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Raising a family to hunt

What hunting can teach a family about life, death, and keeping things in their proper place


I put my vehicle into four-wheel drive before attempting to climb the driveway to the home of Rick and Chelsey Ewald, perched on the side of Tyee Mountain, just outside of Smithers, BC. Their property is steep and treed, but they carved out a large enough area to build a home and establish a hobby farm. They’re raising a small herd of goats with a new batch of kids set to be born any day.

With their own kids tucked in bed, the Ewalds seated me in their living room. A large shelf of flower seedlings was growing under lights next to the window, a clue to me that the plant’s owners were eagerly anticipating spring. Looking up to the vaulted ceiling, my eyes were drawn to a mounted Canadian lynx that seemed almost alive, as well as a set of moose antlers and a remarkable mountain goat mount.

Since moving back to this part of the province over ten years ago, I have been struck by how many homes display antlers and animal mounts of all kinds, a reminder of the important role that hunting has played here for generations.

Hunting was the reason I met with the Ewalds that evening. I knew that it was important to both Rick and Chelsey and I wanted to understand why they valued it and why they wanted to instill a similar love in their children.

But the interest wasn’t just for myself. I’m aware that most Christians growing up in Canada today live in urban or suburban areas and associate guns and weapons with trouble, something to keep a healthy distance away from. In an age where we can get plenty of food at Costco or Superstore, isn’t it time that we moved beyond those old redneck ways?

Living back in the north and raising my own family here, I have seen many examples of individuals and families that I greatly respect who are hunters. I have also noticed that hunting has been making a comeback in popularity, even in the cities, thanks in part to YouTube channels like MeatEater, and an increased yearning to go back to the basics.

Similar to my story about living in a tiny home, my hope with this story (and hopefully more to come), is that the body of Christ seeks to understand why others choose to live as they are, even if it looks quite different than what we are used to.

From an early age

Although Rick hunted most of his life and even worked as a professional hunting guide for nine years, the couple agrees that Chelsey is the most committed hunter of the two. This started already as a little girl.

“We grew up on moose meat. That was our staple,” shared Chelsey. “The importance of dad going out and hunting and getting a moose was huge for our family.”

Chelsey said she was given many opportunities to hunt as a girl and would always jump on it. She met a lot of other hunters through her dad and her brothers. She was given a coonhound by one of these friends and invited to join them when they hunted bears and wild cats. “That’s my lynx up there,” she pointed to the beautiful cat that I noticed when I first sat down. “I cherish adventures. That’s a part of who I am. And I think that plays into it. Those are such strong memories from our childhood, that were so positive and so exciting,” she explained. “It could easily take over my life if I let it.”

It was a similar story for Rick. “I started pretty much as soon as I could walk,” he shared. He and his siblings would hop in the vehicle with their dad, or go for long walks in the wilderness, on the lookout for wild game.

“Starting out, we would just watch my dad and he’d be the one who would shoot the grouse. And then we got to help clean them and then eat them.” Grouse are wild birds that are a little smaller than a chicken, and tend to be the easiest animal to hunt. It is common for boys in the area to grow up with a pellet gun (a type of air rifle that doesn’t require a licence to buy or use) to hunt rabbits and grouse.

Training required

In BC, you have to be ten years old to hunt legally, and be accompanied by an adult. Around that age Chelsey learned how to shoot for sport. Since their family lived in town, her dad Willie Hofsink and his friend Joe Hamelink would take a bunch of kids into the bush where they would set up targets and practice for hunting season. The adults would shoot their big guns, and set up some pop cans for the kids to practice on with theirs.

In addition to being old enough, in BC you also need to pass a Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Education (CORE) course, which involves rigorous study about the animals, outdoor ethics, government regulations, and the safe handling of a wide variety of firearms and ammunition. This requires an experienced teacher and usually takes a couple of weekends, followed by both a written and a practical test.

Chelsey’s dad organized a CORE course for her and a bunch of other youth while they were still in elementary school, so that they wouldn’t have to take it on Sundays. I took the same course and look back on the experience with very fond memories. Although I never really became a hunter myself (besides taking my kids out to look for grouse), I believe that everyone would benefit from the education. It further instilled a deep respect for God’s creation and taught me the safe handling of a firearm, something that I would not have received training in otherwise.

To be able to purchase a gun or ammunition in BC, you also need a Possession and Authorization Licence (PAL), which is similar to the CORE course but involves more hands-on training with the firearms. Each province has different requirements for obtaining a permit to hunt and use a firearm.

Getting the right licences is just the start. To then hunt animals requires getting a permit for most species (called a tag). Depending on the animal, that can either be purchased for a nominal fee, or requires entry in a lottery system, to manage the number that are harvested.

And even when a tag is obtained, there are a host of requirements that a hunter needs to be aware of relating to the sex, age, location, and quantity of the animal. “You have to have the wisdom and the knowledge,” explained Chelsey. “And then there’s a lifetime of experience that you have to grow into,” added Rick. That is why it is so important to find a mentor or “hunting buddy,” which can be the most challenging and rewarding part of becoming a successful hunter.

Providing sustenance, fresh air, and life education

Talking with Rick and Chelsey, I was reminded that there are many different reasons why someone would want to hunt, and this also leads to different choices about what kind of animal to hunt.

For their family, a primary motivation is simply to feed their family. “Generally the animals that we hunt are the animals that we eat,” said Chelsey. “One moose for our family will last us for a full year” and results in a freezer full of meat. “It’s probably 80% of our yearly eating and usually five out of seven meals.” This includes moose, bear, mountain goat, and grouse, which “is basically like our chicken.”

They recognize that this doesn’t save them money. Between the costs of hunting and the time it requires, they figure they probably come out even with those who buy all their meat from a store.

A deeper motivation is to get their family outdoors, “enjoying creation,” explained Rick. “The different places and things we get to see, and we get to share it with our kids.”

“And every time you go out it’s different,” added Chelsey. “It’s just pretty out there.”

Hunting provides a reason to get their family into creation. Their children join them on the drives, taking their toy binoculars to look for animals. “The experience of going to the Babine River when the fish are spawning, and the kids seeing the grizzly bears fishing is pretty awesome,” noted Rick.

Rick was away when Chelsey shot their last moose, with all her children with her. Her youngest was just four months old at the time, and she carried him on her front in a pack. Thankfully, Chelsey’s dad was with her, so he took care of cleaning the moose. Her children Milo and Cassie helped their grandpa, each holding one of the moose’s legs while he dressed and cleaned the carcass and got ready to load it up and take it home. This made quite the impact on the children. “It’s great bonding,” she reflected.

“Cassie and Milo still talk about how much fun they had with Grandpa and the moose. For us, it’s definitely multigenerational for our family and we’re praying and hoping that hunting continues for our family.”

It isn’t only the adults who reminisce. Even their three-year-old son Luke points excitedly down the road to where he and Grandpa go to see the grizzly bears, often recalling the experience. “He gets so excited about this one-on-one time,” commented Chelsey.

The family is intentional about taking a lot of pictures to preserve these memories, posting them on a large bulletin board that spans from their floor to their ceiling. They see their outings as adventures rather than just a hunting trip.

Their motivations for hunting go beyond their own family. Rick gave the example of wolf hunting. “Most hunters are pro shooting wolves because wolves have a high kill rate for moose,” he explained. There have been more and more wolves, and they don’t have any animals that prey on them. “So it’s on us, if we want to help keep a balance, you do have to target the predators as well.” For Rick, Chelsey, and many others, hunting wolves is considered a wildlife management strategy. “There’s whole branches of the government that are supposed to be doing that job,” Rick explained. “And so then we try to work with that.”

Wildlife management also dictates the numbers that hunters are allowed to harvest. The government then surveys hunters to see how many animals they actually harvested.

Understanding life and death

I asked Rick and Chelsey how they would respond to a reader who lives in a city like Toronto and finds the idea of owning a gun and killing an animal hard to understand or even repulsive.

“For us it is a lifestyle choice,” acknowledged Chelsey. “You don’t have to hunt.” But she proceeded to explain why she believes it is okay for people to hunt, going back to creation and how God made humanity different from the animals.

“And we were given the task to manage and use,” added Rick. When God was blessing Noah after the flood, He specifically gave the animals to mankind as their food (Gen. 9:2,3). Chelsey clarified that a biblical ethic also means that they are going to be careful not to wound an animal if at all possible. “It is part of doing a job well,” added Rick.

“Guns are a tool we use. And we have to take responsibility for storing them well and using them well,” noted Rick. “You follow the rules and keep them locked up where they need to be locked up. And as well we teach our kids responsibility when they are around them.”

I didn’t expect the conversation to then take a turn into something much deeper.

“There are consequences,” explained Chelsey. “[Our children] understand death already…They know what life was and they know what death is from hunting.” This is something the children also learned from helping out on their hobby farm. “Their life is immersed in life and death and the full understanding of it. And I find that to be huge on our kids just to understand that it’s not something to take lightly. And it does hurt when things don’t go well.”

Chelsey shared that the first time their daughter Cassie saw a shot grouse, she cradled it and was walking around with it and wouldn’t let it go. “You’re allowed to,” she told Cassie. “But we are going to eat that. But if you feel the need to snuggle it for a little while, you’re allowed to do that.”

“That is a blessing of living in the country, on a farm and hunting,” added Rick. “The idea of life and death is a lot more real. In some ways, if you live in a city, there’s a lot of protective shields.” In contrast, “whether you’re hunting or just living in the country, you’re a lot more on your own. And you have to understand things a little bit more. There are less protected areas. And I think that is a blessing in some ways, but it is also in some ways more dangerous.”

Buying a box of frozen hamburgers or getting an order of chicken wings doesn’t evoke the same visceral reaction in the minds of most readers as the idea of killing an animal in the wild, even though the animals are killed for our consumption in both instances. The difference is simply that a few layers of separation exist between the person buying the meat from a supermarket.

To take this a step further, although it is easy for people to speak about being “environmentally conscious,” and to look down on hunters and those working in the forest industry, my experience from living in a rural community is that the hunters and forestry workers are some of the most environmentally conscious and caring people I know because there aren’t so many “protective shields” between them and nature. Eating a chicken burger and living in a wood-framed home requires that someone else is harvesting the animals and wood on your behalf.

Putting hunting in its proper place

As much as they care about the activity, the Ewalds have learned that for it to be a blessing, it needs to stay in its proper place, with firm boundaries to protect aspects of life that matter more.

Rick learned this lesson after serving as a hunting guide for nine years. “A big part of the reason why I quit guiding was that I didn’t have a good purpose in my life…It was all about hunting, and that was it.” This came to a head when he got married to Chelsey, as he didn’t appreciate the competition between hunting and his marriage and family. He also came to see that it was even competing with his faith, as he was working seven days a week through the hunting season.

Rick acknowledged that it wasn’t a healthy way to live, and he now sees that it is an issue that others struggle with too. He brought up the example of some avid fishers who fished so much that they got to the point where they had to quit it altogether. “If they would have figured out a way of regulating themselves properly, they would have enjoyed it way more and would have been able to continue.”

Chelsey added that they have seen examples where some men push aside their family life during hunting season, making hunting their identity during that time. “And that’s something that neither of us want to happen.” They hold each other accountable and keep the focus on their children and family.

“Taking our faith life seriously requires a certain amount of boundaries,” she added, pointing specifically to their firm rule to not hunt on Sundays. “God will provide for us one way or another, whether we get that animal or not. Trust really comes into play.”

Rick proceeded to point out a very large sign on their wall with the verse from Joshua 24:15 “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

“We use that as a reflection on ourselves to guide what we are going to do,” emphasized Rick. Chelsey explained that is why they made it so big and bold. “It has become a staple in our house…and really helped to focus us, especially in times where we seem to struggle.”

The hunting guides knew that they too needed to be guided.

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Economics - Home Finances

Tiny home contentment

As dusk was settling in on a foggy November day in BC’s Bulkley Valley, I parked my car on the driveway next to the home of Matt and Montana Slaa. String lights were glowing around their home, which overlooked a rolling field, and also came equipped with a stunning view of two mountain ranges. It wasn’t hard to find the entrance, as there was only one door. Matt and Montana, along with their daughter Gabriella, welcomed me into their tiny home. I had to be careful where to put my shoes, as there was no boot room or entryway, and I had a hard time reaching the hanger for my coat as it was about 8’ high. But it only took a few seconds to feel an overwhelming sense of coziness and tranquility, radiated by the character of both the home and my hosts. In an age where it has become a momentous challenge for young men and women to get into the housing market, I visited with Matt and Montana to discover whether their outside-the-box solution of living in a tiny home with children is a practical solution that others may want to consider, or more of a romantic notion than a practical one. When dreams and practicality unite With marriage, God joins two people into one. For Matt and Montana, that happened in the summer of 2020. Montana grew up in Smithers, the daughter of a school teacher and an artist. Matt’s family moved into the area as his father is a pastor who accepted a call to serve in a local Reformed church. “I always wanted to live in a cabin,” shared Montana. “It was right from when I was young. That was my dream.” The happy couple as they move in... Matt was in university while they were dating, preparing to become a teacher. They wanted to get married, but how were they going to afford that? “I felt like I had to come with a financial plan for Montana and her dad,” Matt explained. The problem was that he still had to do more studies to get his education degree to become a teacher. That itself would come with a big cost, as they were planning to move away and study for a year in PEI. They proceeded to estimate the cost of building a tiny home, using the money they had saved. They had a year and a half to plan the project, using software from SketchUp to design it around the materials they collected. “We did it very cheaply,” explained Matt. “Wood and windows we collected from someone who was getting rid of them for free.” At this point in the conversation, Montana kindly offered me a cup of tea. Since a coffee table doesn’t fit in the room, she pulled out a tall block of wood, which they use not only as a coffee table but also a dinner table (when it is laid down on its side), and a stool for their daughter to stand on when helping with the dishes. I learned that the Slaas didn’t experience tiny home living prior to jumping in with both feet. Most of their inspiration came from online research and books, but they “just learned along the way.” At one point they decided “we've seen what we want to see. So we stopped looking at ideas, and worked with what we had liked, to come up with our own plan.” They purchased a 20’ trailer to go under the home for about $5,000, and built the home 22’ long and 10.5’ wide. That is about the maximum width to still be road legal if it was ever to be moved. Since both Matt and Montana are tall, they didn’t bother with a loft but kept the ceiling vaulted, with a curved ceiling over their bed. Their bed is raised, with a lot of storage underneath, and space too for Gabriella to enjoy some quiet time. Windows dominate two of the walls, to take in the views of fields and mountains. Freedom from debt and materialism Spending more time outside was part of the appeal for the couple. The small quarters force them to get outside for more space. A highlight of each morning involves Montana taking Gabriella out to the chickens, which currently live in a greenhouse for the winter, to collect the eggs. I asked them what else inspired them about tiny house living. For Matt, a big motivation was the freedom that comes from building his own place and living mortgage-free. “That is what came first.” But he was quick to see that it provided so much more, including spending a lot of time together. “So many people, when we talk about tiny homes are like, ‘we can never live that close.’ But we love it.” The couple acknowledged that they aren’t naturally bent towards a minimalist lifestyle. But this home forces them to do with less. “We always say you fill the space that you have,” Matt said. “So every few months, we have to do a purge through all our storage space.” “There's so many things that you don't really need because you have something that works,” added Montana. “Just the other night we were talking about how we don't have an electric mixer, even a handheld one. It's going to be another thing that we have to put somewhere. I have one whisk and I use it for everything. We make whipping cream all the time.” They originally didn’t think they needed a toaster either, but decided that toasting their bread over the fire wasn’t a sustainable option. “We just learned to really love the idea that we can do it with less,” said Matt. “And then there's the financial benefit of that too. We started to save a lot of money.” Matt contrasted this with the year they spent in PEI, where they lived in a larger home that was 600 or 800 square feet. “We saw an espresso machine for sale, it's like, ‘oh, you should get that.’ And we loved it. But there were so many things that were like, ‘oh, we should get that’ or ‘we should do that.’ Just because it was possible. Before you know it, we had spent quite a lot of money doing all these things. And we had to sell a lot of it when we left, so that we can fit back into this.” Building from scratch Tiny homes have become popular, and it isn’t hard to buy them new or used throughout the world. I asked Matt if he had experience building homes before tackling this project. He always loved creating things as he grew up, and did some woodworking. But for the most part, he figured it out as he went and thinks most people can do the same. “I'm convinced that given enough time, and commitment to learning, you can do it.” That even included the wiring, though not without getting shocked once. Northern BC gets cold over the winter, and the Slaas’ walls are framed only with 2x4 lumber. Yet the home stays plenty warm thanks to a tiny wood stove. The stove requires very small pieces of wood, so they use less than a cord of wood each year. (A cord is 4’ wide by 4’ tall by 8’ long – equivalent to a pickup truck load piled high.) This is about 20 percent of what most homes in the area use. And the stove plays an important role in keeping the home dry, which can be a challenge for a small space with a few people breathing, cooking, and showering in it. Because the fire burns out after about four hours, the Slaas sometimes wake up to a cool home (about 12 ºC). But it warms up quickly again when a new fire is lit in the morning. Matt showed me their bathroom, complete with a compostable toilet. A small bin of wood shavings paper sits next to the toilet, to assist with the composting. I don’t notice any smell (an improvement over many bathrooms with flush toilets). They also have an on-demand hot water system for their shower, but the water has to be collected in a bucket so the showers aren’t long. Their total cost to build the home was about $15,000. That includes the trailer under it, the wood stove, and the propane water heater, which were the more expensive components. Prioritizing family With another baby due in the new year, the couple has started building a second unit, with about the same dimensions, next to this home. The plan is to connect the two dwellings with an indoor walkway – a four foot-wide hallway which will also be their new main entrance/ boot room. The added space will make it much easier to put the children to bed without worrying about waking them up, and Matt and Montana are also looking forward to an eating area. The new quarters won’t be built on a trailer, but this new unit can still be loaded onto a trailer if it needs to move in the future. A little help in the kitchen can always be had. The Slaas are realistic that this setup is not going to be too long-term, because they hope to have a big family, the Lord willing. That is why they are building the addition as a separate structure. “The idea is that, very easily, we can pull it apart. And it will be its own tiny home unit,” Matt explained. “We could sell it, or Airbnb it, or rent,” added Montana. “But we are determined to make it work as long as we literally possibly can. And even after that, we are quite keen to explore other options,” shared Matt. “I've looked at yurts that are almost 1,000 square feet. And they're $40,000 to $50,000. Why not?” I asked Montana what it is like to be a mom in a tiny home. “There's definitely things that you just do differently,” she explained. “Like sometimes I think, oh, it'd be really nice if I could get up more easily without waking up in the morning. So most of the time, I would just stay in bed with her until she wakes up because I don't want to disturb her. I get up, I sneak out of bed and then sit here, in the dark, so that she can keep sleeping, and I quietly just read and do really quiet things…. “As soon as you have kids, it is not about you. It's a sacrifice that you make. And it's a really good one…. “But then we just do our morning routine and eat breakfast together and then we try to get out of the house and go outside and do the chickens in the morning and that breaks up the morning for Gabriella. And she does get a little bit cranky in the morning. I think sometimes she just gets kind of bored.” Gabriella doesn’t get the boatload of toys that many other children experience, even in homes with less means. She plays with kitchen utensils and the kindling for the fires, in much the same way that kids play when their parents are camping. “So we've been really trying to teach her that it's okay to play or read a book by herself.” Gabriella also ends up doing a lot with Montana. “She'll stand at the counter on the stool with me while I make dinner or do the dishes, she loves to help with the dishes. She wants to do what I'm doing. And I think that it's a big difference to having a house with more rooms.” Montana admits that some things just don’t work in the tiny home, including her passion for painting. That’s hard to do with a little one in close quarters, so Gabriella will often go up to her oma’s house for an afternoon, which is on the same property. Hospitality can also be a challenge. “Generally, if we have people over, it's for coffee. Maybe a cup of tea and chat for a couple hours,” explained Matt. It doesn’t work well to have people over for a meal unless they can eat outside, which is seasonal and weather-dependent. Saving to buy dirt A look inside, with bed in the back, play nook underneath, and the wood burning stove to the left. They are also transparent that this is not meant to be an alternative to getting into the real estate market, but a step towards it. “This allows us to dream of and hope for a future in buying real estate, because we do hope to have our own property, hopefully with a good bit of land, that we can farm and garden and have lots of animals,” Matt shared. Because they live on someone else’s property, tiny home living allows them to save a lot of money. Some time ago they put a note on Church Social (a congregational app) to see if anyone would be up for having them park their home on their property, and were amazed that four or five families were willing. Their monthly costs for utilities total about $100, so they are able to save $20,000-$30,000 a year towards buying their own land, which they hope to do in about five years. “This lifestyle allowed us to go to PEI to go to school for entire year, not even working, and to be loan free and to come out so much further ahead than we could have,” shared Matt. “So financially, it's a no-brainer.” “If we had a $400,000 home we'd be struggling to buy groceries. That doesn't sound at all better than where we're at now.” Matt later added that because of this arrangement “we've never had any financial stress whatsoever.” This is far less expensive than renting. Most Canadian communities, including Smithers, have seen rental rates skyrocket to between $1000 and $2000 per month for a modest unit with one or two bedrooms. Matt noted the contrast: “If you live in your tiny house for a year and a half, it's paid off.” He also respectfully disagrees with those who challenge them that a tiny home won’t increase in value. “If you build it yourself, you can almost always sell it for what you spent on it if you're smart with it. And likely more. And you have an option of renting it out.” Matt emphasized the importance of keeping the costs down by working with what is available rather than insisting on a particular design. “We're not set on what's on our walls or whatever we're going to put on our ceiling. Something might come up that will work good for us.” “The fact that we built it ourselves makes a big difference too. We built it while we were engaged and it's kind of part of our marriage story, our love story. I think if you just bought a tiny house for $100,000 you wouldn't be that attached to it or invested in wanting to stay in it.” Matt explained that because tiny homes are built on a trailer, they aren’t subject to the rules that governments have about building structures on a property. It is similar to an RV being parked on a property. Contentment personified As I left their home and drove to mine, one word was impressed on me: contentment. In 1 Timothy 6: 6-8 we read that: “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” I also can’t help but be convicted at how much effort we put into pursuing possessions, caring for them, storing them, and then getting rid of them. Instead of giving us contentment, they so often choke us like thorns among the wheat (Matt. 13:22). “In a sense, we feel very wealthy,” Matt reflected. “We have so much more than what so many people have. And we're so thankful for how the Lord has directed us along this path and taught us to love it.” Pictures are thanks to the Slaas. For bigger pictures, read this article as it is featured in the Jan/Feb 2024 issue....