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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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14-Year-Old Archer Conquers Buck Fever

At 14, Justin Opsal knows about buck fever.

He knows that’s what makes his stepdad’s hands shake when he’s aiming an arrow at a buck.

And Opsal knows that on the December afternoon when he aimed a 30-yard shot at a big four-point buck, it wasn’t his hands that were shaking. It was his heart that was pounding.

The buck shot by the Evergreen Junior High seventh-grader was worth some heart-pounding, too.

Its antlers will qualify for the Pope and Young record book.

Antlers and head are being mounted by taxidermist Dale Moffat.

It’s the particularly long eye guards - the first tine of the antlers - the evenness and length of the other tines that make this buck special.

The antlers will be measured for the record book at the Big Horn Sports and Recreation Show at the Spokane Interstate Fairgrounds, March 19-22.

Snapshots of Opsal with the buck show him looking every inch the young archery hunter. Hunkered down in six inches of snow with his buck and his bow, he’s wearing camouflage gear and a look somewhere between excitement, exhaustion and dawning wisdom.

But pictures don’t tell the whole story.

Opsal started hunting when he was 11. His first season, he hunted with a rifle. After that year, following the lead of his stepdad, Steve Garr, he switched to bow and arrow.

“You have to be more patient. You have to let the deer come in closer,” Opsal said.

The family lives off Linke Road, where the combination of woods and open fields in the southern hills lure both deer and, in increasing numbers, families wanting to get away from it all.

Still, deer venture onto the family’s 20 acres almost every day.

Opsal and his family had seen the four-point buck last year, maybe even the year before when it was a three-point.

“We even found its drop antlers from the year before,” said Kim Garr, Justin’s mother.

It was one afternoon early in December when Opsal shot the buck. The archery season was soon to close, and Opsal was increasingly impatient for a chance to get his deer. Just that morning, he’d begged his mother for permission to shoot a doe in their field. She said no.

Opsal came home from school and, still wearing his school clothes, grabbed his sled. Then he saw the buck with a doe, headed onto their property.

Switching the sled for his bow, he made his way to a fort that serves as a blind.

Opsal tells the story of his hunt with polish and detail.

Snow on the floor of the fort crunched under Opsal’s boots. The buck was wary at the noise. Although Opsal had been practicing shooting at 20 yards, he knew he wasn’t going to get a better chance than the 30-yard distance.

“I aimed my best,” Opsal said. After he shot, the buck took four big leaps, then ran to the end of the field and disappeared into the woods.

The tracking, with both Opsal and his stepdad, lasted long into the evening. It wasn’t until the next morning - while a disappointed, tired Opsal was at school - that Steve Garr found the buck.

Opsal, who was in no state to concentrate on school, headed home, put on his camouflage gear and went to load up that buck.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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