On a hot August day Rodney Eschberger was unloading feed at his Anderson County farm when he began to feel chest pains.
En route to his Noonday-area home and the hospital in Tyler he took seven children's aspirin hoping to mitigate any damage. Although he had a clogged artery and suffered a heart attack, Eschberger survived.
Weighing 300 pounds at the time, his doctor set a goal for him of losing 50 pounds over a two-year period to improve his long-term health.
The owner of Noonday Gun Trader and Eschberger Plumbing, Eschberger had his own goal for better health. Be ready for deer season.
"That was my goal. I have my farm in good shape. I have the green fields planted. I wanted to go hunting, but not be taken hunting if you know what I mean," he said.
Two months and two days after rushing to the hospital Eschberger took his first step back into the woods, hunting with friend Stan Smith on a ranch Smith manages in Erath County. It wasn't exactly taking himself hunting, but it was a start and one that met with the approval of his family who was concerned he was returning to soon.
"I told my doctor before I left the hospital I would be down to 260 before opening day. I was at 257. I had already lost 43 pounds," Eschberger said.
The two have hunted together for 14 years and Eschberger knew he would be in good hands with Smith, but he needed to prove to himself he could still hunt. That is what pushed him to do the rehab work, improve his diet and even walk laps around the parking lot at his shop when their wasn't customers around.
"I worked hard for the last 60 days. Every day on the treadmill I was thinking ‘I can do this, I can do this,'" he said.
Besides, he had already pushed the window beyond what his doctors had suggested. Instead of resting after the heart attack, he took three business days and two other days off before returning to the office. He quickly realized that was too soon. He wasn't sure until about the hunting until he started to walk to the blind the first morning.
"Stan said he could drive us over there, but I said I could walk," he recalled.
That first morning the two glassed a dozen deer, and Eschberger passed on a 10-point deemed too young. That afternoon they returned to the same blind and saw the same deer.
The next morning they spotted a doe come out of the woods being trailed by a buck. This buck, however, wasn't a young 10 or just another deer.
Knowing what buck fever is like, Eschberger was a little concerned whether he was up for the test. When it raised its head and he could see it was a non-typical 22-pointer with tines going every which way the stress test really started.
"My heart went to racing like it did on the first deer I ever killed. I could hear my heart in both ears," he said.
With the adrenalin pumping, Eschberger rightfully took a minutes to calm himself and get a better rest. He closed his eyes and told himself to "breath right, breath right."
Not knowing Eschberger had closed his eyes for a second, Smith was telling him to wait until the buck turned broadside.
"Just as I opened my eyes (the deer was turned). Stan was counting 1, 2 and was mumbling something, but before he could say shoot, I pulled the trigger," Eschberger said.
Shooting a .257 Weatherby magnum he dropped the deer 130 yards from the blind. Excited, Smith suggested they go right to the deer.
"I told him ‘why don't you pour us another cup of coffee. I need my heart to settle down,'" Eschberger said. It was a good plan, considered the buck was eventually scored at 179 7/8.
On a morning when the air seemed to smell fresher and the sun rose brighter, Eschberger knew he was back.
"You don't know how good it is when you think something is gone from your live," he said. "I liked (deer hunting) before. Now I want it even more."
Eschberger plans to spend much of the remaining season hunting his farm. While he may think he is ready to go it alone, he may not get the chance. His wife, Julie, and daughter, Jennifer, have decided to take up hunting this year.
But Eschberger isn't through with the treadmill or goals to keep him on it.
"My next goal, I am going to Colorado next hunting season. I didn't want to go this season because it was too close, but I am going next year," he said.
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