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The Scottish Macnab Challenge

By Jerome Starkey

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If the ghillies in the boot room had been taking bets on which of the castle’s guests would get a Macnab, they would not have picked Beau Box.

On the first morning fishing Beau’s line was a mess. Then he gave up his gun on the Glorious Tweflth before a shot had been fired, succumbing to exhaustion and a scarcity of birds. 

Trudging over hags was not what Beau had envisaged when he planned his Hebridean caper. 

Beau and his friends were from Louisiana, but this trip traced its roots to a campfire in the wilds of Tanzania where a weather-beaten safari guide beguiled them with the prospect of bagging a Macnab. 

After elephant grass and crocodile swamps, Beau had imagined shooting grouse in Scotland might be slightly more genteel, and easier on the knees. Then he watched his friend plunge neck-deep into a bog. He would have disappeared completely save for 

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Beau tried his best to press on, but the beaters and the keepers watched with growing unease as first he shed his gilet, then his tie came off.  Then he announced abruptly that he was going back to the castle. 

Mark, the gamekeeper, muttered something about not being allowed to burn heather. We wondered about the birds. Even the first Macnabbers, of John Buchan’s eponymous novel, weren’t silly enough to hunt grouse. 

Beau took the next day to recover. He was happy to cast for salmon, he said, and he might try his hand at some stalking, but he really did not mind he never wet his gaiters on a grouse moor again. 

Of course, he would not have that choice.

He was up at dawn on day three. The salmon took his fly on his fourth or fifth cast at a quarter past six in the morning.  Stuart, the ghillie, had just killed the fish when Innes, the estate manager, bundled Beau into his truck and sped off to the stalking grounds, toot-tooting with excitement. They had shot their stag by 7am.

Beau was quiet at breakfast. He knew what the ghillies feared. The grouse were few and far between and the ground was unforgiving. 

“Take it slowly,” Roger Hurt said. “Just go at your own pace.” Roger was the safari guide who had come with them from Tanzania.

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Beau shot his first bird at 11.30am and he wondered if his newfound luck might come from a shepherd’s crook he bought the previous evening. He leant on it and realised that his legs were already weary.

By lunchtime the dogs were exhausted and Mark led them back the to castle to swap his black Labrador for Innes’ spaniel. The three of them picked up a sandwich from the kitchen and sped to the next arena. For the next six hours they saw not a single bird and by early evening Beau was broken.

The shepherd’s crook had run out of luck. By all the measures of The Field’s Macnab there was no way of getting closer than a fish and a stag and one half of a brace.

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Beau was in agony. He broke his gun and put the shells in pocket.

“What’s the shortest way back to the truck?” he asked. 

They began to retrace their steps.

Suddenly Beau saw a pair of grouse running. He loaded the gun and walked up on them, innes and Mark at his sides.

“The birds flew up and I took one,” Beau said. At last, he had got his Macnab.

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