Links House at Royal Dornoch, Golf Road, Dornoch, Scotland, IV25 3LW

The Macnab Challenge

What is the ‘Macnab Challenge’?

It is a sporting challenge for any hunter to shoot a stag, shoot a brace (two birds) of grouse and catch a salmon, all in the one day.

This sporting test originated in Scotland but has been adopted by several countries around the world, as far away as South Africa and Argentina. However these countries hunt different species than those found in Scotland.

What is the history behind the Macnab Challenge?

The Macnab Challenge was depicted in the famous John Buchan novel, John Macnab, in 1925. It tells the story of three aristocratic English friends, who are bored with their successful lives and seek adventure through a poaching challenge set in the Scottish Highlands! Sir Edward Leithen, lawyer and conservative MP, John Palliser-Yeates, banker and sportsman and Charles Earl of Lamancha, adventurer and cabinet Minister. They set out for the Scottish wilderness to stay with their disabled war hero friend Sir Archie Roylance and make a challenge to three of his neighbouring estate owners – that they will poach a stag or a salmon from their land and deliver it to their doorstep undetected.

This widely read novel was the catalyst for the development of the modern-day Macnab Challenge.

Conditions for the Macnab Challenge

Of course the current Macnab Challenge does not involve poaching! It is conducted by various estates in Scotland, where there is a good possibility of successfully bagging each of the three species on the same day. Red Deer are a prolific species in Scotland and found in large numbers across the country – grouse on the other hand are much less easy to find and certain estates are known to have greater numbers of grouse than others. Lastly an estate should have a decent salmon river running through it, with sufficient water to enable the salmon to move upstream during the late summer months.

The deer will be stalked with the help of a keeper who will assist the hunter with initial zero of the weapon and in effective use of ground and observation to detect deer on the hill. A hunter needs stamina and agility – this stalk may require hours of low movement and crawling. Once a stag has been observed and is within range, the hunter must be decisive and follow through with precision and accuracy. One down, two to go. The hunter may then go straight into a walked-up shoot, replacing his Rifle with a Shotgun. The keeper will again be with the hunter and often accompanied by dogs – sometimes with Pointer dogs. These amazing canines, can smell grouse from afar and when the hunter is within range the dog will freeze – and the tail will elevate to indicate that birds are in front. A covey of grouse rise from the heather – the hunter is quick on to them – two shots are fired and two of these beautiful, plucky, brown feathered birds drop to the ground. Now for the salmon.

The party head back down the hill to the valley floor. Guns are replaced by a salmon fly rod and fishing tackle. There will be time for a packed lunch and refreshments. A fishing ghillie will now take up the challenge – it will be his job to get the hunter to one of the best pools on the river – to be stealthy, to avoid noise, to observe the conditions of the water. And then it happens – a sudden movement in the water as a silver Atlantic salmon lunges at the fly. The reel screams and the fish ducks and dives, behind rocks, under waterfalls and in the reeds. The angler holds firm, keeps the pressure on and wears down the fish, until it tires. It appears on the surface, glistening in the light and the last act is played as the ghillie wades into the river and gently brings the net up under the fish. Its done – the Macnab Challenge has been completed.

How difficult is the Macnab Challenge?

It has a low success rate for various reasons. It can be difficult to even catch one salmon in a day, let alone a salmon and a deer and a brace of grouse in a 24 hour period. The conditions play a huge part in the potential outcome. A mild winter and good summer weather conditions, will help both deer and grouse to survive and flourish, meaning larger numbers of both species in the late summer. Rain is a huge factor for salmon fishing – the best conditions are when the rivers have good levels of water, enabling salmon to navigate throughout the river system. Higher levels of water and good fishing conditions can lead to successful fishing outcomes. Obtaining all these conditions on the day of the Macnab Challenge, is never going to be easy. That is why it is considered one of the best sporting challenges anywhere in the world.

Get in touch about the Challenge

As our Manager of Highland Experiences, Alastair looks after all guest activities and excursions and also helps Links House to promote these unique offerings to the UK and international travel sector. He has a wealth of experience in the outdoor domain, having been trained as an Experiential Learning Instructor with Outward Bound.

Find out more about our highland experiences here

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