity when compared to a treestand, but you’ll also save more than a few Benjamins over time.
Lastly, they are not just for the DIY public land hunter. Sure, hunting from a saddle is the ultimate setup for the mobile hunter wanting to escape and explore multiple public land locations. However, for me, it has been my go-to option when I need to make a quick change on an existing farm to take advantage of a situation, or simply need to explore another part of the property where I don’t have a treestand set up already. Plus, with the versatility that a saddle offers, you can simply look at a satellite image of any property and if there are trees, chances are you can find a place to hunt without ever scouting, and that’s an element that’s hard to beat.