Scal­ing Back

From tree sad­dles to truck camp­ing, the min­i­mal­ist ap­proach is win­ning the hearts of hard­core deer hunters who are sick of haul­ing around too much gear

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS - BY TONY HANSEN

From tree sad­dles to truck camp­ing, the min­i­mal­ist move­ment is win­ning over hard­core deer hunters who are stream­lin­ing their gear and hav­ing more fun than ever.

More is more, or so we seem to be­lieve. Just spend a few mo­ments brows­ing so­cial me­dia and the feeds of In­sta in­flu­encers. You’ll find plenty of vir­tual vomit from users who shout, “Look at me and all my stuff!” And you’ll see one com­par­i­son af­ter an­other: John’s buck is big­ger than yours. Shane’s camo cost more. Jeff ’s truck has big­ger tires, and Karen’s bow is newer. That world can get tire­some, and there’s a grow­ing le­gion of hunters who have but one thing to say about it: Enough.

Min­i­mal­ism is a dev­il­ishly sim­ple con­cept of re­defin­ing what you need ver­sus what you want. For min­i­mal­ist hunters, the re­sult is a tight col­lec­tion of spe­cial­ized gear that weighs less, is sim­pler, and fos­ters a hunt­ing style that’s mo­bile and nim­ble—and in many cases, more ef­fec­tive and en­joy­able.

So read on and go light.

TO BE ONE, MEET ONE

Mis­souri hunter Chet Donath got the start in hunt­ing that many dream of. “Yeah, I was pretty for­tu­nate. My dad owned a cou­ple hun­dred acres. I started hunt­ing at about age 10 with my dad and brother. We did the cam­eras and all that. We had big deer run­ning around, plenty of ground to hunt them on. It was...al­most easy,” he says. “Then I de­cided I wanted to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.”

And dif­fer­ent is what he did. Gone were the piles of gear, the plethora of trail cams, and, eventually, his tree­stand.

“As sports­men, I think we all have the same thing in com­mon: We do this because it’s fun and it’s a chal­lenge,” Donath says. “To me, some of the over-hyped prod­ucts that were com­ing along, it was just tak­ing away from the ex­pe­ri­ence. It seemed like that di­rec­tion of hunt­ing was one I didn’t want to go in—and it was mak­ing me not re­ally en­joy hunt­ing any­more.”

To­day, Donath spends the bulk of his sea­son on pub­lic land and em­ploys a greatly pared-down, spar­tan setup. “I just started think­ing, What do I re­ally need? I like to get back in off the road, and when you do that, you have to pack ev­ery­thing in and out. So you re­ally start to think about what you need and what you don’t,” he says.

“You look around and you just sort of say, ‘Why? Do I re­ally need that?’” he says. “I was in the Army for a while, so I was al­ready used to wear­ing BDUS and ACUS. You can pick those up at a surplus store or Good­will for $5 or $6. And they work just fine. The way I look at it, if I spend a full day work­ing to buy some new hunt­ing toy, that’s a day I didn’t spend hunt­ing. That seems to de­feat the pur­pose.”

Donath’s most sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings ac­tu­ally came in the form of weight, when he ditched his tree­stand. Now, he pays more at­ten­tion to where deer move than where a suit­able tree is lo­cated. It’s not a com­plex sys­tem: Find the deer and get among them. The re­sult?

“I killed one of my big­gest bucks from behind a tree, on the ground,” he says. “I was wear­ing Carhartt bibs and a navy­blue sweater.”

ADOPT­ING THE PHI­LOS­O­PHY

A typ­i­cal hunt­ing out­ing for me used to mean load­ing up my pack with calls, cam­era gear, ex­tra cloth­ing, ozone units, a spare trail cam (or two), saws, knives, and accessorie­s wrapped in fancy camo. Then I’d strap on a tree­stand, a full set of climb­ing sticks, and what­ever else I felt was re­quired to spend a day in the woods—and look le­git in my so­cial feed.

I can’t tell you how many gal­lons of sweat I’ve left across the Mid­west haul­ing that bur­den of ego across the woods. But then one day last win­ter, I was read­ing Ev­ery­thing That Remains, a book by Josh Fields Mill­burn and Ryan Ni­code­mus, the duo best known as the Min­i­mal­ists. I was in­spired. I grabbed a buddy heater and headed for the room off the back of my garage that serves as the catchall for my hunt­ing gear.

I took a quick look around and started mak­ing piles. I had 18 jack­ets. The num­ber didn’t shock me so much as dis­gust me. And so the purge be­gan.

With the money I made from sell­ing some of the items, I put to­gether a brand-new arse­nal of hunt­ing gear. The goal wasn’t to go cheap—it was to get the very best of what I needed, and get rid of ev­ery­thing I didn’t. Some of the in­di­vid­ual items were ex­pen­sive. But the to­tal dol­lars spent is well un­der the value of all the stuff I used to have. Now I have an en­sem­ble of gear that’s of higher qual­ity than any­thing I pre­vi­ously owned, and I carry less than half the weight—lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively—in the field. (Check out the au­thor’s cur­rent gear list at right.)

SADDLING UP

Few things are as rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the min­i­mal­ist-hunt­ing move­ment as the tree sad­dle. Greg God­frey may not tech­ni­cally be a true OG in the world of sad­dle hunt­ing—that honor goes to Michi­gan’s John Eber­hart, who first started writ­ing and talk­ing about sad­dle hunt­ing back in the early 2000s—but he is cer­tainly a player in the cur­rent sad­dle revo­lu­tion. An ac­tive-duty Army mem­ber, the Florida na­tive grew up hunt­ing from lock-on stands. Then Un­cle Sam “asked” him to move.

“They took me to Colorado. The per­ma­nent tree­stands I was used to just didn’t work out there,” God­frey says. “So I started re­search­ing on­line and look­ing into all th­ese dif­fer­ent op­tions, and that’s when I dis­cov­ered John Eber­hart and sad­dle hunt­ing. That kind of sparked a 10-year quest to push things for­ward.”

And push he did. God­frey took full ad­van­tage of what he cred­its as the sin­gle most im­por­tant tool in sad­dle hunt­ing’s rise to near-main­stream sta­tus: Youtube.

“That’s been the key. With­out the in­ter­net, I don’t think it would’ve got­ten as big as it has,” he says. “The tech­nol­ogy we have now has made sad­dle hunt­ing much more com­fort­able and ef­fec­tive. Light­weight climb­ing sticks have only been avail­able for the past 10 years or so. The in­ter­net re­sources where guys can learn from each other, build off ideas from each other...that wasn’t around like it is now.

There was just no way to re­ally learn about this stuff, es­pe­cially not from guys like me who don’t re­ally have a voice or an out­let.”

God­frey started by mod­i­fy­ing prod­ucts to cre­ate sad­dles that were lighter, more nim­ble, and more com­fort­able. And then he did what any red-blooded Amer­i­can en­tre­pre­neur would do: He de­cided to see if he could make a busi­ness out of it.

“It’s funny because my part­ner Ernie [Pow­ers] said, ‘Hey, maybe we can sell enough sad­dles over the next two years to pay for an elk hunt in Colorado,’” he says. “We re­ally didn’t have any idea it would turn into this.”

What it’s turned into is a com­pany called Tethrd that produces the Man­tis sad­dle and the Preda­tor hunt­ing plat­form. With wait times for prod­uct ship­ment be­ing measured in months, it’s safe to say the two have cleared enough for that elk hunt.

To God­frey, the sad­dle isn’t an “ev­ery hunt” solution, but it’s pretty close.

“Hon­estly, there are only a few select sit­u­a­tions where I feel a stand is bet­ter than a sad­dle. In heavy ev­er­greens, a sad­dle wouldn’t be the best choice. But for ev­ery­thing else, I think it beats a tree­stand,” he says.

The sad­dle’s abil­ity to adapt to trees that are crooked, have lots of limbs, or are very large (all dif­fi­cult, if not im­pos­si­ble, ob­sta­cles for a tra­di­tional tree­stand), cou­pled with its ex­treme porta­bil­ity, are big sell­ing points. The most com­mon con­cerns for those reluc­tant to try out a sad­dle? Safety, com­fort, and us­abil­ity.

To that, God­frey has a sim­ple re­sponse:

“Those are all un­der­stand­able con­cerns that are re­solved as soon as you hang in a sad­dle,” he says. “You have to be will­ing to get out of your head a lit­tle bit. They’re not tree­stands. But once you try one, you re­al­ize they are very com­fort­able. They’re ev­ery bit as safe as, if not safer than, a tra­di­tional stand. And you can shoot from ev­ery pos­si­ble an­gle, un­like with a tra­di­tional stand.”

An­other po­ten­tial hin­drance: cost. While a new tree­stand hunter can test the waters by choos­ing from stands that range from $35 to $350 each, sad­dle hunt­ing has a higher min­i­mum in­vest­ment. There are re­ally only two brands in the sad­dle game: Tethrd and Aero­hunter. Both fea­ture models that start at about $200.

“That is one down­side. There’s a lit­tle bit of sticker shock. There’s re­ally no ‘try it’ price level with a sad­dle,” God­frey says. “But you won’t lose any money, because if you don’t like it, you can post that sad­dle on any on­line fo­rum and get your money back, because it won’t take long to sell it.”

God­frey doesn’t think sad­dle hunt­ing is just a trendy trick all the kids are do­ing ei­ther. “If you ask the peo­ple who’ve been us­ing them for 30 years, they’ll tell you they’re not a fad,” he says. “I think in three years, peo­ple will ask, ‘How do you hunt?’ and the answer will be, from a climber, a lock-on, or a sad­dle.”

WHAT MAT­TERS

When deer hunt­ing starts to be­come less fun, it’s time to change things up. So that’s ex­actly what I did, and this fall I plan to hit the woods with only the most nec­es­sary of items. The min­i­mal­ist men­tal­ity al­lows you to fo­cus on what’s truly im­por­tant about deer hunt­ing: the woods, the crit­ters, and the ex­pe­ri­ence. Even in this world, which is ob­sessed with com­par­isons, noth­ing can com­pare with that.

“They’re ev­ery bit as safe as, if not safer than, a tra­di­tional stand.”

The au­thor draws from a tree sad­dle, show­ing off all of the deer-hunt­ing gear he’ll ever need.

PACK­ING IN Climb­ing sticks and a tree sad­dle are all you need to hunt a new spot.

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