Midday Saddle Hunting

ScentLok® pro staffer, Justin Zarr, talks saddle hunting tactics for midseason whitetail deer.

MUSKEGON, Mich. (October 2, 2023) – Justin Zarr has been bowhunting for more than 30 years and has co-hosted the popular bowhunting show “Bowhunt or Die” since 2010. Zarr was one of the first hunters to create online-specific content and can speak extensively on how the hunting industry has changed over the past couple decades, especially innovations in the rich history of saddle hunting. Zarr lives in the NW suburbs of Chicago with his wife, three kids, and dog—but travels extensively to chase trophy whitetail deer, mule deer, elk, and antelope by bow.

There’s your preamble. Now let’s get into a discussion about saddle hunting.

Tell us a little bit about where, how, and when you hunt whitetail deer.

Zarr: I’m hunting whitetails primarily in my home state of Illinois. Being in the Midwest, we see a variety of conditions throughout our archery season. From 80-degree temps in early October to below zero in January – we really do see it all.

I usually start my season with an out-of-state trip somewhere in August or September. This year I went to Kentucky for an early-season whitetail hunt on public land with temps into the 90’s by day. Some years I head west for mule deer, elk, or antelope. Illinois archery season doesn’t open until October, so I do like to get an earlier start if I can.

Around October 20th, I’ll start hunting three to four times a week up until Thanksgiving when the rut begins to tail off. After that, I lighten up my hunting to a couple evening hours during the late season as deer begin to feed heavily before winter fully sets in. A lot of that is done in blinds and usually over some sort of food source.

Where/when does saddle hunting enter your playbook?

Zarr: Any time you need to be mobile and get into an area where you don’t have a pre-hung treestand or blind, tree saddles really come in handy. Seeing deer while hunting is great, but it’s important to remember that you need to get close enough for a shot, which often requires repositioning yourself or going into areas you haven’t previously hunted.

Saddles are also great for in-season scouting and “run and gun” style hunts. The traditional thought process behind scouting for deer is that you do it in the spring or late winter, analyzing sign from the previous fall.

During the summer months it can be hard to see deer signs when everything is green. Since the deer are in velvet they’re not rubbing, they’re not scraping, so you’re not seeing any traditional buck sign. Traditionally, summertime scouting is limited to glassing open fields and looking for deer. But once the season starts and the pre-rut begins to kick in, this can be the best time to scout for hot sign.

Using a saddle allows you to scout your way into an area until you find the type of sign that you’re looking for, and then easily get set up to hunt with minimal noise and intrusion.

Ultimately, saddle hunting offers mobility and the ability to get into trees that are traditionally harder to get into. You can hunt from smaller trees with a saddle, even those with limbs. Saddles allow for a lot of flexibility and options, which are key when trying to get close to mature deer.

What factors would make you move during a midday hunt?

Zarr: There are two big things: First, trail camera data I’m receiving via my smartphone. If I’m getting camera data with hot deer activity in a specific area, I can move right in with a saddle, even if I don’t have a stand in the area.

The second scenario is seeing repeated deer activity during a hunt that isn’t close enough for me to seal the deal. Rather than staying in the tree and hoping one of those deer eventually gets close, I may climb down and move to where the action is. Often, these moves aren’t far, sometimes only 20 or 30 yards closer to a specific trail or fence crossing the deer are actively using. After all, with bowhunting, it’s about getting within shooting distance, which is 20 to 30 yards for most of us.

How are you dressing for most of your hunts?

Again, saddle hunting is about mobility. So, I need to be able to walk in with as little bulk as possible to avoid getting hot, but still be able to add layers for warmth once my body begins to cool down.

I mix and match components from different clothing systems in the ScentLok family. For starters, I typically wear the ScentLok Forefront Pants, especially while scouting and hunting in late October and early November. I usually wear a single base layer under my pants that is geared towards expected temperatures. The colder the weather, the heavier the base layer.

On top, I will typically hike into my location in a t-shirt or a lightweight base layer. Again, my goal is mobility and not getting overheated. Once settled in for the hunt, I’ll put on the ScentLok Reactor Heated Vest. This vest offers a huge advantage because it’s very warm and packable—even without the heating element turned on. With the heating element, the ScentLok Reactor Heated Vest allows me to dress with one less layer than I would normally need. As it gets colder, I’ll add the ScentLok Voyage Jacket over the long-sleeve base layer shirt and vest.

I dress differently during early season when temps are often in the 70’s or 80’s during the day. That’s when I opt for the Savannah Aero or Phantom, both go-to’s for my early season hunts. However, I may still bring my heated vest during early-season because it can start to cool off quickly once the sun goes down.

The nice thing about saddle hunting is that it’s easy to add and remove layers on top as needed because you don’t have a traditional safety harness getting in the way. The colder it gets, the heavier the jacket I pack. For late season hunts or all-day sits in the cold, the Revenant Pro is my go-to suit. It’s super warm and deadly quiet.

What’s your history with ScentLok hunting clothing?

I’ve been wearing ScentLok for 15 years. The biggest advantage of ScentLok is the scent control technology, most notably the activated carbon. Let’s face it: animals are unpredictable and there’s no way to stop them from doing what they’re going to do. No matter how well you plan, you’re going to have animals approach from the wrong direction and get downwind of you. Having that added level of scent control has made a huge difference in my bowhunting success through the years.

I’m also excited to start hunting in the new ScentLok Paradigm suit, primarily for its windproof lining and moisture resistance. Being windproof is huge because nothing saps the heat out of you quicker than the wind. Having an outer layer that’s windproof—combined with the heated vest—is as close to a perfect system as there is.


Nexus Outdoors, headquartered in Muskegon, MI, USA, is a leading worldwide designer, marketer and distributor of performance, hunting and casual odor-controlling apparel, footwear and equipment under the ScentLok Technologies®, OZ®, Blocker Outdoors®, Whitewater and Tree Spider® brands. It also owns American Range Systems, manufacturer and distributor of the world’s strongest and safest bullet traps. Nexus Outdoors is the only company with access to all scent-controlling technologies, including their patented Carbon Alloy™ and Cold Fusion Catalyst™ technologies, which provide superior success in the field. ScentLok and Blocker Outdoors are pioneers in the hunting industry, which many credit with creating a market focused on superior scent control to get closer to big game.


Jim Edlund

Traditions Media, LLC