Discovery Channel Sons of Winter recap: Rite of Passage

Ryan Berenz

On Tuesday, April 28, Discovery Channel premieres new adventure docuseries Sons of Winter, following the Barks family living in the wilderness of northern Saskatchewan. The two oldest sons of Randy and Tara Barks, 20-year-old Dale and 19-year-old Shane, are about to go on a 90-day journey through the harsh winter and unforgiving land.

Sons of Winter recaps:
Episode 1: Rite of Passage
Episode 2: The Coldest Night
Episode 3: The Freeze
Episode 4: Lost Boys

Canada. The Great White North. Home of Labatt’s. Home of Tim Hortons. Home of Rush. Home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Home of Discovery Channel’s Sons of Winter.

Our dear narrator tells us, “Two boys are about to embark on a 90-day journey to become men, following the pioneers that came before them. A small crew will document every moment.” And then some guy will edit out a bunch of boring stuff.

The boys, Shane and Dale, do a little ice fishing. Where I come from, this usually entails five drunk guys, a shanty and a pickup truck. I will never be able to tell Shane and Dale apart, so most of the time I will refer to them as “Shale.” (I am open to suggestions.) One half of Shale falls through the ice, and this whole scene turns out to be just a tease of things to come in the series.

The Barks family’s territory in Saskatchewan spans hundreds of square miles and includes scenic landmarks like The Bog and Grandpa Griz’s Cabin. Or those could just be strip clubs, for all I know.

The Barks family are trappers, like that land’s early pioneers. Trapping is their thing, and they sell pelts and other stuff that animal rights activists will throw paint on. We see them in action setting beaver traps. Shale thinks it’s a good idea to put a trap on logs floating on the small lake. One half of Shale falls into the lake. Randy laughs at the boys and their stupidity, as all good fathers should.

“Safe doesn’t grow a man,” Randy tells Tara, explaining why the boys must go on this rite of passage. I like Randy’s style. He looks like a bespectacled Gimli. Eh?

The family needs meat, and and a big bull moose sounds tasty about now. Mmmmm … mousse. Randy howls out a moose call, which turns out to be a wrong number. “Not a good sign when wolves are answering a moose call,” Randy says.

The family has dinner with their nearest neighbors, Grandma and Grandpa Grizzly. I like Grandpa Griz. Maybe it’s because he’s played Santa Claus at the mall for lo these many years.

But Santa Griz isn’t bringing toys to these boys. He’s bringing stern, ominous warnings. “Don’t get too cocky in life. Don’t think that, ‘I am indestructible,'” he advises. “Around that area, there’s many, many lakes. Some very unsafe lakes. The consequences of falling through that ice can be very serious.” BUZZKILL!

The day arrives when Shale must leave The Shire. “Let’s have a prayer,” Randy says. “And then you guys need to take off, eh?”

“The bush is beautiful,” Randy says. “But it is absolutely dangerous.” OH GROW UP, YOU GUYS!

The boys have loaded up their supplies on what appears to be an armored assault transport vehicle and are headed for a full day’s journey to the outpost cabin.

The boys eventually arrive at Beaver House, which is OH GROW UP, YOU GUYS! Then there’s some other trail they must take to some other cabin? I’m confused. Is Beaver House not swanky enough for them? Shale arrives at their destination cabin, and it’s been totally trashed. There are bear feces all over the place. There’s a rusted-out stove. There’s half a roll of duct tape. It’s like Charlie Sheen‘s hotel room.

Back home, Randy has a willin’ to do some killin’ and he takes the youngest boy, Kole, out for a hunt. They’re looking for moose, deer, mammoth, Sasquatch or anything that can be killed and eaten. “Everything that lives out here must someday die,” Randy says. “And that death is not always a kind and gentle death. In fact, it rarely is.”

Randy squeezes off a nice shot at a deer, and the wounded beast scampers away. Randy and Kole track the deer, and discover that it’s run across a narrow but frigid river. Because, even in death, deer like to be a pain in the ass. Randy sees no other solution than to cross the river to retrieve the deer. He has Kole make fire. Then Randy drops trou and provides us with this unforgettable image:

Randy takes the plunge in the icy water, ties the deer by the antlers, and is able to drag it to the other side. He runs to the fire to bring circulation back to his extremities. “They’re actually blocks of ice already,” Randy says. I am going to just assume he’s talking about his gonads.

Shale is hungry. The food they brought along in their armored transport has liquified inside its plastic bag. (What the hell was in there, anyway?) So a-huntin’ Shale will go. They spot a “bush chicken,” and Shale starts blasting away at it. It takes five shots. One half of Shale says the other half of Shale is a bad shot. The other half of Shale says the other half of Shale bumped the gunsight. A Shale divided against itself cannot stand. The boys eat their fire-grilled bush chicken, and they have opened my eyes to a wonderful new realm of possibilities.

And, well, that’s pretty much it for the premiere. Randy says some philosophical stuff about how nature is trying to kill all of us, and we get some more sneak peeks of what we’re in for in the coming episodes.

I like this show. The scenery is beautiful. The Barks seem like decent people who know what they’re doing out there, unlike the B.S. artists on Alaskan Bush People. And I laughed for quite a while at Pantsless Randy. So I’ll keep writing these recaps if enough of you guys check them out.

Of course, this is a Discovery Channel reality show, so I’m already operating on the assumption that at least 60 percent of what we’re seeing is smoke and mirrors. A bit of looking on The Google reveals that the Barks family is The Deer Tracking Family, and Randy is proprietor and editor of the quarterly Deer Tracking magazine based in White Fox, Sask. But Randy seems pretty transparent about this, explaining on their outdated website how the family earns their living:

“I am biased though. I’m biased toward the life that, gratefully, includes the magazine, but is not dictated by such. We live off grid all year round, but come winter, my family heads further north to a remote cabin on a rather isolated trapline for  6-9 months at a time, about 3 hours by snowmobile from the nearest road. We trap about a dozen different species, home-tan many pelts, sell some for taxidermy, some as home and lodge decor, and turn some into mitts, hats, moccasins, ect. We also work with the boys on a bear outfitting camp (for guns or cameras) in spring and fall based on our trapline. We used to snowmobile out to a phone and computer in order to return calls, and stay in touch with the deer industry. Through recent technology though, we now work on the magazine through a satelite system and a simpler way of life gives us plenty of time for research and writing even while living a trapper’s lifestyle. Yes, we do own something other than a snowmobile, and greatly enjoy our industry tours throughout the U.S. So, perhaps we’re backwards and backwoods, and I know its not the ‘American Dream’, but most would agree that we are “living the dream”.”

To me, nothing there contradicts what Sons of Winter is portraying. Sure, the Barks live a few months out of the year in White Fox, and you’ll likely never see or hear anything about Deer Tracking magazine on Sons of Winter. Shale going out on their journey may be a contrivance for the show, but it provides a narrative viewers can buy into. We’ll see how this will shake out in the coming episodes, and how viewers will respond.

What do you guys think about Sons of Winter? Comment away!

Sons of Winter


  1. What type of jet sled do they use in the show? My boyfriend and I really like the sled and especially the nice cover and would like to buy a similiar one! Please help

  2. Okay last episode has the Dad getting his blue hood snowmobile stuck when returning to the cabin. After he builds a device to get it out out he finally gets his machine back to his wife at the home. But wait now the snowmobile has a yellow hood and seems to be entirely different make of machine. Is it magic?

  3. Just wanted to try and clarify a few things, I will not get into a debate, this will be a one-time posting out of respect for the family… I am also from Nipawin, and know this family very well, as one of very few who has spent time with them on their trapline. Frankly, the idea that the cabin is only a 20 minute drive is insanely laughable! 20 minutes wouldn’t even get you to the edge of the forest, and they are definitely way farther than the edge!
    As far as the 100s of miles, I believe that the term used is 100’s of square miles; a figure that is totally believable due to the vast size of the trapping area! And I know the territory they are in… there is absolutely no way anyone can get anywhere near anything except the very southern tip of their trapline in the fall, because most of it is covered by a huge swamp! And such access is by logging trail only, which is completely unnavigable through the winter except by snowmobile since it is never cleared! If anything happened on the more northern parts of their area, they certainly could be days from a hospital, especially if combined with a snowmobile failure (something which any true Saskatchewanian knows can happen quite frequently, and normally right when you need the machine the most haha!)
    What one needs to remember when hearing such a report from anyone claiming to be a local, especially in a small town is that there is often a lot of jealousy that goes with the small town mentality, and so people can rarely just be happy for someone without feeling a need to destroy anything good that is happening to them… So I would recommend taking any such reports with a large grain (or two even) of salt!
    Finally, if seeing them in the local DQ 4 or 5 times a year (not in winter, but in the summer when they are picking up and dropping off bear hunters whom they take hunting, another wilderness “job” they have) is often, I guess we have a different definition of “often”! And I know that sometimes (not ‘often’) someone from the family may need to come out in winter very occasionally for supplies, that is the only time get to see them in the winter! They may be backwoods, but they are not backwards. And no, not everyone mocks this show over coffee… many of us are able to simply be happy for some locals who have been given an awesome opportunity and not feel a need to tear them down with false allegations. A lot of us even enjoy the glimpses into their lives that we get through this show (glimpses we would never otherwise get because they really ARE that remote!)
    P.S. If a tree is falling towards one’s cabin, you’d BETTER try anything you can to move it, even if that means physically trying to push it the inch or two it might need to miss!

    • They frequently say they are hundreds of miles from the nearest neighbor and nearest hospital. They frequently say they are 2 days from the nearest hospital. Yes I agree the trapline can cover hundreds of square miles. I believe the show said 400 square miles but don’t quote me on that.

      They said their father had hauled a snowmobile (sled) up earlier in the year. Obviously it can be reached. If the father hauls in supplies why in the world would at least one of the sons not go up there with him to learn where it is? Why would you, if you are hauling up a sled, not take up some food? As I said, canned goods etc. Why would your cabin NOT have food in bear proof containers? Those things are standard at many public campgrounds? They had to have gas stockpiled up there, they run a sled daily for miles. they have a chainsaw which requires gas, oil, chain oil. Again, obviously that cabin was stocked before hand or is being stocked periodically. (I don’t see any fuel tanks in shots of the cabin but I could be wrong)

      I notice you didn’t say anything about my observations about lack of supplies and gas, living on only hunted meat for 90 days with no other food supplies, the faking of the beaver dam explosion, the ambulance on site when it was blown for safety purposes…

      I’m not arguing that they don’t live off the grid, hunt, trap etc. I’m arguing that the show is completely playing up and flat out exaggerating the remoteness and CERTAIN aspects of the danger.

      If they are so far from help and hospital why risk death by felling a tree in the MOST unsafe way possible? Go fell a tree like that in front of the most advanced hospital in the world with the best medical professionals and I will still call you stupid. The butt of a tree of those sizes will kill you instantly if it kicks unexpectedly and hits you.

      Am I jealous of them? No. Hell more power to them. They get to be on TV, make a few bucks. Maybe get their deer magazine some exposure. Just a local with some experience in the area…I shake my head. And I would also like to point out, you are claiming to be a local and a friend of theirs….so take the opinion of a friend defending them with a gain of salt also?

      Another example. Kole gets lost. If the area is SO remote why would he not just turn around and follow his tracks in the FRESH snow? Fresh snow we know because they were out resetting traps that were buried in the fresh snow? There should be no other tracks right? (episode 4).

  4. Ok, I live in Nipawin SK. About 5 minutes drive doswn the road from White Fox. And oh my lord this show is faked. Thier remote cabin that is 100’s of miles from the nearest neighbor? I can drive there in 20 minutes. The boys trap line? an hour or so depending on how wet it is. I take my dog there hunting for chicken fpr the day. 2 days from nearest hospital? No. Nipawin has a hospital.

    As a hunter/fisherman myself (not a trapper though) this show is beyond ridiculous. The amount of supplies they took with them? Just hauling gas up there for 90 days would take many trips. So they would know where the cabin is.

    Maybe take some food up? You are not going to shoot and eat meat only fr 90 days. Sure “a bear” wrecked the cabin but there would be canned goods left to eat. Also something you would pre-stock.

    Felling the trees as they did in the second episode was so badly (dangerously) done. You DO NOT grab a falling tree like that. That gets you killed. You DO NOT stand beside a tree as it falls. The butt kicking out can kill you. Good lord they even started the chainsaw in one of the more unsafe ways.

    This show is just…..well lets put it this way. Everyone up here watches it just so we can mock it at coffee row the next day. Which by the way, the family likes to come into Dairy Queen. You can see them there often.

      • Well I can’t speak to the trapping stuff, as I said I’m not a trapper. Knowing quite a few trappers though the actual trapline segments seem realistic. The dynamite scene from the 3rd episode is completely faked though. I personally know the assistant to the guy who actually blew it. That’s how I found out about this show. They had an ambulance on stand by at the scene. (there is that remoteness thing again).

        Really to me it seems the remoteness and the dangerousness is being amped up a lot. They do trap, they do hunt, etc etc.

        One thing I did find refreshing in the 3rd episode was when the one brother fell through the ice. The cameramen and producer helped get him out. I hate other reality shows where someone is in mortal danger and the crew does nothing….yeah like they would watch someone die if they were in actual harms way.

  5. I hate to be tricked again, but the Brown’s totally took me in with their shows that sadly proved to be fake portrayals of their real life. So I wish the Sons weren’t contrived but the first unreal thing I saw was the totally trashed cabin on the first day, door hanging a jar, yard loaded with debris, and they get their in time to barely light a fire before dark and on the second day of their 90 day adventure, the yard is picked up, the cabin is squared away, the beds are made and the wrecked door is hanging straight and tightl? How did they get all that accomplished, freezing, tired and hungry from their “long” journey from the familys cabin? And they felled dozens of trees the second day with no piles of trash and a clean camp site? I’ll keep watching because I love the out of doors and these adventures and the guys seem clean cut and honest but who cleaned everything up?

  6. I have watched the show just because it was led into by Deadliest Catch. I never watch any type of survivalist or off the grid show but I must say I’m very interested in seeing this story play out. I know almost all reality TV is fake but I’m happy to see from your reasearch this one seems mostly real. Normally they probably wouldn’t send the boys on some forced adventure but I’m ok with it or they would have had to come up with something even more contrived. Please start to figure out which brother is which because after 2 episodes I still don’t know. We’re depending on you.

  7. Ryan,
    These folks seem like Marty Meierotto on Mountain Men. Nice write up but a little on the smarmy side.

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About Ryan Berenz 2105 Articles
Some things I like (in no particular order): Sports, Star Wars, LEGO, beer, 'The Simpsons' Seasons 1-13, my family and the few friends who are not embarrassed to be seen with me. Why yes, I am very interested in how much you like 'Alaskan Bush People.' #LynxForLife