The Republic of Mauritius is an island country off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. It lies 500 miles east of Madagascar and encompasses roughly 780 square miles, about the size of the State of Rhode Island. A volcanic island rimmed by coral reefs, it features a central plateau surrounded by mountains. Rusa deer were introduced to Mauritius from Java, Indonesia, in 1639 by its Dutch colonial governor. Rusa adapted well to Mauritius and today number in the thousands. For the past two years, an operator from France has been quietly offering hunts for these deer to Europeans, who also come for the white-sand beaches, first-class resorts and marlin fishing.
The operator is Lionel Berthault, and his hunting company is called Le Chasseur Mauricien, which means, the Mauritian hunter. Berthault is a young man in his 30s, but has hunted since a teenager and has extensive experience in wildlife and habitat management in France and other countries. After hunting in 20 different destinations, he fell in love with Mauritius and moved there about five years ago. Since then, he has managed to secure access to more than 12,000 acres that sustain a large population of deer. In his short time in operation, he has managed to host 150 guests and taken 35 gold medal stags each year during classic spot-and-stalk hunts and another 30 on deer drives he operates for two Mauritian hunt clubs.
The majority of the rusa deer are found in the southern side of the island and in the mountains. Berthault conducts his hunts in the Bel Ombre area over old sugar cane fields that have been left fallow and are now overgrown with grass. The deer live in the thick surrounding jungle and come into the fields in the afternoons to feed and breed. The terrain is hilly, and some is quite steep. Berthault can make the hunt as physically demanding as a client wants, with lots of hard hiking and climbing to spot and stalk deer. He knows the areas frequented by the deer and puts hunters in place to glass for good stags. The cover is thick, but allows hunters to stalk within 200 to 100 yards for a shot. For hunters who cannot hike, Berthault has elevated blinds, called miradors, set on established trails and fields. During the roar, stags come into the fields to chase hinds, so getting on a good stag in the 28- to 34-inch range is not very difficult. Exceptional stags up to 38 inches have been taken by hunters who put in the extra time and effort to hunt them. The surrounding jungle on Mauritius is definitely a different environment than what you would find on New Caledonia, where most free-range rusa deer hunting has been conducted. The tropical forests of Mauritius are full of fruit trees and monkeys, plus huge fruit bats with wingspans up to four feet.
Berhault also conducts cull/management hunts on some different properties to keep the deer populations under control. On these hunts a number of pushers and dogs drive the deer to the hunters waiting in miradors. There is a strict quota set for these driven hunts. Depending on the population and what Berthault needs to cull, the quota could be limited to yearlings or does. As the deer emerge, hunters must quickly evaluate the deer and make a good shot. Shooting an animal that is not on the quota, such as a trophy stag, incurs a fine and the disdain of the other hunters. Mauritian hunters highly respect quotas and hunting rules and expect tourist hunters to do so as well. These hunts are social occasions, with all the hunters meeting for coffee and croissants in the morning before heading out to their assigned stands. After the hunt, they head back to the lodge for lunch and to exchange stories about the day’s events.
Since tourism is one of the island’s primary industries, Mauritius is a perfect destination to take a non-hunting spouse and family. The island nation has an excellent infrastructure with state-of-the-art communications, such as high-speed internet service, in addition to beautiful white-sand beaches overlooking the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. Various five star hotels on the beach offer VIP services that include spa treatments, golf, diving and other water sports, plus deep sea fishing. There’s also shopping and gourmet dining. The cuisine in Mauritius reflects several influences, including Indian and French. Fresh local fish is always on the menu, but so is curry, pasta, red meat and fresh salads. Because most of the hunting takes place in the afternoons, hunters are free to spend the early day with their spouses and families before going hunting and return in time for dinner.
Berthault offers an all-inclusive package for €5,000 ($7,325 at press time) that covers seven nights for one hunter and one non-hunter at the five-star. That includes two days of hunting and the trophy fees on a gold medal stag measuring up to 34 inches. Berthault guides all of his clients personally, and takes only one party at a time, giving each client sole access to his complete hunt area for the length of the hunt. He takes a limited number of hunters based on his deer management goals, and he books up quickly with Europeans hunters. Advance planning is a must.
The best time to hunt in Mauritius is June through mid-December. The roar starts in July and runs through the end of August. Driven hunts are conducted from June through the end of September, which are the winter months there. Although it’s warm during the day, you’ll want a light jacket for the early mornings and evenings when the temperature is about 70° Fahrenheit.
In addition to Javan rusa deer, there’s also wild boar hunting and small game hunting for gray partridge, pheasant, guinea fowl and hares. The boar, called wild brown pig locally, are quite populous. They are hunted around the sugar cane fields and average 40 to 80 kilos, although some truly large boars are taken occasionally. Berthault has combined everything Mauritius has to offer a sportsman into what he calls the Mauritius Challenge. This one-day challenge involves taking a rusa stag in the morning, catching a marlin in the afternoon and killing a wild boar that same evening. He describes the experience as an unabashed testosterone-ride for the caveman in you. While the best season for marlin fishing is December through March, there is still the possibility of catching a fish over 100 pounds during the hunting season. Berthault says marlin more than 1,000 pounds have been caught in the blue waters around Mauritius.
Mauritius has strict gun laws with a zero tolerance for mistakes, so Berthault provides firearms and ammunition for his clients. He has a number of rifles in 30.06. .308 and .243, and he equips them with Schmidt and Bender, Leopold, Burris or Zeiss scopes.
The official language of Mauritius is English, but outside of the capitol of Port Louis, most people speak French since Mauritius became a French colony in 1715 and remained so until 1810 when the British captured it during the Napoleonic wars. Getting to Mauritius is not difficult, as Air Mauritius operates over 30 weekly flights to and from all European major cities, including 15 combined flights with Air France to and from Paris. British Airways operates several weekly flights from Johannesburg, South Africa. Emirates Airlines has three flights and Condor offers one.
For more information on hunting in Mauritius, contact Berthault.