Updated: Jul 14, 2022
If you’re on social media as much as I am, you inevitably notice new trends. One of my favorites that started popping up in my feed this past fall was a series of memes which started with the phrase “I don’t know who needs to hear this, but…” Usually they were supportive, uplifting and encouraging words that were intended to raise the spirts of someone who might be undergoing a challenging situation of their own. So, here’s my take on it: I don’t know who needs to hear this, but… the end goal isn’t saddle hunting. The end goal is to kill your target animal. Yep, I said it.
A few years ago, my family and I got hooked on a new TV show called Treehouse Masters. We were enamored with the immaculate behemoths host Pete Nelson and his crew would build for his clients, with many running an astounding budget of over $100,000. For a treehouse. But they were awesome. Many were two-story designs, or at the least contained a loft. Some had kitchens, running water or outside showers. They all featured electricity and were insulated enough that the owners could live in them if they so desired. Halfway through Season 3, I’d had enough – I wanted to build my own. With zero carpentry experience but an abundance of common sense, I began my research. With YouTube as my ultimate resource guide, I learned how to frame walls, build door and window headers, install flooring, hang siding… everything I needed to do. I wore out a DVR remote rewinding and watching again and again little tricks of the trade that Pete and his crew glossed over in his weekly episodes; after all, his show’s goal was entertainment – not teaching someone how to do what he did. Along the way, I had to start buying tools. Lots of tools. I bought a dual-bevel sliding compound miter saw which would prove to be the workhorse of my project. I bought a jigsaw and a reciprocating saw. A small table saw. Rotary sanders, and a couple different types of Dremel oscillating saws. It didn’t take long to see the worth of having a separate impact driver as well as drill. You know what I learned along my journey? That the right tool could make even the most difficult job easier. And that as much as I loved my new $600 miter saw sitting atop its companion aluminum miter-saw stand, it wasn’t always the right tool for the job. I love my tool collection. But I don’t go around bragging about my tools. You know what I AM extremely proud of? My treehouse. I built it with my own hands. It’s a true DIY project. I didn’t hire a guide, and just pull the trigger by writing the check. That treehouse is what I was after – not the tool collection. It was just a necessary part of getting the job done. *** I see a lot of newer saddle hunters getting caught up in bragging about their tools. I’ve been there a little bit myself. And I quickly realized that wasn’t my goal. If I go out and hang in a saddle 100+ times this year but don’t fill my freezer with meat, I’ve failed. I don’t care how many people I let know that I’m a saddle hunter, or that I hunt with this method or that method. I love all the options. I love choices. But they’re simply tools to help get the job done.
I have a few pretty hardcore bowhunting friends. Most of us average somewhere in the range of 80-100 trips up and down a tree each season. We’ve discussed several times how there’s a distinct segment of our community that almost seem as if they’d be willing to give up the “hunting” part of “saddle hunting” as long as they could keep proselytizing the “saddle” portion of the moniker. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy hunting out of my saddle. It’s been my go-to tool in my bag for a long time now, much like my double-bevel sliding compound miter saw was when I was building my treehouse. But it’s still just a tool. I also try to be honest in my assessment of my tools. I’m a bit different than most saddle hunters, probably. I have a pretty unique background that sets me apart from most everyone I’ve ran across on social media, whether it be in Facebook groups or in online forums. I was a highly mobile run-and-gun bowhunter for two decades before I adopted a saddle as part of my arsenal. Over the last decade, I averaged over 100 sits each season. Every single sit was a trip out with either my climber or hang-on and climbing sticks. I only hunt public land, and I couldn’t afford to have my equipment stolen, so that meant I brought everything out of the woods with me and the next day in took it all back. There’s not much I haven’t seen when it comes to getting in a tree with a stand. All that experience with climbers and hang-ons and sticks gives me a bit different perspective than most sedimentary stand hunters. I can tell you exactly what shots I can take out of a stand, or which tree I can get in. The honest answer? I’ve never not been able to take a shot at a deer from my stand that I wanted to shoot – and I’m in the triple-digit numbers of bow kills I’ve notched. I’ve never been in a tree as a saddle hunter and thought to myself “It’s a good thing I’m in this saddle because I could have never got in this tree with my stand!” Are there radical examples you can force into the equation? Sure there are. And on that extreme chance you find a tree you can hang in from a saddle that I couldn’t put my hang-on stand in, I’d be willing to bet I could find another nearby tree I could get into. So why do I saddle hunt? Because it’s a very effective tool. I like how easy it is to transition from the act of climbing the tree to hunting and back again. I like how I can wear some of my weight in instead of having it all draped on my back. I like being able to hide behind the trunk of the tree I’m in when hunting a field edge and slowly swing out to drill a deer before disappearing right back behind the trunk from which I emerged – with none of the rest of the deer any wiser to what just happened. I like that when I’m employing my minimalist style that I’m able to enjoy walking in with less than 10 pounds of gear total, until later in the season when I need to start packing in extra layers of clothes. A saddle, a 12" one-sticking stick, and 40' of rope and I can hunt up to 35' high if I wanted. I like not having to worry about clinking the top and bottom parts of my stand together at the base of my tree, or when stacking sticks together. Cloth and nylon don’t creak and pop as readily in colder weather like metal does either. I like not having my stand catch on brush or knocking into low-hanging limbs when walking through the woods if I don’t duck or swerve quickly enough. I like not having to worry about self-recovery or avoiding suspension trauma should I accidentally fall off my treestand and end up dangling at the end of my safety harness. After climbing down to my son’s treestand which was a few feet below mine as we hunted from the same tree last year so I could reach down and grab his hand and pull him up straight through the air as he swung below me after falling off his stand, I’ve seen firsthand how real that danger could be. Neither of us are really sure to this day how that happened. I had just shot a big doe and sat back down, with him watching the action just below me. A minute later, I heard a noise that caused me to look down. It had happened so fast he was already swinging like a pendulum a couple feet off the front edge of his platform. He was perfectly fine, but if I hadn’t been there to pull him back up top? Yeah, it could have been bad. *** I’m proud to be a saddle hunter. There are some really good dudes in the community, and some I would have never been able to call friend had I not immersed myself in that world a couple years ago. But if you walk downstairs to the lower level of my house, you’ll find yourself surrounded by over 1,000 inches of public-land, DIY bone staring back at you. I’m even more proud of that. I don’t have pegs on the wall with saddles hanging from them; they’re safely tucked away in my archery room – with the rest of my bowhunting tools.