If you're an avid deer hunter like me, you're probably already getting anxious for the season to start.
Though opening day for coastal hunting grounds doesn't come until August, it's never too early to start scouting deer.
One small problem -- this time of year, it's hard to tell a trophy buck from an immature one since their horns are still coming in.
Most blacktail deer near the Central Valley shed their horns around February. The date can vary for various types of deer, but the common rule is they're dropped when spring time is near and mating season is over.
Over the past couple weeks, I've seen a few bucks around my hunting areas and most of them are showing about 6-inch tall horns covered in velvet.
While quite a bit can change in the bucks' behavior from now until hunting season, it's never too early to get an idea of the spots the deer are gravitating toward.
Several factors can change from season to season, resulting in movements of deer populations. Mountain lions will come and go, water holes can dry up and food supplies vary. The deer will respond accordingly.
Taking an early peek at where the bucks are might give insight as to whether it's going to be an abundant year, or if it might be a season to shoot your meat-buck early if presented with the opportunity.
Something else to keep in mind is how scouting deer close to the season can jeopardize your chances of keeping that big buck in your area. One look at a human can send him off to another section of land where you'll never see him again, whereas a deer spotting a person in late winter or early spring would be a little less likely to spook them.
I'm a strong believer that deer know when hunting season is about to open and about to close. They're smarter than most people think and are able to pattern hunters and their behaviors.
A human sighting close to the season can be the only cue they need to move out, but if you consider keeping your curiosity limited to well before the season opens, it may improve your chances.
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.