Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a red state Democrat running for re-election in one of the closest Senate contests this year, has campaigned as a big hunting proponent, sending out mailers to voters that show him on his farm with his gun in hand.
“As we gear up for hunting season, Montanans know that hunting isn’t just a sport – it feeds our families, and it creates lifelong memories with our kids and grandkids,” Tester says in the campaign flier. “Montanans are lucky to have some of the best access, longest seasons and greatest hunting in the world.”
But according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks records reviewed by Fox News, Tester hasn’t had a hunting license in six years. He last had one in 2012 – the same year he was last on the ballot.
Records dating back to 2002 indicate that the agency had no records of Tester having a hunting or fishing license for 12 out of the last 16 years. In 2012, Tester had a resident conservation and fishing, antelope and hunting access enhancement license. The agency said it has no records yet of Tester having a license this year.
Tester’s campaign, responding to an inquiry from Fox News, denied that the candidate has portrayed himself as someone who frequently hunts, though an aide said he shoots his gun on his farm.
“Running a farm and defending Montana in the U.S. Senate doesn’t leave much time for hunting,” spokesman Chris Meagher said.
Tester’s campaign said the senator kills gophers on his farm because they’re pests and shoots cows and pigs because he likes to eat them. The spokesman said Tester doesn’t need a hunting license for that.
In 2017, Tester tweeted a photo of him in a truck with a gun, saying he was "hunting gophers."
Tester is challenged this year by Republican Matt Rosendale. The Fox News 2018 Midterm Power Rankings labels the race “lean Democrat.”
Rosendale on Tuesday used the disclosure to paint Tester as out of touch.
"It's pretty disingenuous to see Jon Tester talk about the importance of hunting when he's rarely had a hunting license,” Rosendale said in a statement. “It's not surprising though, Jon Tester has changed. He left behind his Montana values a long time ago.”
Meagher, Tester’s spokesman, fired back at Rosendale, saying the Republican has “spent his career turning open lands into developments and pushing to transfer Montana’s public lands” while Tester “ is always fighting for access to public lands on behalf of all Montana hunters.”
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks records indicate Rosendale has had hunting licenses every year since 2002.
In an effort to appeal to outdoorsmen, Tester and the state Democratic Party have sent multiple fliers this year about hunting.
“I’ll fight to protect that from those who want to chip away at what we have here,” Tester said in one flier, which included sunrise-sunset tables for determining hunting hours.
Another flier paid for by the Montana Democratic Party shows Tester talking with outdoorsmen, and says, “Jon knows that hunting is a way of life in Montana, and he will always protect hunters, anglers, and every Montanan’s right to be on our public lands.”
Guns have been an issue in the race: the National Rifle Association recently spent more than $400,000 in anti-Tester ads.
But those ads have caused trouble for Rosendale after the Daily Beast posted audio last week of Rosendale discussing his conversations with the NRA’s Chris Cox about the political group getting involved in the Montana contest.
Rosendale and the NRA’s political arm have denied engaging in improper coordination, saying those conversations were about an endorsement and not about the anti-Tester ads.