Thinking about deer hunting in Maryland or Virginia this year? You couldn't have picked a better time.

Herds in both states are thriving, deer being among the few wild animals that are smart enough and versatile enough to adust to encroaching civilization. It was not ever thus.

In 1931, according to a reputable survey at the time, the deer population in Virginia was an estimated 25,000 and dwindling. Conservationists and sportsmen in the Old Dominion saw the end of a valuable resource in sight and took steps to stem the tide.From the late 1920s to about 1950, deer were stocked in Virginia and tighter conservation measures were devised. At the start of hunting season last year the herd had mushroomed to an estimated 379,880 animals.

In Maryland, hunters are already afield this year for archery season, which began Sept. 21. They are pursuing a breed that was practically extinct just after the turn of the century.

Deer season was closed for about two decades in the early 1900s. It reopened in a small part of western Maryland in 1929, according to Robert Miller, state wildlife program manager. There wasn't even a remnant of a herd in eastern parts of the state at that time, he said.

In the mid-1930s a small number of out-of-state whitetails was stocked at Aberdeen Proving Grounds north of Baltimore. That herd grew to the point the animals were becoming a nuisance. Miller said, and after World War II the state began trapping the deer and setting them free around the state. About 2,000 deer were transplanted in that fashion.

Today the Maryland herd that developed from that effort is estimated very roughly at 60,000 to 80,000, including 3,000 to 5,000 Sika deer, smaller Asian animals that are concentrated in Dorchester County. The Sika deer grew from an original imported herd of four or five animals, Miller said.

No one really knows how many deer are taken by hunters every year because there is a perennial poaching problem. But there are figures on the legal "harvest." Last year Virginia hunters reported 63,671 deer killed by some 300,000 licensed hunters. That works out to a success rate of about 20 per cent in the Old Dominion, meaning that about one out of five hunters actually bagged deer.

The success rate is equated on licenses, not hunting days. It does not mean that if you hunt in Virginia for five days you should get a deer. Plenty of unsuccessful hunters hunted five days or more.

The success rate in Maryland was much lower, about 10 or 12 per cent, according to Miller. The total firearms kill there was 9,170 deer last year, and another 695 fell to archers. In addition, some 1,500 animals were killed on military bases.

In both states, hunters need a big game license in addition to the standard state hunting license if they want to stalk deer. A state license in Maryland is $8 for residents and the big game license is an additional $5.50. Out-of-staters pay $30.50 plus $5.50. In Virginia the rates are $5 and $5 for residents and $20 for nonresidents.

Hot spots? Miller said the best deer hunting in Maryland is either in the westernmost, mountainous counties or on the Eastern Shore. He picks Kent County as the best spot - "there's big deer and a lot of deer" - but most of the land there is private, so it's hard to get a site.

Jack Gwynn, game biologist supervisor for the Virginia Game Commission, said he doesn't get into "guiding hunters to the deer," but he did offer information on the 10 highest harvest areas per square mile of forested land.

The figures are for antlered deer and they run this way: Powhatan County, 4.31 per square mile; Cumberland, 3.76; Charles City, 3.74; Fluvanna, 3.64; Clark, 3.55; York, 3.51; Southampton, 3.51; Amelia, 3.44; Bath, 3.40; Lancaster, 3.38.

In both states daily and yearly limits, seasons and regulations on antlerless deer permits vary by county. Complete rules are provided in a handbook issued with each hunting license.