The fact that
Sinclair can offer sporty shooting at wild grouse year after year is due to
what he calls personal—or, if you will, empirical—game management. "One
simply can't entirely rely on God and nature to keep the grouse coming,"
says Sinclair. "So the gamekeepers assess the breeding stock on each beat,
and then I set the bookings accordingly. In other words, we can set our own
limits without imposing any bag limits on our shooting guests."
His salmon fishery
on the spring-fed Thurso River has allowed Sinclair even greater leeway for
empirical management. Sinclair has made it productive by simply putting in
little stems at the tails of pools. He has also used earth-moving machinery to
create new pools that produce fish all season long.
The Thurso River
also boasts its own hatchery—one of the few private Atlantic salmon hatcheries
in the world. Sinclair hatches one million eggs a year—some for stocking the
Thurso and the rest to be used in other rivers in Scotland and abroad.
records on the Thurso date from 1860 and are known to be the most detailed of
any in Great Britain. Many historical figures have fished the Thurso, and River
Superintendent David Sinclair (no relation to Robin) is quick to point out that
the Queen Mother herself is partial to the Thurso. "The Queen Mum is a
verra keen and verra decent fisher," says David.
Next to bringing a
good salmon to the gaff on the Queen Mum's favorite river and scoring a
left-right double on grouse, the most honorable thing for a sportsman to do in
Caithness is bag a good stag in the deer forest. The proper term is deer
forest, but on the Caithness moors the cover through which one stalks the red
stag would hardly hide a ground hog. (A professional stalker like Richard
Munro, the head gamekeeper at Lochdhu, will suggest that his
"gentleman" not shoot until he is close enough—preferably within 100
yards—to the stag, and then only when a sure killing shot is possible.)
"The stalk," explains Sinclair, "can be a bit arduous. It often
involves crawling for an hour or more commando style in single file, through
soggy heather and sometimes through a burn, your goal a wee tussock on which
you can rest your rifle for a prone shot. Then you might have to lie there for
quite a time waiting for a clean shot—with your tummy in a puddle and your back
exposed to a shower of sleet."
After such misery
one looks forward to drying out with a glass or two of smoky malt whiskey,
taken neat in front of a pungent peat fire. Dinner follows—fresh smoked Thurso
salmon, thick turnip broth, roast grouse and bread-and-butter pudding—and after
a glass of sweet port, one is ready to stretch out with a hot-water bottle and
a heavy down comforter. And "na tae worry about the ghost in the southwest
tower." It is only that nonsportsman Sir Tollemache totting up his