Climber, Hang-on and Saddles: A Public land evolution.
When I meet up with my friends or fellow hunters’ one of the things I notice that always happens is the conversation always turns to comparing our gear or tactics and almost always get into a friendly, but spirited, debate on what is best.
The one thing I have learned over the years is there is not a single best option. It is all up to the hunter and their preferred style of hunting. Gear does not make you a better hunter, confidence in what you are doing does that. If the gear you use makes you confident in what you are doing then that is the best choice for you.
When I first started hunting I purchased a Summit Viper climbing tree stand. It was big and bulky to walk in the woods with and could only go on straight trunk trees with no branches. But it was safe and by far the most comfortable stand I have used to date. I swear there are deer walking in the woods today that survived because that stand was so comfortable it promoted afternoon naps in the tree.
As a first time hunter, the climber fit my style. I hunted open woods on the edges of the thick stuff, never diving into the bedding areas. It provided the security I needed being new to climbing trees because you had multiple points of contact (top and bottom of stand and my safety harness). And as stated previously it was comfy.
After a few years my hunting style changed, I started going to where the deer were and not where I hoped they would travel. This lead to getting into some thick cover and nasty briars. The climber now showed its limitations, getting hung up on ever bush, briar and tree and making a ton of noise. Also I noticed that the best tree to be in was not always straight or limbless. This lead to me streamlining to a hang-on and sticks.
I personally went with an XOP Vanish and 4 lonewolf sticks. This set up was great, I could climb any tree I wanted, navigate around limbs and get into the brush with minimal hang ups because of how tight the whole rig sat on my back. Add some Molle Straps and this was a pretty sweet set up.
Down sides were that it wasn’t always comfortable to sit in that seat and depending on the tree I wasn’t always able to get the shot I wanted because I would either have to put the stand on the high side of a leaning tree or sit on the low side like the hunchback of notre dame. It was also just as heavy as the climber. After two years I was looking for something a little lighter and would provide more maneuverability around the tree.
Enter the saddle (or as my friends call it, my death diaper). I made the switch to this because I was walking further and into thicker cover to find and hunt deer. With the hang-on, I would be a sweaty mess by the time I got to where I wanted to hunt because it still weighed as much as the climber. So I traded out the stand and three sticks for a saddle, one stick and 40ft of rope (we can discuss one-sticking later). This is by far the lightest and one of the most comfortable set ups I have used but it does have a serious learning curve. You have to get comfortable dangling from a tree with nothing under you and while it is probably the safest version of climbing and hanging at hunting height, it does not always feel that way at first. I have a true full 360 shot range and can quickly descend the tree if conditions change or I see movement in another area and want to check it out.
For now the saddle is my main go to when I am hunting public but that doesn’t mean I don’t still use my other stands, whether for myself or for other people I am mentoring. Typically, I will loan my climber to new hunters to try and if they want to hunt with me, I pack all 4 sticks and my hang on and will set that for them and then hang off the back of the tree in the saddle.
Each method of climbing/hunting from a tree has its benefits and drawbacks and those change as you evolve as a hunter. Best advice out there is to try each, find what is comfortable and which fits your style. There is never a 1 size fits all and as you can see with my journey, your own preference can change over the years.