Do You Know John Macnab
Do You Know John Macnab

Do You Know John Macnab


John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir was a Scottish novelist, historian, and Unionist politician who served as Governor General of Canada. Buchan had a storied career in British politics but he was mostly a writer; a writer who penned one of the best hunting and fishing stories of all time. This story has everything: adventure, love, and friendship, all wrapped around the personal struggles of a few men. Within this novel exists the single best tale of the pursuit of a big game animal and a fish I have ever read. Funny thing is, few have ever heard of this book.

This is possibly because it was written in 1925 and also possibly because it was about poaching.

Now, though I cannot swear I have followed every game law to the letter over my lifetime of hunting, I am not a poacher. But Buchan’s story is about poaching of a gentleman like nature; illegal but honorable acts perpetuated by men who were, shall we say, suffering from taedium vitae.

Even though few are familiar with the book, John Macnab, it has inspired various sportsmen challenges throughout the world. In Scotland where the story is set, the ”Macnab” consists of shooting a Red Deer, a brace of Grouse and catching a Salmon all within one day. In New Zealand it’s called the Big Three Challenge. There the sportsman must bag a deer, a trout and a game fish within 24 hours. You might be surprised to know that the great Ted Williams accomplished this in 1970. With the help of guides, charter boats and a floatplane, he caught a thresher shark at Mayor Island, a trout at Lake Taupo and shot a deer in the nearby hills. The clock started when the game fish was hooked and he completed the Big Three in 10 hours and 30 minutes. The New Zealand record by the way is four hours and 12 minutes!

This sporting feat has even found its way to Africa where it has morphed into various pursuits to even include buffalo. Regardless of the location or the game, appreciation of any form of the “Macnab” cannot be fully enjoyed unless you have read the book.


It is very likely that after you have enjoyed this story you will be inspired to create your own “Macnab” based on where you live, hunt and fish. This is a great endeavor for those who have, shall we say, been there done that. And, just as importantly, if you are suffering from your own form of taedium vitae, it is sure to offer some relief if not a complete cure.

I’ve given this some thought and here in West Virginia the “Macnab” must be the catching of a small mouth bass and the killing of a whitetail deer within a 24 hour period. I was with a fellow, a local river guide who goes only by the name of “Redneck,” who completed this task in a little less than two hours. Granted, his smallmouth was, well, small, and his whitetail was a doe. Neither hardly lived up to the real, though fictional, John Macnab standards. So it would seem Redneck still has a challenge ahead of him. And that’s a good thing.

The point of all this is two-fold. First, you should take the time to read John Macnab. And, you should consider devising your own Macnab because that’s what sportsmen do. As a word to the wise, I’d suggest you avoid the poaching aspect, regardless of how gentlemanly it might seem; you won’t be able to brag about your accomplishments in mixed company unless that company is sharing the same cell as you.