Mike North: Training camp for the rusty deer hunter

I don't know how I made it another year, but I did.

Deer season 2011 is finally rolling around, and like many other coastal California hunters, I've been spending the past week gearing up and getting ready.

My hunting buddies and I set up our deer camp Saturday, and I started thinking about all the prep work I do every year that's become a routine before each hunting season.

There are five main components of my routine that help me break the cabin fever and get back into my hunting rhythm.

Clean and sight in guns

This is perhaps one of the most important elements of a successful hunting season. I clean my firearms once a year to get rid of rust spots and make sure my bore is free of particle buildup.

My guns are usually on-target, but it gives me a reassuring feeling to know that my scope didn't somehow get knocked off-target in the past year.

Many moons ago, one of my hunting partners got out of the routine of sighting in his rifle.

During our group's annual trip to the Sierra Nevada, he missed five bucks -- two of them four-pointers -- because his gun was shooting six feet to the right.

To this day, that life-long hunter, who shall remain anonymous, has never harvested a four-point buck.

A little quality time with your gun can prevent that kind of travesty -- just remember that after cleaning a rifle, it needs to be sighted in again before it can be effective on a hunt. A clean bore will change the flight path of the bullets. Also, keep in mind that the first two shots with a clean bore will usually be fliers and won't hit anywhere near the others.

Practice pulling down

A crucial part of the hunt is being fast with your rifle, which can be hard to do after not handling it for months at a time.

A good way to fix this is by pulling-down on objects at home.

Whether it be a doorknob, painting on the wall or a mounted deer head, see how fast you can bring the gun to your shoulder and have the crosshairs lined up where you'd want to hit your target.

Running through this drill several times can knock some of the cobwebs off and will come in useful when that big buck pops up in front of you without warning.

Two disclaimers about this drill -- make sure your rifle is unloaded, and don't practice drawing down on the neighbor's dog or cat ... some folks just don't understand the importance of pre-season warm ups.

Wash away scent

I'm not sure how well scent-killing formulas work, but I use them. At the very least, I feel stealthier in the woods by using it.

After a couple days of hunting, I'm sure I can be smelled by any living creature within a two-mile radius, so scent-killer might not be a game changer when I go hunting, but it's just as expensive as regular detergent, so it can't hurt.

However, one trick I've learned over the last couple years is buying a new hat before each hunting season.

I used to constantly wear the same beaten-up, sweaty ball cap every year, until I realized how much smell can emanate from a dirty hat.

Lately, I've been buying $3 dollar camouflage hats at Wal-Mart -- they fit well and the reduction in odor has allowed me to get closer looks at a lot more deer.

Rake commonly-used trails

This should always be done before the season starts to avoid scaring away any local deer.

On the ranch my group hunts, there are several good spots to find deer, but trying to walk through crunchy leaves and downed limbs leave me looking like Indiana Jones going after a booby-trapped relic rather than an outdoorsman tracking down a deer.

Last weekend, my hunting partner and I decided to rake the trail that leads to the spot where I got bucks the last two seasons. We saw a jaw-dropping three-point buck in the process, but that's the risk we took.

The buck ran off, and I'm hoping he'll be back next weekend for opening day.

Watch 'Jeremiah Johnson'

The story of a man who, soured by civilization, takes to the mountains to become a hunter and trapper is a tale that'll make anyone want to take to the hills.

It always gets me in the mood for a hunt.

The 1972 movie is based on Liver-eating Johnson, an early west pioneer who is fabled for killing his enemies and eating their livers.

Sydney Pollack's version is a little more benign, but still thrilling no matter how many times I watch it.

Fighting with bears, Indians and Mother Nature in the Rocky Mountains is a repeating theme in Jeremiah Johnson, and is a must watch for anyone, outdoorsman or city-slicker.

Though the events took place in the 1800s, some folks say he's up there still.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsun-star.com.