By Greg Staggs
Saddle hunters, by and large, are minimalists. Shaving every possible ounce from their setup is a top priority. So, they’ll use climbing sticks — but they’ll cut their length down so that instead of having three steps available, it reduces the stick to two steps. They’ll then make up for that lost step by tying on a lightweight rope step (think of a stirrup on a horse saddle). Just as importantly, it reduces bulk. A 20-inch stick simply packs easier than one that’s a full foot longer. Lone Wolf climbing sticks, Millennium M250, Muddy Pro, Hawk Heliums and Dan Infalt’s Beast Sticks are all frequently used.
Another popular climbing method is to use a strap-on step such as those from Bullman Outdoors and Eastern Woods Outdoors. Saddle hunting is perfect for going in deep and bouncing around public land where you don’t want to leave a stand to be stolen. However, most public-land regulations prohibit climbing methods that penetrate a tree, meaning no screw-in steps. Bullman’s Silent Approach Climbing System consists of 12 injection-molded plastic steps combined with a nylon strap and cam buckle that weigh less than 5.5 pounds total. Eastern Woods’ aluminum Squirrel Steps weigh just 3 ounces each. Another option is Cranford Manufacturing’s EZY Climb Folding Rope Tree Step (ezyclimb.com), a steel step with a rope attachment system, with each step coming in at 9.5 ounces.
In the world of strap-on steps, probably no product provides a more solid foundation than the SteppLadder by Wild Edge. Consisting of a steel rung in a triangular design, a rope is spliced onto one end and then passed around and affixed with a specific loop to the other side. Once the rope is fairly tight, the hunter pulls up on the step and then “cams” it down onto the tree, which locks it in place. This simple action results in a public-land legal foothold so sturdy that Wild Edge often shares pictures and video of a man sitting atop an ATV dangling by a winch cable from one. Each step weighs less than a pound.
Saddle hunters have also taken to using a variety of “aiders” to help them extend their vertical reach. For example, many use a loop of nylon webbing on a tree step or climbing stick. This loop effectively creates an additional “step” that can be moved up and down the tree as the hunter climbs. This technique can dramatically reduce the number of steps or sticks needed to climb; however, it does take a bit of practice to employ. Keep in mind, any time you leave the ground you should be securely attached to the tree via a lineman’s belt or tether at all times.
If you have the luxury of hunting private land, even more options are available. The aforementioned screw-in steps have long been a favorite of mobile hunters, and climbing spurs such as those worn by arborists are rapidly gaining popularity. Another common technique is drilling a hole and slipping in a six-inch, Grade 8 bolt or a solid carbon rod. The Treehopper Hand Drill is made exactly for this purpose. Of course, all these methods can penetrate a tree, so make sure you have permission.
Regardless of climbing method, you’ll want to eliminate as much noise as possible. Stealth Outdoors offers a variety of silencing products for climbing sticks, platforms, buckles, tree bark and more.