Missing the Mark

The Code is clear: what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Ditto for jury rooms and 

papal conclaves. Double ditto for hunting trips.

But sometimes a story demands to override the Code.

There were four guys that September weekend on the Mayo River. Discretion suggests 

they remain unnamed.

The only one with actual moose-hunting experience, and a hard-earned intimacy with 

that frisky little waterway, was the Grumpy Guru. (Oops, I just outed myself.)

I shared the lead canoe with the Cowboy, a sturdy 30-something who loved guns and 

had a minor taste for mayhem.

In the bow of the second canoe sat the Engineer, a man so precise in everything that 

four years later, he can still probably recite the exact co-ordinates of where said 

mayhem occurred. 

At his back was the guy I call the Happy Camper. Oh, hell, what do I have to lose? It 

was Mark Beese.

At the crack of about 10:30, we set out not far below the dam that keeps Mayo Lake 

from making a real nuisance of itself. On a good day, a six-hour run will deposit you 

beside Ralph and Norma Meese’s farm at Minto Bridge.

As hunters, we naturally expected to dine on backstrap and moose kidney before 

calling it a night partway downstream.

We dipsied. We doodled. We skirted sweepers like seasoned voyageurs. Occasionally, 

we stopped to answer a call of nature, or make some calls of our own. We grunted. 

We moaned. We stroked bushes with our paddles.

Inevitably, no answer came. 

“Where’s the Mayo River meat locker of yore?” the Guru grumped.

With enough good light left to finish the run, if necessary, we pulled up for a final 

look-around. Moose, we stay. No moose, we go.

While the other two scouted a wooded knoll downstream, Mark headed slightly 

northwest, rifle in one hand, paddle in the other.

“Be back here in 10 minutes, unless one of you drops a moose,” I advised. “I’ll stay 

here in case something sticks its head up across the river.”

Ten minutes later, the Cowboy and the Engineer returned. Mark did not.

“You know what he’s like. Give it another 15 minutes,” the Cowboy said. 

As family, he could say that that sort of thing.

After 15 minutes, we fired signal rounds. No response. So, GPS in hand, the Engineer 

headed precisely toward where he had last seen Mark, while the Cowboy and I built a 


With dusk and drizzle descending in earnest, and the Engineer returning empty-

handed, our shared annoyance with Mark started morphing into anxiety. Not panic. 

Panic can kill you in the woods.

Busy-work. If the fire’s big enough, he might spot it when night falls. Get that tent up. 

Eat something. Think. Talk. Worry. Under stress, the human mind gallops off in many 


For the next hour, we debated possibilities and probabilities: disorientation, injury, 

exhaustion, moose fever, an actual moose. Oh God, don’t let it be a bear.

We swapped theories about each possibility. He’s not dressed for rain. But he’s fit. He 

has no flashlight. Or matches. Or a GPS. But he’s too smart to go thrashing around in 

the dark. He’ll wait till morning and get his bearings.

As we picked at our meal, the conversation veered from sombre to outright bizarre.

How do we get word to the RCMP? Who’s going to tell Tammy? It has to be Cowboy; 

he’s family. Not me. Losing your boss’s husband in the woods is a really dumb career 


What if he broke a leg? Or fell in the river? Can he swim? How soon does hypothermia 

set in? Do grizzlies really start with the head? And bury their victims for later? Does 

search and rescue have heat-seeking equipment up here?

The madness continued until we finally dozed off.

Early next morning, I paddled solo through a cold mist, steeling myself for that call to 

the RCMP.

From a couple of miles out, where the river gets flat and lazy, I could barely see 

Mark’s SUV, where we had left it ready to convey the canoes back to our RV at the 

head the river.

It took another 15 minutes before the white patch above the roof line revealed itself 

as a canoe paddle. As I neared the shore, a door opened and out stepped that Happy 

Camper grin, fresh with sleep.

How do you tell a guy you’re so happy to see him you’d just like to deck him?

I’d say more, but the Code, eh? What happens on the Mayo River stays on the Mayo 


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