Completing The Field’s Macnab Challenge is no mean feat, demanding skill, patience and perseverance – qualities that the 2023 Macnabbers needed in spades


The Macnab Challenge, a fieldsports endeavour based on John Buchan’s famous novel John Macnab, requires skill and perseverance on both hill and river in pursuit of salmon, stag and grouse. This year The Field’s Macnab Challenge is kindly sponsored by Blaser, a company with the requisite kit for the task at hand. In 2023, 13 sporting adventurers triumphed and, as ever, their efforts were most remarkable.

Gannochy estate boasts a well-earned reputation for Macnabs, with more than 14 successes in the past three years. Owner Allan Hemmings and headkeeper Colin Lanyon ensure that a visit is always sporting. This year was no different as the estate produced five successful Macnabbers, one of whom was 14-year-old George Hudson.

“It had been a tough week fishing, as the North Esk was desperate for some rain,” Hudson recalls. “It finally arrived on Saturday night and the river was looking perfect.” At 6am on Monday Hudson set off for the river with his father, Stuart. Tempted by Hudson’s Gannochy Conehead fly, a salmon was duly guided into the net. “I couldn’t stop grinning,” he says.

After a quick breakfast, Lanyon took Hudson to the south side of the estate in search of grouse. A bird was shot on the first point, and after a couple of nervous misses Hudson managed to connect with the all-important second grouse. The stalk took place in a belt of birch trees where a group of shootable stags had been seen. Hudson recounts: “As I mounted the rifle there was a commotion and a stag appeared from the bracken, coming towards me, 50 yards away.” After retreating cautiously to a respectable range, he squeezed the trigger and the stag dropped to the ground.

For Illinois Blasdel, who has completed two Macnabs in the past two years at Gannochy, his attempt for a rare hat-trick was blessed with a deluge of rain, ensuring river conditions were optimal. He was joined by his friend Dr Macneille Everist. There is a general rule of thumb when it comes to a Gannochy Macnab: the salmon must be landed by 1pm. Although they had several takes, there was no salmon in the net by lunch. Another day passed with a few frustrating ‘long catch-and-releases’ before Everist managed to land his salmon.

Thankfully, the grouse proved to be no problem for Everist: 20 minutes and two spent cartridges after setting foot on the moor, with a brace bagged, he was off in search of the stag. “What struck me most was that instead of seeing the stags, we were hearing them roaring from the nearby ridges above us – it was thrilling,” he says. An hour before sunset Everist shot his 12-point Royal, which he describes as “a piece of the Scottish landscape and memory of an adventure that I will keep in my mind for decades to come”.

macnab challenge

Lady Luck did not bless Blasdel until three days later, when he landed a salmon. It took three points to secure the brace of grouse, and Blasdel was quick to note that he was “on high alert, as the area chosen is known for significant numbers of blackgame”. On to the stag and Lanyon had spotted a shootable beast. In a daring tactic, he suggested they use the glaring sun and walk straight towards him with the light behind them. The plan worked perfectly; Blasdel squeezed off the shot and completed his Macnab hat-trick.

Andrew Veron wins the prize for the most miles travelled to claim his Macnab, reaching Gannochy from Sydney, Australia. He started strongly by landing an 11lb salmon after a fierce fight, and strode to the heather-covered hill for the grouse with confidence. Veron shot the first bird well; however, the second proved hard to come by as the wind got up and the grouse took off like rockets. At 1pm the brace was completed but time was becoming short to shoot the stag. The stalk held no relief for Veron, who embarked on a two-hour crawl through rugged country. “The daylight was dwindling,” he says. “The Macnab Challenge was hanging in the balance but patience and painstaking manoeuvring paid off.” The stag was grassed cleanly and Veron became the first Australian to join The Field’s Macnab Club.

“They say you need a great deal of luck for a Macnab Challenge and that was definitely true for my attempt,” believes Steve Skipworth. The first element of good fortune mirrored that of Everist and Blasdel when a light drizzle turned into eight hours of heavy rain the day before Skipworth arrived at Gannochy. At 10.15am a Willie Gunn was cast into peaty water and out of the depths a fish rose up and followed the fly before turning away at the last second. Skipworth recalls: “Four more casts, fishing longer each time, yielded nothing. On the fifth, however, as the line straightened at the end of the pool, a fish took.” Five minutes later a 7lb cock salmon was in the net and quickly released.

Skipworth was confident in his grouse-shooting ability but the pressure was beginning to tell on him, as the first couple of shots offered no reward. The next two saw a brace of grouse fly on but Skipworth felt certain he had connected with the first bird and, sure enough, it was picked further on, stone dead. Heartened that he was halfway there, his next shot was spot on, leaving six hours to bag the final species. When Skipworth had got within 300 yards of a stag, an unseen roe doe was spooked and the chance was gone. With just over two hours of daylight left, Scott Stephenson, the stalker at Gannochy, set off at a brisk pace to get around to a new bit of ground and as luck would have it, they bumped into a lone travelling stag 50 minutes before sunset. Skipworth made no mistake as he pulled the trigger.

macnab challenge

Andrew Fleming was persuaded to try for a Macnab Challenge on his own land at Kyllachy estate, next to the River Findhorn, by his keeper, Duncan Kerr. He netted his salmon before lunch with little difficulty. However, the grouse proved a sterner test. “Recent years have been difficult for grouse in Inverness-shire, so I couldn’t have chosen a more challenging year to attempt a Macnab,” insists Fleming. Nonetheless he set out with a friend, Andrew Barker, and his labrador on to the moor. He managed to shoot one and Barker was then called to the river to catch a salmon, leaving Fleming by himself as the labrador was Barker’s. Fortunately a second grouse was shot but the next difficulty was finding it in the long heather without a dog. Checking his step count later revealed he had walked more than nine miles for the brace. After securing the bird, Fleming briskly hurried to the Dalmigavie estate next door and in the fading light successfully shot a good cull stag.

Over on Amhuinnsuidhe estate, Amber Haynes had lost hope of completing the challenge until she managed to land a salmon at 4pm. With just under three-and-a-half hours till sunset, she dashed to the hill where she quickly shot a brace of grouse. As time ticked away, a stag was spied, but when Haynes was in the firing position she didn’t feel comfortable taking the shot. Happily, another stag was spotted further down the hill and provided a safer shot. “The entire experience was exceptional,” she says. “The estate is the most beautiful place I have ever seen.”


Fifteen years ago Charlie Ramsay was denied the chance of a Macnab at South Chesthill in Perthshire when, having taken the salmon and the grouse, his father ruled that “We don’t stalk here until 1 September”. Every year since then, Ramsay has attempted the challenge, but the salmon has eluded him until this year, when he landed a 5lb grilse. After a hearty lunch, the search for grouse was on and a spectacular right-and-left was achieved. Securing the stag demanded an arduous crawl, admirable skill from the stalker and a sprinkling of good fortune in front of 200 hinds for Ramsay to cull an 11-year-old stag.

Most Macnabs follow the formula of salmon, grouse and then stag, but some guns break the mould. Marco Caimi from Lombardy, Italy started with a stag at Drummond Castle estate. While on the hill and with a shotgun to hand, the logical decision was to go for the grouse, and it wasn’t long until the dogs were on point and a right-and-left was deftly taken. “The most difficult part was the salmon,” says Caimi. Nevertheless he succeeded in hooking a small grilse. Having never caught a salmon before, Caimi relied on his gillie’s advice to bring it in, and after an athletic fight the Macnab Challenge was completed. Matthew Kealey lured a 5lb grilse on the River Dee on the Mar estate before racing up the hill to grass a nine-point stag. It was at this point that the challenge intensified as the only shotgun available was an ancient boxlock only capable of firing 1oz No 6 cartridges. After many miles and spent shells, Kealey shot his brace. “I was both humbled and privileged,” he remarks.

macnab challenge

Blake Rodgers, from British Columbia, Canada attained his Macnab on the Isle of Lewis on the Garynahine and Barvas estates. “The first words I heard from the gillie were ‘I’ve never seen it this bad – I don’t think there’s a salmon left in Scotland’,” remembers Rodgers. Despite that, a small grilse took in the last pool and was netted at precisely 2.43pm. Pointers and labradors were called for and duly located grouse. There was just over an hour’s daylight left when the brace was completed and Rodgers rushed up the hill. It wasn’t long before a spiker was spotted and grassed cleanly.

macnab challenge

A Macnab is usually planned in advance. However, Ollie Braithwaite-Exley decided to go for a quick cast before breakfast on the Dalmunzie estate and had a 7lb salmon by 8am. Over breakfast the idea of a Macnab was mooted and, after speaking to the keeper, he quickly changed clothes and headed to the hill. “We were fortunate to come across a stag early,” Braithwaite- Exley says. Within two hours a stag was down and they headed homewards in the hope of bumping into a brace of grouse. They managed to flush a few, which fell to two shots.

macnab challenge

Dunbeath estate in Caithness is where Chris Thompson had a memorable Macnab Challenge. Not bothered with catching one salmon and running up the hill, he continued to fish a few more pools and caught a second fish. By 1pm Thompson was in search of a stag, and a beast was spotted amid several hinds. Crawling to a position, the stag presented himself and fell on the spot. After this the dogs were called and flushed three grouse, of which one fell but the second proved trickier. “I started to doubt that I would get another chance,” Thompson admits. Luckily another covey was found and Thompson secured a right-and-left and his Macnab. He went on to shoot another grouse, with his final bag consisting of two salmon, one stag and two brace of grouse.

The Field is delighted that our Macnab Challenge continues to elicit such sporting adventures and tales to tell. The Macnabs of 2023 are due not only to the skill and tenacity of the sportsmen and women but also the effort of the gillies, stalkers and keepers who work tirelessly to place hopeful Macnabbers where they need to be in a small amount of time. And don’t forget that all-important dollop of luck.