76 pages 2 hours read

Gary Paulsen

Brian's Winter

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1996

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Summary and Study Guide


Brian’s Winter (1996), a young adult novel by Gary Paulsen, is the third book in the Hatchet series of survival stories. Brian’s Winter chronologically follows Hatchet, acting as an alternate ending to Hatchet in which Brian is not rescued, and must continue to survive in the woods through the winter. Paulsen uses his own firsthand knowledge of winter survival skills to create a vivid and realistic portrayal of winter in the Canadian woods.

This guide refers to the 2017 edition of the book, published by Ember.

Plot Summary

Brian Robeson has been surviving in the north Canadian woods for almost three months, ever since a plane crash left him stranded. Now that the mild summer weather is ending, Brian faces a new challenge: surviving the winter. He prepares for the cold as best as he can, learning to make a small fire in his shelter and sew rabbit hides together to make a poncho. After a bear invades his shelter, he fashions stronger weapons: a “war bow” (22) with the power to kill a large animal, and a lance, to defend himself against a close-range attack.

Brian develops a kind of companionship with a skunk that lives near his shelter. Each day, the skunk comes and lifts its tail as if to spray until Brian gives it some meat to eat. One day, the bear returns in search of food, and the skunk saves Brian by spraying the bear in the eyes. When snow comes, Brian ventures outside to hunt; he kills a moose using his war bow and killing lance. The moose provides hundreds of pounds of meat for Brian.

As the cold weather worsens, Brian feels stuck inside his shelter and misses the constant activity of summer. He prepares a Thanksgiving meal and gives thanks for the good luck he has had. As snow continues to fall, Brian fashions snowshoes to keep him on top of the snow as he walks. The snowshoes, along with his warm animal-hide clothing, allow him to spend time outside and see and do things again, and he begins to think of the woods as home. He hunts and kills a deer to replenish his dwindling food supply. Later, after he follows a moose—not to hunt it, but to observe and learn—he witnesses a group of wolves eat the moose alive.

One night, Brian hears the sound of a gunshot. The next morning, he ventures out to find the source of the sound. He sees a straight line through the snow, and follows the line until he comes upon a cabin where he meets David Smallhorn and his family, fur trappers that work in the area. He stays with the Smallhorns until the bushplane that brings them supplies comes and picks him up. 

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