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A safari to the dour moors of Scotland
Duncan Barnes
February 13, 1967
If a shooting trip to County Caithness can be taken as a criterion, Winchester-Western has a good thing going in its hunting-tour plan, and sportsmen who have been burned by unreliable outfitters can take heart
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February 13, 1967

A Safari To The Dour Moors Of Scotland

If a shooting trip to County Caithness can be taken as a criterion, Winchester-Western has a good thing going in its hunting-tour plan, and sportsmen who have been burned by unreliable outfitters can take heart

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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.

The fishing 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 lolly.

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