The Macnab - Trials and Tribulations
- Thursday, 01 January 2015
Senior CIC judge Iain Watson looks back on some of the highs and lows faced by those pursuing their Macnab in 2014.
(Above: Key skill elements include, Casting, Rifle and Shotgun)
Regardless of the sporting challenge we set ourselves surely we have to reach the starting point full of confidence and hope rather than doubt? As the 2014 Scottish season spun into life in mid August both confidence and expectation seemed to be the order of the day. The mild, and critically, dry spring had favoured the grouse and as the season was to show breeding successes and population numbers made even the normally pessimistic rub their hands in anticipation, they weren’t to be disappointed. The stags certainly looked to have summered well, and the salmon….well they had returned.
I suppose one thing about sporting challenges is that the more popular they become the more attainable they seem to be. At the extreme end, for example, look at the climbing of Everest. From unattainable then rare it has now become almost routine, though not without its dangers and fatalities. While achieving a Macnab in Scotland is clearly not in the same league it has become popularised and it may seem something that, without undue effort can be added to and ticked off a sporting bucket list. Yet this is not always the case and there is more to achieving a Macnab than turning up in the hope that the opportunities can be capitalised on.
Here in this part of the Hebrides, 2014 proved to be something of a bridge to far for those who set themselves up for Scotland’s premier sporting day out!
(The Macnab - First popularised in the novel by John Buchan in 1925)
Plans were well laid, and timings agreed between the ghillies, dog men, and stalkers who would endeavour to get the guests in touch with the intended quarry. I have written before that professional stalkers should always leave on the hill what happens on the hill, and so in looking back at the season past, this rule will apply, and if you recognise yourself, you were not out with me!
Of the three elements of the Macnab, grouse generally tend to prove the least difficult, particularly if they are shot over steady pointers, and here on the Long Island, using our preferred combination of German Wire Haired and Vizla’s this was the case. The birds were plentiful, the dogs, after the long spring lay off, on good form, and with light winds prevailing good sport was to be had amongst the short heather on the open moor and between the sheltered banks along the river edges.
The bright conditions and low water made the assault on the salmon as difficult and at times frustrating as it always is. Perhaps the worst aspect is when the wrong fish turns up….twice. Normally a clean fresh run sea trout would be welcomed with open arms, but not when the rules require a salmon. So commiserations over, it was upriver to another pool then gravel run to try again. Half an hour of intense effort and concentration and the surface breaks and the fish takes cleanly. It runs powerfully, never showing its-self but firm handling ensures that after 10 minutes it comes to the shallows and the net, and its another lovely sea trout of about 5lbs. Yet while the salmon, as so often proved to be the failing of a number of attempts, it was the pursuit of the stag that this autumn proved to be the undoing of many would be Macnabbers.
The first of the season was probably the most dramatic, and took longest to resolve. On a bright windless autumn morning we stalked into a group of four stags, which were feeding on succulents on the edge of a riverbank. They were oblivious to our approach and clearly expected no trouble. The rifle was passed over, the selected stag identified and confirmed, and the shot taken. At the report there was no audible strike, and with a start the targeted animal dashes forward, its left hind leg shattered and swinging from the bullet impact. It hurtles towards a nearby conifer block and vanishes. The dog is brought forward and the animal followed up. It’s clear that the extent and site of the wound had not impaired its mobility and just as the dog indicates its couch it jumps up and makes off. The remainder of the day is spent unsuccessfully in its pursuit, and it’s not till 72 hours later that the matter is resolved when the dog indicates the wounded animal’s presence, and the .308 ends his suffering.
(Above: Glassing the hill for a Red Stag)
Fish on the bank, and grouse in the larder, another attempt fails at the last hurdle, due to a bit of vertical challenge. In failing light, as the autumn dusk sets in, a mature switch cautiously emerges from thick cover. It’s the movement which catches my eye and it takes a moment or two to compute that he’s close, and walking directly towards me. The ground is very broken, and after a few steps he enters a hollow and all I can see are the white spikes of his lethal main beams. Quickly I split the sticks set up the guest and wait. The white tips wave, vanish, and reappear, followed by two ears then a head and neck and finally all of the stag, he turns to his right takes and another step, his body is lost, all but his shoulder, neck and head, which remain in view. At 50 metres he is shootable, time to get the first Macnab of the season. I motion towards the guest, but… at something less than 5’2” to my 6”2” he is unable to see what I can. Frustrated we wait, for we can’t move forward. Unfortunately for us our target is in a gully on falling ground and without any idea of the peril he is in, he moves off at his leisure to safety.
But it’s not all about poor shooting or downright bad luck. Ultimately, the salmon it seems will always be cast as the Achilles heel of the challenge, and the advice remains consistent; get your salmon first. 2014 saw some very exciting stalks and memorable shots. A particularly difficult moorland crawl culminated in a “swim” through a deep drain, during a very unpleasant assault by myriad hordes of midges, and then, a beautifully taken 200 metre shot at an eight point stag who in text book fashion never twitched as he collapsed and hit the peat dead.
So was the lack of Macnab’s a disappointment? On balance, not really. For any sporting challenge to be meaningful it has to be achievable but difficult, and no doubt grassing a Stag a Salmon and a brace of Red Grouse in the same day is just that. If everyone succeeded at the first attempt with these three truly wild animals, what would the challenge really be? Having gone in pursuit of Macnab’s over several seasons, it strikes me that a key element is that the sportsman or woman brings to the party the three key skills of Casting, Shotgun and Rifle Shooting but above a determination to succeed. Interestingly I do know of one Macnab, which did succeed, it was achieved by Anon, a professional fishing ghillie, and was all over before 11.00 am, enough said.
Iain Watson is the CIC Senior International Trophy Judge and Expert to the UK Delegation of the CIC. To read more about the CIC and its work follow this link: the-cic-and-it-s-trophy-measurement-system
Alternatively to read more about the Macnab follow this link; the-macnab-scotland-s-big-three-in-a-day