“THE CLASSIC MACNAB” - A stag, a salmon and a brace of grouse. This Macnab challenge epitomises the best of country sports in the Highlands. Find out how Tom Festing finally achieved his long held Macnab ambition.
My Macnab journey started in October 2013, having had two attempts and falling at the final hurdle on both occasions. My first attempt started so well, having caught my salmon and shot my brace of grouse by 12pm, however you can’t control the wind! And by 6pm we were off the hill having not had a shot. The second opportunity came three days later, this time slightly more hectic. The river had risen 7ft overnight, however it was dropping. I had a fish at 12pm and was up on the moor with the dogs by 1.30pm. When the adrenalin is pumping, it’s amazing how quickly you can shoot a brace of grouse and by 2.30pm I was onto my stag. However, after a relatively short stalk it all ended in disaster. I took the shot but hit a piece of bracken or a blade of grass on the way through! Anyway the rest is history! So roll on 2014 I was thinking, I have a score to settle.
After a long year to mull over that missed opportunity, I was ready to face my demons. However it all got a little twitchy as my friend Will had the first Macnab of the week on the Monday. Considering this had happened the year before, I was thinking “oh no, not again, please....” Jealousy is a terrible thing but I was certainly jealous.
I was up at the crack of dawn, every morning in fact, regardless of the conditions, trying my hardest to catch a fish on low water pre breakfast. I failed every morning! I shouldn’t have bothered as on the Thursday we were having a day’s shooting over pointers. The gang left for the moor on what was a fantastic morning for shooting, light winds and clearing skies. Just before we stopped for lunch and with everyone shooting likes demons, I managed a fluky left and right over the working pointer, thinking nothing of it the head keeper turned to me and said “Tom, just maybe, just maybe” So after some deliberation, off I trotted with my father back down the hill in one of the estate’s Land Rovers, taking with me a walky-talky.
Having collected my rods, I dually fished all the likely spots on the estate in search of this elusive fish. At 3pm this unlucky fish hooked itself, a muffled and rather shaky conversation followed with the head keeper via the walky-talky. He told me to meet him at the lodge and he was on his way. Half an hour later and kitted out for stage three, we were off. Two further keepers were by this stage spotting for us and by 4 pm suitable stags were located above a big birch plantation not too far from the lodge.
Obviously it was getting close to pulling the plug, due to the skies starting to darken. So I was thinking this is going only one way again! However, as we made our way through the plantation it became obvious, there were a pile of hinds being held by an Imperial stag with a dozen other stags of all ages just off to one side. One Royal presented himself perfectly however he was deemed too good to shoot. So, having had two attempts to get into the right position, we finally got onto high enough ground. Now it was a waiting game. The skies were getting slightly darker by the minute and at about 5.55pm I was down on a shot. A suitable stag had presented himself; I took the shot and was told to stay down after I had pulled the trigger. I don’t think I had blinked in minutes as I felt very wobbly and blind when I got up from the rushes. The beast was shot at 200 yards, weighed 83kg and was a 10 pointer. Put it this way - I could not speak after, being completely drained and emotional. What I had achieved that day had been in my thoughts since the previous year. Who says you need to catch the fish first, not on this occasion anyway.
So many thanks go to the owner of the estate, Allan, the three keepers David, Colin and Sam and not to mention the various pointers who showed us such good sport. Thanks you guys!