According to the prestigious English publication THE FIELD, "the Macnab Challenge has its roots in the 1925 novel John Macnab by John Buchan. The story follows three protagonists, all desperate to relieve the ennui that has engulfed them. The solution can only be something devilish, with a dash of daring. Under the mantle of John Macnab, they issue a warning to three Highland estates: within 48 hours they will remove a salmon or stag, undetected, and present it at the door of the house. On this, they stake their reputations and the danger proves innervating. The modern Macnab Challenge: bagging a salmon, stag and brace of grouse within one day between dawn and dusk, is derived from Buchan’s tale. It is a thrilling test of sporting skill (with a dash of luck thrown in)."
I also read about Macnab Challenges in South Africa, where the sportsman will attempt to hunt a Vaal Rhebuck ram, shoot a brace of Francolin on wing over English pointers and catch a trout on a fly rod, all in a single day. Also, my good friend Del Whitman Jr. and I have been discussing for some years the institution of the "Neverland Macnab," which would require a ruffed grouse shot over dogs, a whitetail deer during either bow or gun season and a brook trout fished from the Mann Creek, all within the borders and boundaries of Neverland's 35 acres, during the same season, as I don't like being pressed or hurried on pleasurable endeavours.
I can imagine multiple other Macnab Challenges across the world, from Patagonia to Alaska or from Europe to Asia, but I would like to talk about the Macnab that I just completed in the forests and rivers of Ontario.
My friend Bob Scott and I had been discussing another bear hunt, and last February we met at the Grand Rapids Huntin' Time Expo to discuss arrangements with Jeff Helms of Agawa Canyon Outfitters. As in the case of our last hunt in 2013 we were looking for hunting "later in their season," which means after Small Game opener (September 15th). We penciled out arrangements, but Bob was unsure about making it due to family issues. The plan was that Richard Hobbs from South Africa would also come, but he later had to cancel due to a knee surgery.
In the meantime, I was able to convince another good friend, Eloir Mário Marcelino, from Tietê, Brazil, that he wouldn't be eaten by a bear, and that he would really enjoy big game hunting under absolute fair chase conditions in the "Canadian wilderness." And after many false starts, Eloir finally landed in the beautiful Cherry Capital Airport of my hometown, Traverse City, MI, on the last September 15th, the a few hours after I hunted the Grouse opener with Del and Matt (of Lake Ann Brewery), and a few hours before my wife traveled to Houston, TX, to spend time with the "man of her life," our grandson Sylas.
Eloir and I spend the Friday getting ready for the trip, buying some groceries and organizing our gear (or kit as the British would say), and for him bear spray, a new camera and other odds and ends.
And about four thirty on the Saturday morning we started four hundred plus miles trip to Halfway Haven, driving through the Mackinac and Sault Sainte Marie bridges, following the shores of Lake Superior on Canadian Route 17 to Wawa, and finally taking 101 towards Chapleau until we exited the black top on Much Lake Road. But I will let Eloir tell the details of the trip and borders crossings in his own blog.
We got to Halfway Haven by mid-afternoon when Sean - partner, cook, waiter, public relations, maintenance, and who knows how many other hats - welcomed us and showed us to our rooms. For good luck I stayed in the same room of my previous hunt, No. 8. We were a bit tired and just wanted to relax and enjoy a bit of conversation. Sometime later Jeff arrived from a bait tour and we lost no time in pestering each other.
On the next morning Jeff, Greg (of Kalamazoo area), Eloir and I went out on a bait run in order to reconnoiter and select our stands. During the brief outing I shot my first ruffed grouse of the week, on the wing, inside the bush, flushed by the reliable Jeff. Good work, old boy!
Grouse, the tastier of them all
When we returned it was time to demonstrate to Jeff and Sean that all ten hunters could hit the mark at about 30 yards. Everybody hit the mark well enough, and there was a long list of calibers used: 12 and 20 gauge slug guns, and rifles 30-06, 308, 300 Savage, 460 S&W, 348 Winchester and yours truly 9,3x74R.
Due to two repeating rifle failures that I had witnesses during my last bear hunt in 2013 - I short stroked the bolt of my 375 H&H after shooting a bear at 13 yards and jammed it, and another hunter failed to totally insert the magazine of his Remington 7400 which did not feed the cartridge to the chamber causing a click instead of a BOOM when his bear showed up - I hear the wise words of John A. Hunter and brought a double rifle for this hunt, in the ubiquitous (or almost) 9,3x74R caliber, paired up with the excellent RWS H-Mantel 286 grain bullets.
By two thirty in the afternoon and with the beginnings of a fever that would pester me for the next couple days, I climbed on Jeff's Ranger and drove the three miles to my blind at Hoppy Creek. I took my place at the tree stand and tanked the nearby waterfall for camouflaging my annoying coughing, another sign of the cold that I was nursing.
Jeff had almost ordered me to shoot a bear on that first day, as it would bring good vibes to the camp. And I tell you, I would rather be lucky than good, as around five, and despite the all the coughing, a beautiful boar black bear materialized to my left, maybe ten yards away.
I had the double rifle over my legs and just waited for the bear to look elsewhere, and as he was about to start circling me I sat the crosshairs of the Swarovski scope on the middle of the middle and pressed the trigger. And the bear collapsed; went down like a sack of bricks! But amazingly, after what seemed a long time, he struggled to get up and when it was apparent he was going to run I let him have the top barrel. I think that the energy of the second shot helped him move forward, but soon he rolled up and rested under some logs.
Two old bears
Even without having planned it, I was in the way of a Macnab, put there was no reason to rush it. Just like Ernest Hemingway, I don't think that we should impose a time limit on hunting, or fishing. We must enjoy these activities according to the pace established by our souls.
Then, some days later, when the weather was perfect, no wind, and all the hunters had been cared for, Jeff and I took his jet boat on the slow moving Montreal River to jig for walleyes. Before the purists attack me I need to say a couple things: I am not much of a fisherman, the closest fly-fishing waters were several hours away, and walleye are great eating fish, not to say very sporting ones. So, what is the problem if my Macnab was not completed with trout or salmon?
An almost magical evening in the Montreal River
And this is how I completed my unplanned Macnab Challenge of feathers, fur and fish, but I need to say that without great friends taking part in it, the achievement would be meaningless.