There are a whole bunch of conversation pieces in Don Eichman’s house that could have killed him or, at the very least, left him gored, bloody and possibly smashed to a pulp on some African savannah.
There’s a baboon mounted by the fireplace in his living room, something with long, straight horns called a gemsbok peering out above it and two warthogs with ugly mugs and formidable tusks the size of a banana on an opposite wall.
Somehow, you could walk right past the massive giraffe neck and head that rises up into his foyer behind his front door.
“If this thing hooks you under your leg and your calf, you’re done,” Eichman, 50, said, his hand on one of the warthog tusks.
There’s a whole wall of antlered animals from North America in his living room too, massive bull elk from the Rockies that look as big as horses, mule and whitetail deer, coyote pelts, and the caribou he hunted up in the tundra by the Arctic Circle. He went to New Zealand last summer, hunting up at 14,000 feet, and he plans to head to Alaska to hunt moose in September, even though he clearly doesn’t have room for one in the living room.
“I’ve got like four or five more animals and I don’t know where the hell I’m going to put them,“ he said with a laugh.
Eichman, of Havertown, Delaware County, grew up in Radnor in an “outdoorsy” family that spent their free time camping, hiking, and traveling, often to American treasures like Yellowstone National Park. In 1974, Eichman’s father, Frank, bought a 100-acre farm in Sullivan County, Pennsylvania in 1974 and grew Christmas trees there and also began to hunt and trap in earnest.
“It was always just a place to have a good time,” he said of the farm.
All that time outdoors with family gave Eichman a passion for hunting that’s clearly grown beyond the usual duck, deer or turkey hunting that’s so popular in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“I’ve been to Montana every year since 1976,” he said. “I just love it there, really fell in love with that part of the country.”
Eichman, motioning to the tens of thousands of dollars worth of taxidermy in his living room, said he didn’t get involved in “this” type of hunting until he was about 30. That’s around the time he joined an organization called Safari Club International, a group that aims to protects the rights of hunters while also working to conserve wildlife. Through the club, which was formed in 1972 in California, he’s been able to hunt all over the world.
“There’s 55,000 members,” he said. “There’s chapters in every state, including Puerto Rico and all over the world.”
Wildlife conservation and hunting may seem like an unlikely pair, but Eichman said it’s one of the biggest misnomers about the lifestyle.
“You can’t have the animals, healthy, without practicing good management. You saw what America did with the buffalo,” he said.
Eichman’s been married to his wife, Charlene, who works as a real estate agent, for the last 23 years and together they have two children, a son, Connor, who is 21 and daughter, Kennan, who is 19. They both attend West Chester University but only Connor hunts.
“He shot a few things in this room,” Eichman said. Charlene, he said, is a “saint.” She doesn’t love the taxidermy, but he hasn’t gotten any ultimatums either.
“She lets me do what I love to do. It’s my passion, my hobby,” he said. “She’s been with me on many trips to Africa, Montana and Arizona. She travels with me when she can.”
When Eichman’s not hunting, he works at Alcom Printing Group in Harleysville, Montgomery County as the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. After graduating from West Chester East High School, he attended Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated from the school in 1987 with a degree in print management and science.
“Believe it or not, there is such a degree,” he said.
Eichman got into the printing business in 1983 and joined Alcom in 1987. He’s been on the board of directors there since 1998. His father started the company with a group of partners in 1965 and he served as a former president and board member there. He retired in 1997.
Now Frank Eichman accompanies his son on many trips and he serves as the camp cook.
“He keeps us in line and tells a lot of jokes,” he said.
There are plenty of ways to hunt an animal. There are shotguns, pistols, crossbows, rifles you can fire from a mile away and even packs of dogs, but Eichman only uses one, a bow-and-arrow. Eichman uses a powerful, compound bow and arrow, but it still means he has to get very close to his prey and he feels it’s the purest form, one where the animal has an advantage over him.
If he sneezes or steps on a dry twig, they take off. If they see him first and charge, he could be in trouble.
“Oh yeah, you’ve got to get really close. It takes a long time. Everything in this room was taken at 50 yards or less. It’s a stalking game,” he said. “You want to have one shot to kill the animal. You never want to maim the animal. That’s one of the cardinal rules hunters live by. You don’t take a shot if you don’t have it.”
It seems almost impossible that an arrow alone could have taken down the giraffe in his foyer, but Eichman said they have one weak spot on their throat, and he was dead-on. The giraffe was killed in northern South Africa near Botswana and Eichman was allowed to hunt it because was going to be euthanized because it had killed two smaller giraffes.
The park ranger gave him one day to do it.
“You have to shoot them right here,” he said, pointing to an area at the base of its neck. “The skin there is only about an inch thick. You have to shoot him there or you can’t shoot him. I actually shot him at 32 yards, right in that area. He expired about three hours later.”
There’s more big game on Eichman’s bucket list and he’s starting with the moose in Alaska. He also hopes to hunt Nile crocodiles, hippo, and Cape buffalo in Africa, all considered some of the most dangerous animals on the continent.
“I’ve never had any desire to hunt an elephant,” he said.
Eichman’s never hunted a lion with a bow, though it is done, usually with a guide who has a rifle for protection. Look up the “Lion attacks safari hunter” on YouTube and you’ll see why.
“My buddy shot one from here to the couch. A male lion, a big male lion,” Eichman said.
Eichman’s rarely been skunked, but failed to bag a mountain lion on two separate trips.
“They’re tough,” he said. “You have to hunt them in the winter so there’s snow, tracking, dogs and it’s tough to get them up in the tree. It’s hard to get a good, clean, ethical shot.”
Hunting caribou near the Arctic Circle in 2010 was one of his most memorable hunts, he said, despite millions of mosquitoes and biting gnats. His sister and father were there.
“You are literally in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “They drop you off and come back in five days to get you. If anything happens to you, like a broken foot, you’re on your own.”
Eichman estimates that he spends about one month out of the year total out in the wilderness, tracking his prey and exploring parts of the world he could only dream about as a kid.
“It’s not about the kill,” he said. “It’s about this country and how beautiful it is and how amazing the rest of the world is too.”