Harness system tree stands teach old deer hunters new tricks
Forty years ago this month, I walked into the local hardware store in Ruston and purchased my first climbing stand.
I’d spent the summer working cattle for a local rancher and managed to save enough money for the purchase. I still remember presenting the large cardboard box to the cashier before racing home to unbox my new treasure. I can also remember being sweat soaked a few weeks later, trudging across a Tensas Parish palmetto flat in search of whitetail sign, bow in hand.
The Amacker Deer Thief on my back weighed in at a “sleek” 28 pounds, and even included two narrow straps that, when packed any distance beyond a few feet, cut into your shoulders. It was state of the art for 1982.
Fortunately, deer hunting equipment has come a long way since then. Compound bows, camouflage, trail cameras and deer stands have all gotten better and lighter.
Old dog learns new trick
After years of searching for the perfect stand, I settled on a two-piece climber, weighing less than 13 pounds. I’ve always wanted to be mobile, able to walk long distances without tiring, while also being able to quickly move from one spot to another. For over a decade I used the same make and model of stand, and, until recently, had no reason to change.
But last season I hunted with close friend Dustin Brister of Ruston and noticed him wearing what appeared to be a lineman’s belt. Upon closer inspection, I recognized he was wearing a tree saddle harness.
When asked, Brister claimed right away that for archery hunting, his tree saddle was the absolute best approach during the whitetail rut.
“If I see a buck chasing a doe in the distance, I can climb down and be back in a tree where I saw the buck within minutes,” he said. “More importantly, I can do it almost silently. Plus, I don’t have to find a perfect tree.”
He went on to add that for early season hunts, he rarely breaks a sweat during the walk to his hunting area or during setup. He estimated his entire setup weighed in at less than five pounds.
I quickly decided to do some serious research on these tree saddles. After a few days of cruising the internet, I landed on an Indiana hunter named Scott Cronin, an IHEA and ATA certified hunting instructor, who seemed to be leading the tree saddle charge in the Midwest amongst his students.
Simplicity = safety
Cronin wasted little time getting straight to the point.
“First, I believe the simplicity of the tree saddle makes it a super safe option for hunters,” he said. “There are no pins, chains, or ratchets.”
Cronin went on to add that many of his students also feel safer using a tree saddle versus a traditional tree stand, adding that he’s personally seen hunters unable to use fixed position stands because of vertigo, immediately feel much more confident in a saddle. Initially I found this hard to believe, but after watching Cronin demonstrate how to climb with a tree saddle, I began to see exactly what he was talking about.
After looking into the makes and models available, I slowly began to assemble the needed gear for a maiden voyage. I learned the saddle is the most important part of this setup, with higher quality models built like small hammocks, complete with lumbar support for your back. In addition to my lineman’s belt, which ensures I stay connected to the tree while climbing, I also needed a tree tether. The tether attached me to the tree once at my desired hunting height and acted as my main safety line during the hunt.
Once connected to the tree at my desired height, I would need a small platform for my feet.
The platform serves as my standup foot base area, allowing me to pivot, anchor, and lock into position for observing and shooting. Finally, I would need a set of steps or “mini sticks” as saddle hunters call them. The steps would allow me to climb trees with little or no limbs. The Novix brand steps I purchased are 17 inches each and allow for more foot room when climbing and hanging. It only takes three or four of these step sections to reach a height of 15 feet or more.
The learning curve
The first few times I climbed a tree in my backyard, things didn’t go as smoothly as I anticipated. Having spent my entire life shooting a bow from fixed position stands, there was a learning curve involved. It took me several “dry runs” in order to learn how to best position myself, the platform and my mini steps.
In addition, I quickly figured out that as a right-handed shooter, shots to my right required some maneuvering. With practice I eventually became confident not only taking those shots, but moving almost completely around the tree. Using the steps was easy and after I learned how to position the footrest, I was able to stay comfortable for extended periods of time.
I quickly began to see even more benefits to saddle hunting, including that now I no longer needed to find the perfect tree for my climbing stands. In fact, the saddle allows me find trees that place me well within confident shooting range of trails or heavy sign.
In addition, facing the tree allows a hunter to stay better hidden from approaching deer. The saddle also enables hunters to use large or small diameter trees. Again, no more searching for the perfect tree. After practicing several times, I also took note of just how quietly I was able to climb. Tree saddles are super quiet, made of fabric, void of moving parts or exposed metal.
But perhaps the biggest benefit of a tree saddle will be for the public land hunter. The light weight gives hunters the ability to walk long distances without becoming worn down from carrying heavy climbing stands. In addition, you no longer must worry about someone stealing your stand or being able to tell where you’ve hunted.
And if you hunt public land, you know there are rules as to what you can and can’t do. For example, some areas don’t allow hunters to cut or prune limbs. A tree saddle allows you the ability to hunt high or low while staying concealed, without removing limbs.
Tree saddles aren’t for everyone or every situation, but they certainly can make you a more versatile and mobile hunter with a little practice. With so many options on the market, you can build your own tree saddle setup that will put more deer in front of you.
Tree Saddle information
Although ladder stands are just gaining in popularity, there are already several companies making them and various products to go with them.
Check the sites below out and you may be well on your way to finding out this is the new trick that you need in your deer hunting pursuits.
And, as always, put safety first, become familiar with your new equipment and practice before you go on a real hunt.
Here are some sites where you can learn more about saddles:
Trophyline – trophyline.com
Tethrd – tethrdnation.com
Hawk – hawkhunting.com
Tuebor Saddles – tueborsaddles.com
Novix – novixoutdoors.com
Also, try and internet search for “tree saddles” to find more websites, videos and information.
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