The Field

The Macnab Challenge, fact and fiction

In 1897, a young soldier named James Brander-Dunbar, of Pitgaveny in Morayshire, sent a gentleman’s challenge to Lord Abinger at Inverlochy Castle, betting him £20 that he could not stalk and kill a deer on his land without being caught. This tale of impudent bravado by a larger-than-life regular British Army officer, who saw active service in the Boer War, the Sudan campaign of 1903-4 and the First World War, was plainly still doing the rounds of Highland bothies and shooting lodges in the 1920s.

Certainly John Buchan, by then a bestselling author of adventure stories (among many other things) and a keen stalker and fly fisherman, caught wind of it and used the tale for the starting point of his novel, . After the book was published in the summer of 1925, Brander-Dunbar sent Buchan photographs of the head of the stag he had killed at Inverlochy and

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