The demographic of hunters has changed considerably over the past decade. Once upon a time, there were very few women that took part and men traditionally favoured adult-only, male-only hunting trips. Times have changed however, and not only is there now a growing number of female hunters, but the modern-day father’s attitude has altered as well. As a result, more and more families want to incorporate hunting into their annual holiday.
Here’s the rub: there are very few venues around the world able to cater for the needs of a family wanting both wilderness hunting and a luxury resort. But we’re delighted to reveal that we have uncovered one such place: Heritage Resorts in Mauritius has formed a close working relationship with Le Chasseur Mauricien, the island’s longest established hunting outfitter.
Part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group, Heritage Resorts has two neighbouring five-star hotels located on the Domaine de Bel Ombre in the wild southern part of Mauritius. The African-themed Heritage Awali Golf & Spa Resort is most suited to families and the colonial-themed Heritage Le Telfair Golf & Spa Resort is geared towards couples and gastronomes. When I visited with my husband and 11-month old baby we stayed at Heritage Le Telfair. Our stay was in mid-June, so it was low season meaning the hotel was far from full and the temperature was a comfortable 25-27ºC each day, plus there were hardly any mosquitos.
Rooms are equipped with every baby amenity imaginable, including steriliser, changing mat and cot. Plus there’s a free kids’ club so parents can enjoy some child-free hunting in the hills directly behind the resort. The club is run by highly trained nurses and can cater for children aged 0-11 years old – I felt instantly at ease leaving my baby with the staff, and never worried about her when I was out all day hunting.
The tiny tropical island boasts a variety of quarry including majestic rusa deer, wild boar and a range of exotic winged-game species such as francolin. My primary focus was rusa. Sometimes known as ‘Java deer’, rusa were introduced to Mauritius in 1639 by the island’s Dutch colonial governor to provide meat. With no predators, rusa adapted well. Today, the population is estimated to be 60,000 mature animals.
In its native Indonesian homeland, on the remote islands of Java, Bali and Timor, rusa are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is due to habitat loss, habitat degradation and poaching. However in Mauritius the non-native species is thriving thanks to sustainable hunting, and the island is now home to around 40% of the world population. In fact, the IUCN states that rusa in Mauritius are an ‘economical problem’ owing to the damage they can cause to valuable sugar cane crops. For this reason, the rusa must be contained within fenced-off areas, by law.
Le Chasseur Mauricien has managed 4,000 hectares on the Frédérica Nature Reserve since 2003. Frenchman Lionel Berthault, who runs Le Chasseur Mauricien, explained: “One of the most important Mauritian exports is sugar, so the government made it mandatory to contain the deer to stop them eating and trampling the sugar cane, which covers a third of the island. Hunters should not be concerned by the fence, as our hunting area is vast and they will not encounter any wire. The fence exists for the good of the herd, the farmers and the island. It does not detract from the overall hunting experience at all.”
Fourteen years ago Berthault joined Nicolas Chauveau, who has now been managing the area for 26 years. Together they have created a very slick, professional outfitting business. To protect the herd of 2,500 animals from poachers and stray dogs, they employ 11 watchmen and four gamekeepers. By tirelessly exhibiting at hunting shows around the world, Le Chasseur Mauricien has helped turn Mauritius into a first-class hunting destination and they now welcome more than 1,000 hunters each year.
The island is teaming with wildlife, and we spotted numerous bizarre-looking flying foxes, colourful parakeets, and playful long-tail macaques
As a qualified professional hunter, Lionel has hunted on almost every continent with his bow and rifle. “I have experienced both good and bad hunts, so I understand what is required by hunters when they are visiting a foreign country for the first time with their family in tow. I get that spouses and children also need to be catered for. Joining forces with Heritage Resorts was a no-brainer. I don’t know of any other hunting destination that can offer visitors the same service.”
The Frédérica Nature Reserve Lodge is located atop a hill that commands breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean.
All around the lodge were grazing rusa, giving us the impression the hunt might be easy. How wrong we were. Before setting off, we were served a simple – but utterly delicious – lunch of pan-fried rusa and freshly baked bread. Cooked the traditional Mauritian way using soy and oyster sauce, the venison was tender and tasty.
The island has a population of about one million people, most of whom are Muslims, Christians or Hindus. Some do not eat beef, and others do not eat pork, but they all eat venison. For me, hunting is about harvesting organic wild meat – medal-class trophies are never my (sole) goal. That said, Lionel was keen that I cull an old gold-medal stag with 34-inch antlers as part of his management plan. Ideally he wanted an animal aged at least eight years old that had already passed on its good genes and was now past its breeding best.
The resident population are not perturbed by vehicles, but are super wily and easily spooked around humans. We drove along an unmade dirt track for around 45 minutes, which took us high up into the mountains. With my nose permanently pressed up against the truck window, the views back down to the ocean were incredible. The island is teaming with wildlife, and we spotted numerous bizarre-looking flying foxes, colourful parakeets, and playful long-tail macaques.
Lionel and I abandoned the car and set off on foot in search of our quarry. The plan was to hunt an area around a derelict 300-year-old sugar cane processing plant. First off we perused the hunting ground from a high seat. Then, without warning, torrential rain started to fall. We took shelter under a low-lying palm but just as quickly as the rain started, it finished. Ten minutes later the skies were back to cloudless azure which encouraged the rusa to graze out in the open.
For four hours we stalked along the forest edge, waded through swamps, crossed rivers and negotiated dense jungle until we eventually glassed a herd with an appropriate stag. We saw many beasts, stalked into a few, but they were never quite right. We then spotted a herd of 12 beasts, nine of which were grazing and three were twitchy and on the look-out for danger. They definitely could not see us as we were hidden in the dark forest. There was no wind either, so they could not smell us. We now needed to examine the herd to ensure the stag in question would meet the requirements of the management plan.
Suddenly, a pesky raven spotted us and alerted the herd to our presence, and the deer instantly stopped feeding and became jumpy, moving back inside the forest. My heart sank, and Lionel ushered me to move off again. We walked quickly, hunched over, trying to disguise our silhouettes, and Lionel whispered to me that he knew a shortcut over another river so that we could make up ground. I was already soaking wet and covered in mud, so one more river would not hurt. Once across, we scrambled up a steep, muddy embankment to a vantage point, and sure enough, the herd was below us, just 80m away.
Lionel directed me onto a lone stag, which was facing us. Lying prone, I used Lionel’s binoculars as a makeshift bipod to support the forend of my rifle. Two seconds later the stag turned broadside. I gently squeezed off a round. The stag hunched its front shoulders before running off – a classic double lung reaction.
Sure enough, we found the expired beast just inside the forest. I felt proud for harvesting my first rusa deer – and pleased that I had honoured the stag by shooting it cleanly. Despite what much of the media may say about sport hunting, I believe that conscientious hunters are the caretakers of this vulnerable species – and hope that they continue to flourish here.
Two of the gamekeepers met us at the purpose-built larder to butcher and process the carcase. After helping as much as I could, we then departed back to the hotel to collect my daughter from the kids’ club. The hunting ground was just two miles away, meaning that the jungle-clad hills that hold the game are only a ten-minute car journey away from the award-winning resorts and the pristine beaches. A quick shower and change later, and the three of us were in Annabella’s restaurant enjoying some local delicacies such as palm heart and venison gravlax for dinner, recounting the hunt step by step. What a day!
The next day we decided to relax and enjoy the hotel facilities as a family. Our room opened out onto an immaculate beach with calm water, there was a heated pool for the little one, and luxury massages for me and my husband in the couples’ suite at the spa. What more could an avid hunting family want from a holiday?
A two-day hunt for a representative rusa stag costs €5,500, including seven nights accommodation for two adults and two children (under 12) at Heritage Le Telfair Golf & Spa Resort on a half-board basis or at Heritage Awali Golf & Spa Resort on a full-board basis. This also includes trophy preparation, transfers, permit, rifle hire, ammunition and a small game hunt. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org; heritageresorts.mu