Lumsden man hopes rule changes can improve hunting accessibility in Saskatchewan
Bobbie Cherepuschak has been hunting in Saskatchewan for nearly 20 years.
An avid outdoorsman, Cherepuschak, who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair to get around, has found a way to take his expeditions to the next level.
Warning: The photo below may upset some readers.
He recently noticed some American friends posting on social media about hunting with rugged, all-terrain tracked wheelchairs and was immediately struck by the new level of freedom the chairs could grant him.
“It would let me go way more places than just shooting from my truck, get up close and personal with the animals that are out there and, see more countryside,” he said.
There’s only one problem, however. Tracked motorized wheelchairs are considered ATVs in Saskatchewan. Wildlife regulations state that one cannot carry firearms on an ATV in southern wildlife management zones during big game open season.
One major concern is the damage tracking an animal could do to farmland, but Cherepuschak thinks tracked wheelchairs shouldn’t be considered in the same light.
“Right now they fall under the same rules as an able-bodied person using a quad or side-by-side to chase down big game,” Cherepuschak said.
Instead, he said the chairs should be looked at as a means of allowing disabled hunters to access areas that would otherwise be reached on foot.
“I’m trying to convince the government that no, this isn’t what it’s going be used for,” he explained. “It’s specifically to get into different parts of a field where I’ve never been before, and get closer to the animals to have better shots. And also to retrieve the animal I could pull it behind this chair.”
Cherepuschak said the tracked wheelchairs come in both electric and gas-powered models. He said a gas-powered chair would be strong enough to pull a moose.
Cherepuschak says he has received support for change from NDP MLA Trent Wotherspoon.
“I’m just really proud to work with Bobbie Cherepuschak to make hunting accessible to people in wheelchairs,” Wotherspoon said over the phone on Monday. “I’ve committed to working with him to make the changes that are necessary [to legislation].
“It’s a meaningful change for many people living with disabilities who want to enjoy the incredible outdoors. I’m a hunter myself and a fisher myself and I think those experiences should be accessible to all.
“I reached out directly to the minister’s office but also the minister directly and, ultimately, I think this is the kind of change that we should be able to pass in a united, constructive way,” Wotherspoon added. “If we need to push this in different ways, certainly, I’m prepared to do that.
“I know [the] ministry is looking into this… it’s my hope that we can work together and make this change.”
Cherepuschak said he hasn’t personally heard from the Ministry of Environment on the issue. In a statement given to Global News the ministry said they believe that “all hunters, regardless of ability, should have access to the public resource.”
“Currently, the ministry offers permits that allow physically disabled hunters to enjoy the sport of hunting. These include discharging a firearm from a passenger vehicle, such as a four-wheel-drive truck, and the use of crossbows in archery-only seasons.”
“However, the ministry is conducting a review on how we permit physically disabled hunters.”
Cherepuschak does have a permit, which he needs to renew every five years, to shoot from the passenger side of this truck.
Cherepuschak says the Saskatchewan Wildlife Federation has expressed interest in buying a tracked wheelchair and renting it out to reduce the cost for disabled hunters (tracked wheelchairs cost upwards of $10,000). He says if that were to happen, it would benefit outdoorsmen and women of all stripes.
“It would just make the province more accessible for people with disabilities, not just for myself, but for everyone in this province,” he said. “Whether it be fishing off the shore at the beach, hiking with friends, or whatever.”
-With files from Thomas Piller
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