Gianforte and Quist

Montana congressional candidates area Greg Gianforte, a Republican, left, and Rob Quist, a Democrat.

Thom Bridge,thom.bridge@helenair.com

In TV ads, Montana’s U.S. House candidates have been blasting away at televisions, but only one is licensed to hunt anything else, according to state records.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks records show that Democrat Rob Quist hasn’t had a hunting or fishing license for at least 16 years. Electronic records of hunting and fishing licenses begin in 2002. Republican Greg Gianforte has had multiple fishing and hunting licenses during the same period.

“An outdoor way of life, particularly hunting and fishing, is part of who we are,” Gianforte said. “I believe it’s an individual’s personal choice whether they want to hunt or fish, but I think most of them would want to have a representative that understands their lifestyle.”

Asked why Rob Quist was the right candidate for hunters and anglers if he doesn’t hunt or fish, the Quist campaign issued the following statement:

"Greg Gianforte sued the people of Montana to block public stream access and donated thousands of dollars to dark money groups seeking to sell off Montana's public lands. Rob has been advocating for keeping Montana's public lands public his entire career."

Gianforte filed a lawsuit against the state in 2009 to get the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to move an easement that crossed the northern edge of his property north of Bozeman. Gianforte lives next to the 76-acre Cherry River Fishing Access site on the East Gallatin River. The easement allowed the public to walk further upstream from Cherry River. Gianforte said his property was being damaged.

The state was never served with the lawsuit. The dispute was resolved after an FWP visit to the site in July 2009 led to trail and fence upgrades that did a better job keeping users off the rest of the Gianforte property and the agency updated records on the easement boundaries, according to state documents acquired by the Lee State Bureau.

Quist has said groups like PERC, a Bozeman-based economic research group that promotes market-based incentives for conservation and stewardship, are out to privatize public lands. The group was founded by former Montana State University economists. He also singled out the conservative Heritage Foundation, which supports more state input on developing energy resources on federal lands.

Hunting and fishing are make-or-break issues for a key minority group of Montana voters. Democrats used the 2009 lawsuit as their point of attack on Gianforte in his unsuccessful 2016 bid for governor.

It’s Quist this election cycle being targeted in TV ads for supporting universal background checks and a gun registry for automatic weapons. Quist made the comments during a March 27 interview with Montana Public Radio. Automatic weapons are already registered, Quist told The Gazette Tuesday during a joint editorial board meeting with Gianforte.

Universal background checks would close the loophole on gun show sales where, because private sellers aren’t federally licensed, background checks aren’t required.

On TV ads, Quist uses a lever action rifle to blast a television playing an attack ad accusing the Creston country bluegrass singer of being anti-gun.

Gianforte told The Gazette he opposes the transfer of federal public lands to states. He said Wednesday evening that as a representative he would try to improve access to federal lands where roads have been closed.

“We’ve had over 20,000 miles of our roads gated in Montana and I would work to reverse that,” Gianforte said.

Gianforte has made his hunting a big part of his social media presence. Wild game is what the family eats, he said. On Twitter, he even shared a photo of a 20-pound sausage stuffer, his outdoorsy Christmas gift to his wife Susan.

Quist does have support from a hunting and fishing group. The Montana Sportsmen Alliance has endorsed Quist as the right candidate for Montana. Member Joe Perry, of Conrad, said Quist is the right choice because the Democrat will oppose the transfer of federal lands to states. Perry said he doesn’t trust Republicans to do the same. Montana’s GOP has written its support of federal lands transfer into its party platform.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.