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.
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!