A true man of the bush – with a wife to match!

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PH Almayne Hughes: A true man of the bush – with a wife to match!

African Hunting Gazette: Tell us when and where were you born, and about your family.
Almayne Hughes: I was born in Klerksdorp in 1989, but grew up in Centurion (Pretoria).
My wife, Natasha, and I are high school sweethearts and met at the tender age of 16. We were together for about 8 years when I proposed to her in 2013. We got married in September of 2014 and currently we don’t have any children. We have both always had a love for the bushveld and for working with people. Together we successfully manage game farms and lodges. Our families live in Centurion, and two of my sisters moved to New Zealand about three years ago.

AHG: How did you become a PH? How did it all begin?
AH: As a young boy our family always went on holiday in the bushveld and I loved every minute of it. I love the bushveld and have a passion for wildlife. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work in the bush. However, when I finished high school I went ahead to study IT. After about a year I realized, yet again, that sitting in an office or living in the city was not something that I wanted to do. I then changed, and went on to study Game Ranch Management and did many other courses including my Field Guide courses with FGASA. When I turned 21, I went on a Professional Hunting course with the legendary David Sutherland. It was only after a family hunt on my 21st birthday that I decided to focus my energy on the hunting industry instead of working as a Game Ranger. By 2011, I was a qualified and certified Professional Hunter, and started my career as a PH and Game Farm Manager.

AHG: Which countries have you hunted and where are you hunting these days?
AH: As a professional hunter I have only been guiding and hunting with clients in South Africa, mainly in the Limpopo province. However, I have personally been very blessed to hunt all over South Africa, Mauritius, as well as in the Bubye Valley Conservancy (BVC) in Zimbabwe. The hunt in Zimbabwe was my absolute favorite and most recent, where I hunted buffalo in the majestic mountains of the BVC.

AHG: If you could return to any time or place in Africa, where would it be?
AH: This is such a great question and my wife has asked me this question numerous times.
a. I would enjoy the opportunity to see the great migration, in all its natural splendor, in the Serengeti during the early nineteenth century.
b. I would also love to return to South Africa during the late eighteenth century / early nineteenth century, to be a part of the hunter-explorers that explored the Limpopo River Valley and hunted the abundance of wild game there. I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to hunt dangerous game in this lush and wild bushveld area.

AHG: Which guns and ammo are you using to back-up on dangerous or wounded game? AH: When hunting dangerous game, I have complete faith in my Merkel .470 Nitro Express. This is a fantastic working firearm for me as a PH and has saved my arse in many dangerous situations. I currently reload my own ammunition using Perigrine bullet heads. Perigrine is a relatively new brand on the market – however they are extremely reliable. The people at Perigrine are always happy to assist with new load developments and I would suggest their product to anyone who does their own reloading. They are also a South African company – so I hope more people will support them as home-grown is best!

AHG: What are your recommendations on guns and ammo – for dangerous game and for plains game – to your hunting clients?
AH: I would strongly suggest using the largest firearm that the client is comfortable with. In my opinion you can never have “too much gun”. Secondly, I always recommend using premium ammunition. I like to say that one can ‘skimp’ on the gun and ‘skimp’ on the optics, but never skimp on ammunition.

AHG: What is your favorite animal to hunt and why?
AH: I would definitely have to say that my favorite animal to hunt is Cape buffalo. I enjoy that it is such a thrilling hunt and the reward after a difficult day of hunting buffalo is my favorite by far!

AHG: Looking back, which was your greatest trophy and why?
AH: I believe that a trophy is not necessarily the size of the horns of the animal, but that the story behind the hunt is what makes the trophy so much more special. The solid-boss buffalo bull that I recently hunted in BVC, in Zimbabwe, is my greatest trophy and story thus far. The hunt was difficult and strenuous, but so rewarding. It was also my first time hunting in the BVC (Bubye Valley Conservancy) and this is, in my opinion, one of the greatest conservancies that I have ever had the pleasure of hunting in. Furthermore, we hunted with Pete Fick as our guide and PH, and just spending time with him and listening to his great stories made this an unforgettable trip overall.

AHG: What was your closest brush with death? And looking back: Anything you should have done differently?
AH: While hunting plains game with a client, here in Limpopo, the client wounded a warthog. As we tracked the blood-trail into a dry riverbed, something felt very eerie about the situation. I instructed the client to rather head back and wait at the hunting vehicle, while I continued to follow the wounded warthog. As I came into the thickets surrounding the dried-up river bed, I was faced by a massive buffalo bull. This buffalo was just a few metres away from me. As I started to backtrack, to get out of there, the buffalo started charging. Luckily the sand slowed him down a bit, as I turned and ran back to the hunting vehicle. The buffalo bull chased me all the way to the vehicle, where he stopped the charge and turned away. If I could do things differently, I would have walked into that riverbed with my .470 Nitro Express, instead of my .30-06.

AHG: How has the hunting industry changed over the years? And the hunting clients themselves?
AH: I have found that the hunting outfitters have changed quite a lot over the years. It seems that some outfitters and PHs are more focused on the quantity of hunts that they book throughout a year, instead of quality. Some of these outfitters try to make sure that they book as many hunts as possible for the season, but then they don’t focus on offering their clients a good quality hunt and an original African hunting experience. Due to this, a lot of clients have become wary of new offers and outfitters, as there are so many “fly-by-night” outfitters out there, that have given clients some horrible experiences.

AHG: Which qualities go into making a successful PH and or a successful hunting company?
AH: There are many essential qualities to becoming a great or successful PH. Respect and passion for the wildlife; to be a “people’s person” as you have to work with many people from all walks of life; good social skills to entertain your guests, and determination as not all clients are going to be easy to work with and not all hunts will go down smoothly. But I would say the most important is to focus on ethical hunting practices and to not operate in any “grey areas”.

AHG: Which qualities go into making a good safari client?
AH: Importantly, a hunting client should be a good shot and have faith in their shooting ability and be an open-minded person. General good health and fitness is important as the bushveld terrain in South Africa can be difficult for some clients. Lastly, listen and trust your PH, as he is trying to give you a great hunting experience while doing his best to keep you out of dangerous situations.

AHG: If you should suggest one thing to your hunting clients to improve their experience of their safari, what would it be?
AH: First, I would suggest that they spend enough time practicing with their firearms, before coming to hunt in Africa. Spending a good amount of time on the shooting range and getting to know your firearm is very important. Secondly, I would say that the client that comes on safari with no expectations of specific horn lengths, will always walk away as a happy client. While I would always do my best to try and get the best trophies for my client, I believe that the story behind that hunt is what makes the hunt memorable.

AHG: Based on your recent experience in the field, do you think that any species should be upgraded to Appendix I or downgraded to Appendix II or closed all together?
AH: This is a difficult question to answer since I can really only refer to the area that I work and hunt in. Here in the Limpopo River valley, I can see a very healthy population of hippo and crocodile, and I would like to be able to hunt in the Limpopo River again. No permits are currently being issued for hippo or crocodile hunting in the Limpopo River. There is nothing else that I would upgrade to Appendix I or downgrade to Appendix II.

AHG: What can the hunting industry do to contribute to the long-term conservation of Africa’s wildlife?
AH: I always say that hunting is conservation and conservation is hunting. With this statement, I mean that hunting really is the largest contributor to conservation. Without hunting and private game farms, I think many species would be endangered. We would not have the quality of gene pool, that we currently have available. For example, there is a better quality of species available in private game farms, than in any national park in our country.

AHG: Ask your wife, if she could do it all over again, would she still? And what is her advice to future wives of PHs?
Natasha Hughes: I fell in love with Almayne when I was just a young teenager. I always knew that whatever he decided to do or wherever he decided to go, I would follow him and support his decisions. Being an independent woman came naturally to me, but it is also very important to trust your partner in their decisions and to support them in new endeavors. When Almayne was a freelance PH, it was difficult at times, as he would be away from home for weeks on end, for seven or eight months of the year. When I finished my diploma in Lodge Management, we decided to start working together in the bushveld. Working together is easy for us, as we are such great partners in business and in life. We both have a passion for the bushveld, for wildlife and to work with people. If I could do it all over again I would not change a thing. Everything works out as it should, and even difficult or bad times are necessary in our lives, so that we will appreciate the good things and great times even more.
The advice I have for future wives of PHs is to trust their partner. Be a supportive partner to them and treat each other as equals. Never forget who you are or give up your hobbies and interests. Stay true to yourself, but most importantly stay true to each other.

AHG: Anyone you want to say thanks to? Or to GTH (Go to Hell)?
AH: While there are many people that have let me down or disappointed me over the years, I cannot exactly say ‘go to hell’ to anyone in an article like this. 😊 I would, however, like to thank my family, especially my wife, for standing by me from my ‘start up’ days of being a rookie PH, spending so much time away from home and for supporting me through all the decisions that I have made for myself and for us. Thank you for believing in me and helping me to become the man I am today, in my career as PH and in my personal life. I would not have been able to achieve many of the things I have, if it were not for her by my side. It is true what they say: “A man’s success has a lot to do with the kind of woman that he has in his life.”

AHG: Any Last Words of Wisdom?
AH: Throughout the years, I have met many aspiring PHs and the one piece of advice that I always give them is: Just keep your nose clean. Stay out of trouble! In this industry your reputation will precede you, so make sure you have a good reputation and uphold this. Don’t get involved in illegal practices as this type of behavior will get you in trouble sooner or later. You will have to start at the bottom, but pay your dues, put in the work and the hours, and it will all pay off in the end.