Daily Montanan: Tester, hunting groups cheer restoration of hunters safety, archery classes

by Darrell Ehrlick

Senator praises bipartisan efforts while criticizing ‘unelected bureaucrats’ who do not understand rural issues

As hunting season begins in Montana, Sen. Jon Tester said he’s not worried about the next generation of hunters.

At least not now.

A bipartisan effort, led by Tester, a Democrat from Montana who is seeking re-election in 2024, forced the Biden Administration to reverse course on a decision that would have defunded hunter’s safety and archery classes at school. The measure to stop those programs drew criticism from a number of Congressional leaders, including Montana’s other Senator, Steve Daines, who is a Republican.

In a press conference west of Billings on Friday morning, as hunters were preparing for an opening weekend that is likely too hot for ideal hunting, Tester said that the measure not only protected Montanans Second Amendment gun rights, but it also kept rural communities safer by teaching students the proper way to handle guns. Tester’s legislation required the federal Department of Education to restore resources for school archery, gun safety and hunter education programs.

“A firearm is a tool. And like any tool it can be used for good or bad,” said Tester, who, in addition to operating a farm also ran a small butchering and processing business for hunters in Big Sandy. “These programs teach how to use guns in the right way while protecting the Second Amendment.”

Sounding at times like his more conservative colleagues in the Senate, Tester blamed the policy decision on some “unelected bureaucrat,” who doesn’t understand rural life in Montana.

“Hunters’ safety makes this a safer place,” Tester said.

He said the hang-up with the Biden administration stemmed from unclear language which also talked about mental health and education. He said he and other bipartisan members worked to hone the language, making it more precise. Congress then pushed the change forward to keep the programs continuing,

“This cements hunters’ safety and archery safety as part of the classroom instruction,” Tester said.

Jake Schwaller, a board member of Montana’s Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, praised Tester for the work he did in rescuing the program. Schwaller said he is a fourth-generation Montana who learned to hunt in the same places his father and grandfather. However, he said it’s also important to keep the program that teaches gun safety and hunters ethics especially with the influx of new residents to the state.

“It’s a key to our own future as well as a link to the past,” he said.