Accessing private and public land helps landowners know what's out there

            With the fall hunting season underway, it’s time to discuss land access issues and the variety of lands available to hunt on in Saskatchewan. Most of the land in southern Saskatchewan is private land with a great deal of Crown land in northern Saskatchewan. I plan to discuss some of the land access issues that hunters may run into. In addition, I will address some of the rules surrounding hunting on some of the public land out there as well. I get lots of questions as to how to properly post private land, and I promise that I will get to that in the next column. I can’t stress enough the importance of asking permission to hunt on private land because failure to do so will result in more land being posted. I find that most landowners just want to know who is out there on their land and I see this as common courtesy.

            Private land is one area where I constantly have landowners and hunters calling me about the legislation. As most people understand, hunting on posted land is unlawful, but what if the land is not posted? The law is somewhat confusing, but just because the land is not posted does not give a hunter consent or the right to access private land. 

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            It is not a violation of The Wildlife Act or The Trespass to Property Act to hunt on private land without permission if the land has not been posted. Hunters, however, do not have the ‘explicit right’ to access private land, as landowners do have the ability to sue any person under common law for trespassing. 

            So as a hunter, a person is not in violation of the province’s wildlife or trespass laws if he or she enters private land without permission. But common courtesy by asking for permission will go a long way between landowner and hunter relationships and will allow access to land to be hunted in the future.

            So as always, the ethical thing to do is to ask permission from the landowners prior to going onto private land. If the landowner comes out and asks a hunter to leave, then he or she must do so immediately.

            In terms of landowners, I can appreciate that some of them have huge tracks of land and it may be labour-intensive to post. If a landowner wishes to limit access to his or her land in a manner that is enforceable, however, then posting remains the simplest option.

            In Wildlife Management Zones (WMZ) 15 to 18 and 30 to 34, as well as the Regina and Moose Jaw and Saskatoon Wildlife Management Zones, no person hunting big game is allowed to drive off roads (or road allowances with trails) without written permission from the landowner, except to retrieve legally killed big game animals using the most direct route.

            If a landowner has posted his or her land then it is an offence to hunt on that land contrary to the posted instructions. A hunter can be responsible for damage to crops, swaths or freshly seeded fields while hunting in Saskatchewan. Hunting on posted land or hunting contrary to posted instructions carries a fine of $380 and a one-year hunting license suspension.

            Wildlife Development Fund land parcels have been purchased with a portion of hunting license revenue and are open to all hunting. All hunting must be on foot only. A new regulation in 2016 prohibits all vehicle use including recreational ATV and snowmobile use on these lands in order to minimize the damage to this valuable habitat. Limited vehicle use will be allowed under permit such as required by agriculture lessees. Most importantly this vehicle prohibition does not apply to hunters who are retrieving lawfully taken big game animals. Hunters are reminded to use the shortest and/or least impacting route to access their animal.

            Ducks Unlimited or Pheasants Forever land is a parcel of land set aside for wildlife, but hunting is allowed. In most cases there are signs indicating hunting instructions, but the vast majority of times it is hunting on foot only.

            There are three types of community pastures in the province: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada pastures, Saskatchewan Provincial pastures, and patron-operated pastures. They all, however, have similar hunting rules. 

            Community pastures in the southern zones (1 to 47) were open for hunting on November 1, with pastures in the north areas (such as 48 to 50, 52, 53, 55 and 68N) opening November 15 with the exception of WMZ 54 which opened on November 10. 

            Pasture managers may allow hunting earlier in the year, but with permission only.    Hunters are asked to watch for closed portions of pastures as livestock may still be present.

            Vehicles are restricted to roads and trails only unless a hunter is retrieving legally taken big game animals. Remember that because it is November and there is sometimes no snow, the fire hazard is high and open fires should be avoided.

            There are two military bases in the province: Canadian Forces Base Dundurn and the Primrose Air Weapons Range.  Both of these areas are closed to hunting.

            First Nations reserves are off-limits to non-First Nations persons, unless the hunters have permission granted by the chief, or the band council.

            All regional parks and recreation sites are off-limits to hunting, unless otherwise stated in the Hunters’ and Trappers’ Guide seasons listing.

            If travelling through the core area of the park (including all posted no hunting areas), all firearms must be unloaded and encased.

            In road corridor game preserves, hunting is not allowed within 400 metres from the centre of the road to the edge of the preserve. Road corridor game preserves are in place in select areas within the provincial forest and there are signs marking their locations. If a hunter is travelling through a road corridor game preserve, all firearms must be encased and inside the vehicle. Licenced hunters may carry an unloaded firearm (on foot or encased on an ATV) from a vehicle to the edge of the game preserve by the most direct route possible.

            I have received a couple of questions from readers for me to answer. Here are a few.

            I am unable to walk due to a hip surgery. Is there a chance I can get a permit to carry a firearm on an ATV in the Weyburn area?

            No, there is no regulatory authority that would allow you to carry a firearm on an ATV in southern Saskatchewan (WMZ 1 to 47). If applicants have mobility issues where crutches, a cane or a walker is needed to assist them, then a permit to operate a highway vehicle off roads and trails for the purpose of hunting may be issued.

            All-day ATV use is allowed in forest and forest fringe wildlife management zones. This applies to zones 48 to 50, 53 and 55 to 76.  In these areas an encased and unloaded firearm may be carried on an ATV.

             I am unable to walk due to a knee replacement. Can I get a permit to shoot from a vehicle? 

            For the conditions that have been outlined, the answer would be no. A permit may be issued to someone who is confined to a wheelchair due to paraplegia, hemiplegia, being an amputee (with an amputation above the knee) or having a similar disability.

            If the applicant has mobility issues where crutches, a cane or a walker is needed to assist him or her, then a permit to operate a vehicle off roads and trails for the purpose of hunting may be issued.

            In zones where written permission is required to drive off of roads and road allowances with trails, a permit is not normally issued, as driving is allowed as long as written permission is obtained.

             Can I set up baits on private land? 

            To set up baits on private land, a hunter must have permission from the landowner. The type and quantity of bait used on private land is up to the discretion of the landowner. The ministry, however, strongly recommends that, if salt or salt products are used, they be placed in a leak and spill-proof container.

            The use of bait on Crown land (provincial forests, provincial parks, recreation sites and unoccupied Crown lands) is more closely regulated including restrictions on the type and amounts, required containers, signage and timelines. These restrictions are clearly listed in the 2016 Hunters’ and Trappers’ Guide.

            Hunters should also know that baiting is not allowed on Wildlife Development Fund lands in Saskatchewan.

             I heard somewhere that a landowner does not have to have a license to hunt upland birds. Can you confirm this?

            Well, I always thought that I would avoid this question, but the truth is that an owner or occupant of any land may, within the limits of that land, hunt upland birds during an open upland season without a license or habitat certificate.

            Well, that should do it again for another couple of weeks. Please remember that if you see a violation, or if you know of some illegal hunting activity, contact your local officer. We have a limited number of officers who simply cannot be everywhere at once. This is why we need your help. If this is not possible, call the Turn In Poachers line. All calls are anonymous, and officers look into every call. Callers may be eligible for a reward as well if their information results in prosecution.

            Until next time, keep your rod tip up.

            (EDITOR’S NOTE: Lindsey Leko has been a conservation officer with the Ministry of Environment for more than 25 years in Saskatchewan. Leko contributes a column to local papers on a variety of topics related to hunting, fishing, and other resource-related issues. Leko may be contacted at lindsey.leko@gov.sk.ca.)