Morken: How saddle hunting was a game-changer for me
I grabbed my bow off the hanger, rested the bottom cam on my knee and moved my body around the back of the tree.
It was Halloween morning, and I was hunting in permit area 213 around Alexandria, ready to take a doe if given the chance. That's what I thought was browsing my way. Once the deer got to within 40 yards, I realized it was a young spike buck.
A bit disappointed, I decided to test out my concealment in the Tethrd Mantis saddle. I had gone in early that morning and set up in a brand new spot. With no shooting lanes prepared, I had to stay below the canopy of branches—no more than eight feet up.
Most bowhunters like to be about twice that high to get away with more motion, but I had grown pretty comfortable in my ability to stay hidden in my short time using the saddle.
My body was wider than the diameter of the tree I was hanging in, so the buck stopped to investigate when he got to about 15 yards. He looked up as I tucked myself behind the tree with my bow on the hanger. After a few seconds, he put his head down and kept browsing.
At this point, I would have been ready to draw had it been a bigger buck or a doe. Time and again this past season, I had similar hunts play out the same way. Ten feet up, deer right on top of me with no idea I was there.
For anyone who hasn't seen one, a hunting saddle can be worn into the woods. Once at the tree, you use the same method of getting up the trunk as any other portable set-up—sticks, screw-in steps, etc. A small platform or a ring of steps is used at the desired hunting height for your feet. A tether is then wrapped around the trunk of the tree to hang from.
The saddle has gained a lot of traction among whitetail hunters in the last couple years. Here are some of my thoughts on it after spending my first season in one in 2018.
The two common questions I have heard about hunting out of saddles is are they safe and are they comfortable?
The answer to that first one is a definite "yes." There is really no safer way to hunt out of a tree when used correctly.
The saddle worn around your waist has loops to attach a lineman's belt, so you are strapped to the tree from the second you leave the ground. Once at the desired height, you simply use the carabiner on the bridge of your saddle to hook into the tether. Safety harnesses worn in a regular tree stand are great for catching you should you fall. Hanging from the tether in a saddle makes it all but impossible to fall in the first place.
Finding the right comfort in a saddle was more of a work-in-progress for me, which is not uncommon. The first time I hunted out of one, I was sore after a couple hours, but I did not understand the adjustment options.
The height of the tether is huge when it comes to comfort. I experimented on sits throughout the season and found that having the tether around the tree at forehead height is what fit me best. I also wore the saddle itself a little lower on my hips. By December, I was hunting in comfort on half-day sits with no problem.
Why it was a game changer
I already discussed the ability to stay hidden behind the trunk of the tree when using a saddle. Deer simply did not see me as a threat with the ability to blend in as they approach. When it's time to shoot, you simply push your body away from the tree with your feet.
The other huge benefit of a saddle is the ability to hunt out of basically any tree. I scouted my way in to a new area on an evening hunt in late-October this past season. There was a good-looking area with fresh scrapes and rubs, but the only possible setup was in a small cedar. Getting into that with a regular stand would have taken a ton of trimming. I only had to cut a couple branches to effectively draw my bow out of the saddle.
In 10 minutes, I was quietly in the tree and ready to go. Does browsed right in front of me that night and a good buck showed up just out of range. I never got a shot, but that sit helped me identify an area that I'm excited about for this upcoming season.
The saddle has changed my mindset in terms of being mobile. The Mantis saddle from Tethrd that I got weighs 15 ounces and the accessories with it fit easily in my pack. It's like going in with nothing on my back and knowing I'll be able to set up wherever the sign tells me to.
I have spent hours this offseason looking at OnX maps of the nastiest public spots I can find—swamps, hard-to-get-to areas, any place I know most people don't want to bring a stand into. Those are areas I am excited to target now because of how efficient I can be in a saddle.