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SADDLING UP FOR SUCCESS: GO FARTHER, HUNT DEEPER, AND PACK LIGHTER WHILE ENJOYING ALL-DAY I COMFORT WITH TODAY'S NEWEST SADDLE-HUNTING GEAR TACTICS.

But saddles aren't just a public ground phenomenon. Regardless of your access to private, leased, or owned land--saddle hunting is an elevated method that offers many tactical advantages, even if you have ladders, box blinds, and hang-on stands littering your ground. From a pure economics standpoint, you can have dozens of trees trimmed with shooting lanes cut, ready to climb, and even preset them with climbing sticks or steps if desired, and you can hunt them all with just one saddle. Irrespective of what type of ground you hunt, tree saddles are an incredibly versatile tool that all serious bowhunters should have in their toolbox of strategies--whether you're a die-hard Eastern whitetail junkie, or a Western-based hunter who has always lamented the lack of suitable trees for traditional stand-hunting options.

While tree saddles have been around for over two decades, modern saddle designs and gear are adapt able to a wider range of trees and unconventional setups (read: all over North America, my Western bowhunting friends), and they're also exceptionally safe, effective, and comfortable. Yes, even for all-day sits. To make this elevated method even more appealing, the associated saddle accessories, climbing tools, and best practices overall have enjoyed a similar explosion in development as users openly (dare I say warmly?) share information, ideas, equipment hacks, and DIY upgrades via informational sites like saddlehunter.com and social media outlets.

Saddle hunting is indeed a superb and highly adaptive elevated-hunting method, but it does take some time to learn the ropes, so to speak. First, you need a saddle with a bridge. All saddles come with a bridge, but there are both factory and DIY options to consider, from length-adjustable ropes and climbing webbing to Amsteel (14" hollow-braid Dyneema). Next comes a lineman's belt that goes into specific loops on the saddle, so you're always attached to the tree whether you're going up or down, plus you have both hands free to work your climbing method. Finally, a tree tether rope, typically girth-hitched around the tree at head height, is attached to the bridge of the saddle with a carabiner and prussic knot, or carabiner and mechanical ascender, as you face the tree. Think of a tether as identical to the current safety ropes to which your full-body treestand safety harness is attached. However, in saddle hunting you face the tree and can shoot 360 degrees around it. You actually set up on the backside of the tree, hiding your body and movement, and you look around it toward where you expect game to approach, ideally on your strong side. With practice, it's exceptionally stealthy.

While at height, you need a place to put your feet, and the options are a strap-on ring-of-steps system that allows you to "walk" around the tree when setting up for a shot, or mini platforms which allow you to sit, stand, lean, and push off when preparing to shoot. The best platforms are lightweight (under three pounds), easily installed, and rock-solid to side pressure when pushing off one side or the other to take a shot. For new saddle hunters, platforms provide a familiar feel and have the advantage of allowing users to easily stand upright to adjust gear and settings, and there's even enough foot space to shoot standing up if desired.

You also need a lightweight tree-climbing method, such as sectional climbing sticks, rope-on steps, screw-in steps, hand drill and bolts, or climbing spurs. All have their following, and while sectional sticks are easily the most popular, creative saddle enthusiasts have pioneered a lot of novel approaches to eliminate as much weight and set-up noise as possible. You can DIY hack everything from Amsteel ropes for your sticks and steps to lightweight climbing aiders to carbon bolts for tree steps, and you'll find multiple YouTube how-to videos on each method.

Finally, especially when hunting public ground with no tree-penetrating rules in effect, there are a variety of both commercially available and DIY bow, pack, and gear-hanging systems. And the number of innovative gear hacks that are online and at saddlehunter.com are growing daily for almost every piece of the saddle-equipment arsenal.

A word of caution: saddle hunting is not a buy it, then sameday-plug-and-play scenario. Personal saddle setup, comfort tweaks, plus proper management of the affiliated ropes, bridges, and tether options, take time to fine-tune. Not to mention the time it takes to learn about all of the possible climbing options and hunting accessories to help manage your bowhunting gear at height. (Our sister publication, Petersen's Bowhunting, has an excellent saddle hunting article by Greg Staggs available online at bowhuntingmag.com, and it should be considered required reading for those new to this hunting method.)

To fully benefit from the many advantages of saddle hunting, you'll need to invest time to personalize your specific gear system, climbing procedure and elevated setup. For your immersive multimedia enjoyment, we've posted a full demo climb on Bowhunter TV's YouTube page, so you can see a new and efficient method to ascend and set up in the tree, complete with climbing aider use and full climb down. While saddle hunting does require practice to get in proper saddle "form" before the season, it's no more difficult than learning to hang a fixed-position i stand or use a climber, and you don't have to be a CrossFit athlete to enjoy saddle hunting's many benefits and advantages, as evidenced by the many YouTube channel saddle-hunting aficionados well into their 50s and even 60s.

To help provide a guide on the latest in saddle-related gear, we have assembled a review of the best-in-class options for saddles, climbing tools, platforms, and cool accessories, combined with links to appropriate innovative mods and hacks.

IN THE FOLLOWING PAGES, THE AUTHOR REVIEWS BEST-IN-CLASS GEAR FOR TREE SADDLE HUNTING.

BEST-IN-CLASS SADDLES

Tethrd Mantis $199

Weight: 15 oz. The lightweight leader, the Mantis is also insanely tough, surviving multiple six-foot drops with a 300-lb. dummy at an independent testing lab. A 1/4" Amsteel (7,000+ lbs. break strength) whoopie-sling bridge provides 26"-40" of adjustment. Mil-Spec two-way stretch mesh seat is comfy and cool; an SBW seat warmer can be attached for frigid conditions. MOLLE webbing attachment strap for adding accessories. Compact load-bearing waist buckle. Adjustable-length leg straps with T-hooks can be inserted silently on a waist belt or across your thigh for an ideal fit and feel. Available in three sizes and a kit package. See special offer on page 41.

Aero Hunter Kestrel Flex $269

Weight: 2 lbs. Innovative, expanding, center seat panel is self-expanding and runs horizontally in the middle of the saddle, creating a super-supportive, auto-cupping seat, eliminating the need for side adjusters. If comfort is your primary consideration --the Flex may be your saddle. Two rows of MOLLE webbing attachment points. Three bridge options: Adjustable-length (17 "-37") Mil-Spec flat webbing that's openable; fixed-length (31") closed-loop Mil-Spec webbing; adjustable-length Samson 11mm Predator rope on a carabiner with Eye-and-Eye prusik attachment. Three camo options: ASAT, Predator Fall Gray, Broadside Closer. Two sizes covering 26"-46" waist. Overall a very Flex-ible and comfortable package.

Aero Hunter Kestrel $225

Weight: 2 lbs. 14 oz. Streamlined sling shape has become the industry standard. Strong ADF Raptor waist and leg strap buckles with sewn-in keepers. Two rows of MOLLE webbing attachment points. Eight-panel CORDURA seat is comfortable and tough. Side-adjusters standard for custom seat fit. Construction will outlast original owner. Available in camo or olive, two sizes covering 26"-46" waist. Can be ordered as a kit: tether, lineman's belt, Fusion carabiners, and Back Band.

Aero Hunter Kite $189

Weight: 1 lb. 8 oz. Tough, resilient, breathable mesh fabric seat panel with comfy stretch. Great for warmer weather and long pack-ins. Two rows of MOLLE webbing attachment points. Side-adjusters standard for custom seat fit. Lightweight waist buckle and leg strap connections with handy webbing keepers. Two sizes covering 26"-46" waist. Can be ordered as a kit: tree tether, lineman's belt, Fusion carabiners, and Back Band.

Bridges and Materials

The bridge is what connects the saddle to the tree tether, and it can be fixed to the saddle or be removable from one side. The bridge is attached to specific saddle loops, and there are a handful of attachment options and bridge materials suitable for saddle hunting: climbing-rated webbing and rope, or quarter-inch Amsteel (used on truck winches and tugboats) are the typical choices. Bridge length matters. For wider-hipped users, a longer bridge is typically more comfortable, but a long bridge can be tough to avoid with your bowstring at certain shot angles. I prefer an adjustable bridge of either climbing webbing or Amsteel on a whoopie sling, so I can snug the bridge down short, or lengthen it occasionally during all-day sits.

Ascenders and Prusik Options

A prusik is a friction hitch or knot used to attach a loop of cord around a rope to provide an adjustable, nonslip tie-in for carabiners on tree tethers, lineman's belts, and bridges, exactly like the loop of cord on a full-body harness tree tether. A prusik cord is a cost-effective solution, but it often requires two hands to loosen and adjust, proving inconvenient when ongoing adjustments need to be made, like when climbing with a lineman's belt. Aero Hunter's Eye-and-Eye Prusik Kit is an economical, lightweight, one-hand-adjustable solution that has no metal and is easily threaded onto a carabiner for convenient use (Aerohunter.us). Borrowing from the climbing world, mechanical ascenders like the Wild Country RopeMan 1, are metal devices that clip to your carabiner, with your tether or lineman's belt threaded through it. A spring-loaded, "toothed" cam provides instant and quiet one-hand adjustability up or down your rope. These types of ascenders have proven reliable from Mt. Rainer to Mt. Everest. While a more expensive option, mechanical ascenders are incredibly reliable and convenient (Tethrdnation.com or REI).

Stealth and Camo

When you need something camouflaged, quieted, and sound-deadened-such as climbing sticks, metal buckles, platforms, carabiners, metal steps, and even squeaks on stands --Stealth Strips and Camo Form removable tape are indispensable. Stealth Strips come in precut sizes for various climbing sticks, stand platforms, and cables, in addition to rectangular bulk pieces that can be cut for various custom jobs. Stealth also makes a unique Buckle Silencer that's perfect for covering any stand or stick-strap buckle (Stealthoutdoors.com). For things like carabiners, metal ascenders, or metal steps, Camo Form tape is stretchy, removable (leaving no residue), and available in multiple camouflage patterns (Gearaid.com).

Climbing Aiders

A climbing aider is a device that provides an extension to your sticks or steps, typically one-inch climbing-rated webbing or rope, which can be either fixed or moved between each stick as you climb or descend, in lieu of carrying the extra weight of additional sticks or steps. Aiders built for the commercial climbing market are available in a variety of configurations, but saddle-hunting enthusiasts have developed a wide array of DIY solutions, each built to specific needs. Some aider solutions can be pretty exotic, with things like "swaiders" and "naiders," and YouTube offers a list of aider options. I'm more of a keep-it-simple guy, and for my four climbing sticks, which have two rungs of opposing steps 22" apart, I fashioned a moveable aider out of tubular climbing webbing rated with tensile strength of 4,000 lbs. It's a continuous loop, 44" long, tied at the top with a water knot, and goes over the top standoff of my sticks. When hung from the top standoff, it sits 22" below my bottom stick step. I threaded an 8" section of washing machine hose at the bottom to create a "stirrup" which serves as an easy-to-feel foothold and keeps the loop open. To ensure I could always see this step in the dark, I put three strips of glow tape around the plastic hose. This moveable aider, which I place over my shoulder once I reach the first permanent step on each stick, provides 66" of height per stick for my four-stick stack, getting me 264722' high without stretching. This is the equivalent of carrying six total sticks, but the aider weighs only three ounces. Plus, I know every step I take, up or down, day or night, is going to be approximately 22". With this arrangement, I don't have to spread out my distance between sticks for extra height and grope around In the dark trying to locate the next step. It costs about $5 to make this aider, and I always carry a spare in my pack.

SADDLE NECESSITIES

1. Tethrd spliced-eye tree tether, Black Diamond carabiner and Ropeman 1; spliced lineman's belt with prusik. 2. Aero Hunter lineman's belt with Eye-and-Eye prusik, tree tether with Ropeman 1 and Fusion auto-locking carabiner.

1 Mantis Recliner, 2. Black Diamond Mini Pearabiner, 3 Aero Hunter Molle Accessories and Gear Bag

1. Tethrd SYS Hauler ES, 2. Standard SYS Hauler, 3. SBW Saddle Insulator, 4. Aero Hunter Gear Bag and Back Band CLIMBING STICKS

Weight is total all sticks, without strap. Typical buckle and strap weighs 6.5 oz.; 7' of buckle-less Amsteel weighs 2.4 oz. Total height is equidistant spacing based on distance between all steps, from ground up (conservative, with no stretching out of sticks). See YouTube: DIY Sportsman Best Climbing Stick Attachment Method and Spencer Greene Stealth Strips.

1. Muddy Aerolite, $149.99: 10.3 lbs./3 sticks, 3 rungs of folding dual steps per stick, 14.5" per step. Total height: 10.9' (Muddy's most popular and appropriate stick for saddle hunters is the two-rung Pro Series, but they were unavailable for testing. Specs from the manufacturer are: 10 lbs./4 sticks, dual fixed steps with two rungs per stick, 18" per step. Total height: 12'.) Gomuddy.com

2. Beast Sticks, $320:6.75 lbs./4 sticks, 2 rungs of fixed steps per stick, 22" per step. Total height: 14.5'. Pricey, but the lightweight leader and built to last a lifetime; 22" spacing ideal for maximizing height and application with single moving aider (see sidebar). Huntingbeastgear.com

3. Lone Wolf Climbing Sticks $199: 9.1 lbs./4 sticks, 3 rungs of moveable single steps per stick, 15" per step. Total height: 15'. The originals that started the mobile stick movement. Still a great option and value, a left/right switchable single step per rung is more challenging when setting platforms. Lonewolfhuntingproducts.com

4. Hawk Helium $129.99. 9.25 lbs./3 sticks, 3 rungs of dual folding steps per stick, 13.5" per step. Total height: 10.12'. Most popular mod is to remove one rung of steps and cut sticks down to 20 "-22" between steps for a more favorable weight/ height package appropriate for aider usage. See YouTube: David Toms Amsteel on Climbing Stick

CLIMBING STEPS

1. Bullman Outdoors Silent Approach Climbing Method: 10 Steps, 10 Straps, in handy multi-purpose carry bags with extra pockets for saw or trimmers. Weight: 4 lbs. 7 oz.

2. Cranford EZY[R] Climb Folding Rope Tree Step. Fits trees up to 17" in diameter, weighs 9.5 oz. each. Ten steps can reach 18' with 22" spacing for less than 6 lbs.

3. Treehopper Treestand Accessories combo pack includes a hand drill, pouch, and 10 coated bolts for $79.95. Extra coated bolts come in black, plus dark or light gray, sold in 10-pack for $23.95. The Cordless Drill carrier and Bolt Holster (right) is $19.95 for those who want to pre-drill multiple setups.

4. Wild Edge SteppLadders have a cult-like following in the saddle community and can be ordered with either 6' or 8' ropes in custom | mixes or in prepackaged kits. Weight is just ' under a pound per step with 8' rope. A specific i loop secures the step to the tree, and it cams J down to lock in place. Wild Edge even makes I an adjustable climbing aider specific to their steps. A 10-pack with deployment bag is $160. Wildedgeinc.com

5. Eastern Woods Outdoors Squirrel Steps are machined aluminum steps weighing in at just over 3 oz. While designed for use in a ring-of-steps platform, weight-conscious users build a set of strap-on steps that are super light with cam-over buckles. Ewoutdoors.com

PLATFORMS & RING OF STEPS

1. Tethrd Predator Platform $179 and Predator Pack. The Predator is a pivot-style platform and is cast of high-tensile * A356-T6 aluminum, weighing in at a mere 3 lbs., and folds flat to 3.5 inches. Patent pending side traction tread and wings provide "boot grip" when moving around the tree for a shot. A ZipCam button on the I-beam allows for fast, secure set-up for the cam-buckle strap. The platform offers enough room for shooting standing up on both feet, is adjustable for leaning trees, and its cast texture provides confident footing. The innovative Predator Pack is an elegant carry pack built to the exact dimensions of Tethrd's Platform. Features include 1 integral hidden backpack straps, a built-in T-hook for hanging it on your saddle MOLLE loops during the climb or on your HYS strap in the tree, and a full panel of MOLLE loops on the face for attaching additional gear or lashing it to your main pack. Tethrdnation.com

2. Out On A Limb Podium $149. Made entirely of aluminum parts, the 3-lb. Podium has a soft polyester finish and buttons on each side of the frame that accommodate I a heavy-duty pull strap for cinching it I down tight. Two knobs on the bottom of the frame allow for adjustment on leaning trees. Outonalimbmfg.com

3. Eastern Woods Outdoors Squirrel Steps. This lightweight and slim profile machined aluminum step weighs in a 3 oz. per step, and can be ordered in any quantity with multiple strap and buckle options for customizing your own personal Ring Of Steps design. An elegant, packable, lightweight solution. See YouTube: NutterBuster's Best Ring Of Steps Ever. Ewoutdoors.com

4. The Perch, by Wild Edge Inc. $147. Touted as the lightest, most compact platform on the market, The Perch was designed to work in tandem with the Wild Edge SteppLadder (requires setting into Stepp). This integration draws on the strength of the Stepp to allow side pressure from every angle, and ultimately creates space for optimal foot placement while saddle hunting. The Perch weighs only 1.25 lbs., allows you to shoot 360 degrees around the tree, and takes seconds to set up. Wildedgeinc.com

5. Bullman Outdoors ring of steps Saddle Hunting Platform $64.99. Package consists of six Silent Approach Steps with a heavy duty 1" ratchet strap to attach it to the tree. The Steps can be arranged in any pattern around the tree and the whole package weighs in at a flyweight 1.5 lbs. Bullmanoutdoors.com

Amsteel

Amsteel is 12-Strand braided rope using Dyneema fiber with a proprietary Samthane urethane coating. Amsteel is a non-rotational rope that yields extremely high strength and low stretch; equivalent to wire rope with only 1/7th the weight. In addition, it is exceedingly flexible, can be spliced easily, and is resistant to flex-fatigue. Amsteel doesn't absorb water, is so light it floats, and is commonly used for saddle bridges and as a lightweight, buckle-less replacement strap on climbing sticks and steps. Watch G2 Outdoors on YouTube for a detailed Amsteel splicing video.

GREAT UTILITY ACCESSORIES

1. Hawk Speed Retract Hoist Reel

2. Summit Retractable Gear Hoist

3. Doyle's Huntin' Hoist

4. Camo Form in Mossy Oak

5. Summit Rubber Wire kit

6. Comfortable garden and Trophy Line kneepads

7. Florian Ratchet Pruners

8. Compact Browning hand saw

9. Tethrd HYS gear strap

10. Summit gear accessory storage kit

11. Hawk Hookster with EZ Twist Attachment

12.360 Swivel Heroclips

13. Nite Ize Sidelock gear carabiners

14. Buckle-less Versa Strap for platform & climbing sticks

15. Summit Utility Strap

By MIKE CARNEY & Bowhunter Staff-Photography by Michael Anschuetz

Caption: Whether you pack in deep on public-land hideyholes, or are looking to surprise the veteran buck that has avoided you for years on the back 40-saddle hunting offers many tactical advantages.

Caption: 1) Everything I need to climb and hunt is packed in and carried up the tree in one trip: sticks, platform, ropes, and pack. My bow is pulled up with an auto-retracting Doyle's Huntin' Hoist attached to my saddle. 2) A moveable climbing aider is a great way to achieve more vertical distance per stick. It's the equivalent of carrying in six sticks for the weight of four. Aiders are easy to use and made from tubular climbing webbing. 3) My third and fourth sticks have a paracord loop to hang on a MOLLE accessory hook on my saddle. To keep stick spacing consistent, the top stick step is set at eye height from the ground, and at eye height when on top of each subsequent stick, so every step is 22 inches. 4) When I get to the bottom step on my last stick, I hang my platform 12-18 inches above the top step. This gets me 22 to 23 feet high, if needed, without stretching the distance between sticks.

Caption: By adjusting the length of my tether I can lean back, sit side-saddle, or sit facing the tree for all-day comfort. This Kestrel Flex saddle has an adjustable webbing bridge, so I can dial-in the perfect bridge distance to avoid my bowstring while maximizing comfort.

Caption: Like an apparition, a saddle hunter can stay concealed behind the tree and shoot 360 degrees around it, to execute the shot at the perfect moment.
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Author:Carney, Mike
Publication:Bowhunter
Date:Jul 1, 2019
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