With entries for the 2016 Macnab Challenge now open, Alexandra Henton explains the history and skill behind the ultimate fieldsports challenge

Entries for the 2016 Macnab Challenge are open. The bravest sportsmen and women are ready to set boot to moor and take on fieldsports’ ultimate test. Together with the Pol Roger Portfolio, The Field are tingling with excitement for the greatest sporting adventure of the year. So will you attempt to bag a Macnab?

While many have succeded and taken membership to the exclusive Macnab Club, the pursuit of a Macnab is unpredictable. The Field’s website is brimming with tips and advice. Maybe you should make it your reading fodder for the journey north.


Sound the trumpets, fan the fieldsports flames and stand to attention – the most arduous, skilful and exciting sporting adventure gets underway this month. The Field 2016 Macnab Challenge in association with the Pol Roger Portfolio (consisting of Pol Roger Champagne, Glenfarclas Whisky and Hine Cognac), who we are delighted to welcome as our sponsors for the third year running, is back.

Just as the Macnab possesses compelling elements – salmon, stag and grouse – so do our sponsors. Anyone planning a Macnab would do well to buy in supplies for the hill, lodge and anticipated celebration. Glenfarclas is recommended in the hip flask, Pol Roger for when the deed is done and Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2006 to mull over the achievement. Pol Roger was a favourite of Winston Churchill. And Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2006 is a particular favourite at Field Towers. So if you do feel your resolve flagging, take courage and show some Churchillian fortitude.


The Macnab Challenge is to hook a salmon, shoot a stag and bag a brace of grouse in one day. The Challenge has its origins in the 1925 book by John Buchan, John Macnab. There are three protagonists in Buchan’s book who, tiring of languid London life, resolve to challenge their enervation with a seriously sporting caper. Even shooting has begun to dim in its appeal to Sir Edward Leithen, John Palliser-Yeates and Lord Lamancha.

So in response, they issue a challenge to three Highland estates that they will kill and remove a salmon or stag during 48 hours from midnight to midnight. The letters are sent to the estates signed under the nom de guerre John Macnab. Derring-do in shovelfuls accompanies their adventures. If you haven’t read the book recently, revisit it. It is an inspiration to all who undertake the modern Macnab Challenge.

2016 Macnab Challenge. Tools

Ensure you select the best tools for the three elements of the challenge.

But Buchan’s fictional characters were not mere figments of his imagination. They were based on a real man, Captain James Brander Dunbar. Brander Dunbar revealed how his exploits had given Buchan the idea in a letter to The Field dated 1951. (To find out about Brander Dunbar’s exploits, visit the Macnab Challenge website.) His adventures inspired Buchan, whose book in turn inspired the modern challenge, adding a brace of grouse and jettisoning the idea of the gentleman poacher. Finally, the sensible Macnabber needs good advice. So The Field website is brimming with best practice and top tips for a successful day.


Our contributors and friends have been consulted. Macnabbers should listen to these voices before heading north. Adrian Dangar believes that “no Scottish estate can really guarantee all three parts of the Macnab”. Although the Gannochy Estate, with its baker’s dozen of success stories last year, could beg to differ. Johnny Scott counsels considering non-traditional versions of the Macnab, including the Macmarsh (foreshore goose, pike and fallow buck) and the Southern Macnab (a couple of snipe, a sea-trout and a roe buck). Rory Knight Bruce is adamant the most crucial element is the fish. Several others agree with him, received wisdom holding that it remains the hardest of the three elements.

Planning is vital and location everything. All the good sporting agents will have recommendations as to where is best to attempt a Macnab. The Gannochy Estate in Angus has fielded more successes than any other estate. But Perthshire is a popular destination among our Macnab Club members and Ammunsuidhe on Harris will see a home-team attempt this October. But the difficulty of the Macnab Challenge makes any location a canvas on which the gillies and the Macnabber must create their own masterpiece.

Ensuring you have the right kit is the simplest part of the Macnab. Keep it simple, practical and adaptable. A muted cotton short, sensible base layers, generously cut plus-fours in tweed or technical fabric and a lightweight jacket. Consequently, Barbour’s sporting range would suit any attempt. And never forget your mossie repellent, binoculars and piece. And for those on whom the gods smile, an exclusive pair of Macnab cufflinks and Macnab Club tie broadcast the achievement to those in the know.


Individual, assured and determined, the men and women who rise to the Macnab Challenge are a colourful crowd. And we love to meet successful Macnabbers and those unsuccessful but still enthused. Whether they are the ones who are exact in the planning, the lucky ones who stumble into this sporting challenge or the old guard who have a brace of Macnabs under their belt, all have the same adventurous spirit.

But why do we encourage this sporting challenge? “For true fieldsportsmen the Macnab remains the ultimate challenge,” says Jonathan Young, Editor of The Field and a successful Macnabber. “As well as requiring skill with rod, rifle and gun, it takes a steely nerve to make sure the fish doesn’t throw the hook, there’s no muzzle shake as you line up on the stag and you don’t throw away the shots as the grouse explode from the heather. And as every part of the trio is completed it simply increases the pressure. So that’s why many have attempted the Macnab Challenge but relatively few have achieved it. And why to succeed is to join an exclusive club.”


“Champagne Pol Roger was founded in Ay in 1849 by the eponymous former lawyer. For Pol Roger, timing was everything,” explains Paul Graham, director of business development at Pol Roger Ltd. “At the same time as opening the house for business, a main railway line was announced between Epernay (his new base) and Paris, effectively opening Champagne up to the world. You could call that fortuitous; whatever it was, it was certainly great timing.

“But out on the hill, things are no different. Knowing when to move carefully in pursuit of the elusive beast in the corrie or watching for the tell-tale signs on the river, Pol Roger knows there is subtlety and timing in everything. Pol Roger Portfolio (Pol Roger UK is official agent for Glenfarclas Whisky and Hine Cognac) is the subsidiary for Pol Roger in the UK (the UK remains the most established market in the world for the Epernay house) and is proud to support the 2016 Macnab Challenge set by The Field along with Glenfarclas Whisky and Hine Cognac. Finally, whether celebrating a dramatic day on the hill or saluting the challenge in a secluded pool, we wish all those who take up the challenge success in their endeavour.”


2016 Macnab Challenge. Pol Roger

We are delighted to welcome the Pol Roger Portfolio as a sponsors for the third year running.

Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2006 (£60)

Champagne’s geographical location engenders capricious weather. Consequently, since 1849 Pol Roger has observed the tradition of not releasing a vintage-dated champagne. However, they will if the climatic conditions permit the production of grapes of outstanding ripeness.

Stockists include: Berry Bros & Rudd, Waitrose, Lea & Sandeman, Hedonism

Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2006 (£75)

The second vintage from the 120-hectare estate in the Grande Champagne district. Eric Forget, Hine cellar master and estate manager, states: “Everything starts with the vines.  Therefore, I have created this Domaines HINE, 2006 Vintage, like an oenologist would create a great wine, with the same attention to detail during every step of its life.”

Stockists include: Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange

Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength (£45)

In 1968, George S Grant bottled a single cask straight from the warehouse and sent the bottles to family and friends as Christmas gifts. Consequently, the first commercially available cask-strength whisky of the modern age was born.

Stockists include: Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange, The Whisky Shop, Amazon