It is time to set your sights on the ultimate modern sporting endeavour: the 2021 Macnab Challenge, organised by The Field in association with BASC

When John Buchan wrote John Macnab in 1925 (his second most popular novel after The 39 Steps) the three protagonists Sir Edward Leithen, John Palliser-Yeates and Lord Lamancha were stricken with ennui. As they slump disconsolately in their London Club an idea takes shape. Something with just enough dash and daring to. An adventure to raise the spirits and drag them from the doldrums; the plot is laid. A letter will be written to three Highland Estates purporting to be from one “John Macnab” who makes it known that he intends to take a salmon or a stag from under their noses within 48 hours and deliver it to their door. Failure is not an option; reputation and club memberships are at stake.

A letter written to The Field in 1951 revealed how Buchan’s excellent book had taken inspiration from a real character, Captain James Brander Dunbar. A season with too few shooting invitations had led him to boast that he could kill a beast in any forest in Scotland. The challenge was met by Lord Abinger, and Brander Dunbar headed north where after a couple of blank days he took a six-pointer at Inverlochy without detection, until he presented himself at the castle in the afternoon. His sporting vigour was the perfect foundation for Buchan’s story, with its perennial appeal, which comes from the author’s deep understanding of the natural and sporting world, his knack for adventure and social insight.

Skip forward 96 years and never has ennui insinuated itself more insidiously, after the imposition of many months of restrictions and lockdown, with only the odd rabbit for the pot as sporting company. There has never been a more pressing time to shake off the tendrils of torpor and make a plan to head north. Our sporting lives are set to be rejuvenated, and with them a sense of sporting responsibility that has grown during the enforced absence.


The modern Macnab takes its inspiration from Buchan’s novel, but in a place of salmon or stag the challenge evolved. A successful Macnabber must take a salmon on the fly, a brace of grouse and a stag between dawn and dusk, within one day. Every successful Macnabber will have their own advice on how to achieve the feat, but history has marked down the fish as the most elusive element. Once the salmon has been caught and returned one turns to the hill, where a steady hand is required for the rifle and unerringly accurate reactions for the walked-up brace. When combined the simplicity of each element of the Macnab becomes something far greater than its parts. Each success makes the next stage even more critical. It is a test of nerve, luck and judgement.

The Macnab brings together the best of the sporting world. It calls for real skill and gumption, an understanding of your quarry and the ability to fail. Far more Macnabs are lost than won; the challenge never offers a guarantee. There are no bells or whistles when it comes to doing a Macnab, just hunter and wild quarry, taken responsibility.

The 2021 Macnab challenge in association with BASC


We are delighted to launch The Field’s 2021 Macnab Challenge in association with BASC this year, an organisation that champions both our sport and the essential conservation work that preserves our sport and countryside for the future.

“Tradition is a fine thing that threads its way through so many aspects of rural life, not least the world of shooting. It needn’t jar or be at odds with progression, sustainability and doing things the right way, though. BASC recognises this, which is why it has joined The Field in celebrating a sporting feat that points not just to fieldcraft and exhilarating pursuit but a much bigger, underlying picture – of environmental custodianship, rural employment and communities” says Will Pocklington, Head of Publications.

“The focus of the Classic Macnab is centred on the three iconic species against which we pit ourselves. The very existence and sound management of these species – the Atlantic salmon, the red deer and the red grouse – is underpinned by places and practices that benefit a vast range of wildlife, and people”.

“Clean salmon rivers and cared-for, heather-clad peatlands are as central to the Macnab as the ghillies, gamekeepers and stalkers who for a living guide those willing to take up the challenge. It’s important to remember that, when we venture forth with rod, gun and rifle in search of the revered trio, we are directly supporting the fabric of rural Scotland while harvesting wild and sustainable food. We are putting money into the pockets of local people, and funding the conservation of landscapes so they can be enjoyed by future generations. In BASC’s view, it doesn’t get much better than that”.

And so we now encourage you to pack your kit, set the Highlands firmly in sight and undertake a Challenge that shows not only the best of sporting skill, but sporting sustainability, too.


To enter The Field and BASC 2021 Macnab Challenge, email for an entry form and rules.


  • Real Macnab
    A salmon on the fly and a stag, as the trio did in John Buchan’s John Macnab. They must be “poached” in legal sporting manner from an owner who accepts the challenge.
  • Classic Macnab
    A stag, a salmon and a brace of grouse. This Macnab epitomises the best of country sports in
    the Highlands.
  • Southern Macnab
    A couple of snipe, a sea-trout and a roe buck.
  • Macmarsh
    A foreshore goose, a pike and a fallow buck.
  • Macnorfolk
    A bass on the fly, brace of wild grey partridges and a fallow buck.
  • Macscandi
    A moose, capercaillie and a trout on the fly within 24 hours.
  • Macargentinian
    A golden dorado, 100 brace of doves and a wild pig. This is the northern Argentinian Macnab.
  • Macafrican
    A brace of sandgrouse, impala and a tigerfish in one day.
  • Maccharlie
    Riding to foxhounds, the harriers and staghounds.
  • Corinthian Macnab
    Riding to hounds in the morning, shooting a brace of partridges in the afternoon, and then catching a trout on the fly.

Read the 2021 Macnab challenge rules