5-year hunting ban for selling antlers 'overkill,' says northern Sask. man

Richard Weeseekase said he started hunting at 11 with his family, loves the outdoors and lives off the land. 

But the 36-year-old from Makwa Sahgaiehcan won't be allowed to hunt for sport for the next five years. 

He also faces a $6,300 fine after pleading guilty last month to illegally selling antlers to undercover conservation officers in 2017 and 2018.

Weeseekase said he was using his treaty rights to hunt for sustenance when he harvested the antlers. Case law dictates that parts of animals harvested through the treaty right to hunt for sustenance cannot be sold.

He says he sold the antlers to the officer, after he was told the man was looking to buy the horns so his wife could carve them into drinking vessels.

Weeseekase said the fine and the hunting ban are tough to swallow, calling the penalty "overkill." 

"It sucks," Weeseekase said.

After his hearing, Weeseekase was under the impression that he was banned from all hunting. 

After CBC reported on the ban, the Ministry of Environment released a statement clarifying that it only applied to sport hunting. 

"He is prohibited from applying for or purchasing a provincial hunting licence only," the ministry said. "He is still able to exercise his treaty right to hunt for sustenance."

The ministry said it is not possible to take away someone's treaty right to hunt for sustenance for a conviction under the Wildlife Act.

When contacted about this new information, Weeseekase said he was unaware of the ban only being on sport hunting and said it was "awesome" to learn.

His ban doesn't prohibit him from fishing. He said he's still going to fish when he can to provide for himself and elders in Makwa Sahgaiehcan, about 270 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

As for the fine, Weeseekase said he has until October 2020 to pay the $6,300. He said he was given an option to work for two months without pay to cover the fine, or go to jail for two months in the event he can't come up with the money.

Didn't know selling antlers was illegal: hunter

The charges were laid in September after a lengthy investigation by the Ministry of Environment, which began in 2017 when the ministry was first alerted to posts on Facebook about moose meat for sale. 

In a news release last month, the ministry said the man was contacted and warned about the post, and told why it was illegal to sell the meat. 

Weeseekase said he was aware of the rules around selling meat, but not antlers in Saskatchewan. 

"If I knew about it, I never would have done it," he said.

Submitted by Ministry of Environment

Antlers from big game can only be sold when they're sold with on a permit basis. The antlers must come from an animal taken through a valid hunting licence and must include a tag. 

After finding social media posts about antlers for sale, the ministry said in its release, conservation officers purchased five sets of moose antlers and four sets of white-tailed deer antlers from Weeseekase in late 2017.

Officers purchased 10 more sets of deer antlers and two sets of elk antlers from him in October 2018.

The ministry also included photos in its news release of other antlers that were seized from Weeseekase. But he says they weren't all from animals he had harvested. He said he's also an avid shed collector— someone who seeks out antlers that have been dropped by animals after their mating seasons. 

"I never shot all those animals … those were found horns, while I was hunting," Weeseekase said. "Maybe a couple of them [were], three or four maybe, but lots of them I found." 

Online sales prevalent

Weeseekase said he's not the only person to take to social media trying to sell meat or antlers.

"There's lots of that everywhere," he said.

"If you go and look at online sales, there's people selling dry meat. They advertise it," said Weeseekase.

"I don't know why they picked me.… There's people with way more than what I had." 

Weeseekase said some people buy antlers for art, while others crush them and use the dust for medicinal purposes.