By Greg Staggs
If there’s one aspect of saddle hunting that can be a little intimidating, it’s learning how to shoot in all directions. You’ll hear tons of aficionados extoling the benefits of “360-degree shooting,” but how exactly does someone go about that, and more importantly, is it easy enough that you can feel comfortable doing it in the moment of truth?
The key here is to practice. Set up a couple of feet off the ground with a few targets in different directions. To make it easy to discuss shots and where they’ll come from in relation to being in the tree, saddle hunters often use a clock face to reference where they’ll be shooting. Since you’re tethered with the tree directly in front of you, the tree is your 12 o’clock position; conversely, directly behind you is 6 o’clock. Obviously, that leaves directly off to your right as 3 o’clock, and to your left will be 9 o’clock.
The easiest shot, of course, is what saddle hunters refer to as the “strong-side shot.” If you’re a right-handed archer, this means everything that falls between 7 o’clock and 10 o’clock is pretty much a no-brainer, just as it is when shooting from a treestand. It would be wise to set up so most of your shots would naturally be in this zone, if possible. Having deer come from in front of you, allowing the tree trunk to hide your position, and then moving directly to your left for the shot is ideal.
The next easiest shot — and quite possibly the most fun, and the one you probably see in more pictures — is the “drop shot” that occurs from the 5 o’clock to 7 o’clock position. This was the shot I took on the doe later in this article. I simply leaned back, twisted to my left and allowed my tether to fully support my weight as I braced my right foot against the trunk of the tree just above where I was standing. The nice thing about this position is it naturally puts you in that classic “T” form so many bowhunters neglect to maintain from a treestand.
The “weak-side shot” is the one that always causes the most concern for beginning saddle hunters, and the one most observers point to as having the most movement. They’re right, of course — but it’s not any harder than for a traditional treestand hunter. In a stand, you must pivot all the way around on your stand and essentially end up facing the tree to shoot to your right (if you’re a right-handed shooter).
There are a couple of different ways a saddle hunter can shoot an animal between 2 o’clock and 5 o’clock. One, if you’re on a pivot-style platform such as a Tethrd Predator, you could simply choose to stand and turn with little steps exactly as a treestand hunter would, except a saddle hunter would be turning away from the tree instead of toward it.
Additionally, a saddle hunter could choose to raise his or her bow over the bridge and point it at the target, rotating the hips and body to the right while coming to full draw. I personally prefer to allow the tether to hold my weight and rotate all the way around and backwards to my left. This allows me to “hang” at a more natural angle and helps maintain my “T” form during the shot.
Finally, the “top shot” occurs by shooting at a target positioned between 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. For a right-handed shooter, yousimply walk your feet to the left side of your platform, lean out to the left of the tree and take the shot. Some bowhunters find bracing their left knee on the trunk allows them a very steady base as they settle their pin on the target and squeeze the shot off.