My friend Nimrod says he isn't going to get his deer this year, because there's too much luck involved. All the signs are good, and that has to be bad.

Nimrod lives in the suburbs and depends upon the kindness of friends and friends of friends for a place to hunt. Usually, as the season approaches, he is all asweat, waiting to be invited. In this area there are of course many thousands of acres of public and semi-public lands open to deer hunting, but he has been mistaken for a deer too many times (once) to ever try that again.

It is a delicate business, this. Some people, having invited a hunter once, expect him to come again unless told not to; others are offended by nothing so much as the guy who thinks one-time permission means lifetime privileges. Nimrod is forever misperceiving which is whom, and seldom is assured of a place to hunt until the eve of opening day.

That's not his problem this year. When I bumped into him at lunch last week he was scribbling listlessly on the back of a Virginia games law summary. "All ready for the season?" I said, wondering why he hadn't called to ask me to help him find a place to hunt.

"Something is weird ths year," he said.

"Struck out everywhere?"

"No. Just the opposite. Ever since August people have been inviting me to hunt on them. Even guys who have never hunted have asked me to come out and show them how. If I accepted every invitation I'd be out after deer every day from the middle of November to January, in five states."

"That's the kind of problem I'd like to have. Sounds like you'll have venison coming out your ears."

"There has got to be something wrong. Mother Nature is setting me up."

"Tell me about it."

"Well, in Virginia I'm invited to an estate in Fauquier County where they don't have to mow the lawn because the deer keep it cropped.Belongs to a friends of a fellow at the office who hasn't touched a gun since he was a Marine in Korea. Wants me to be his guide. Acts grateful. Two-deer limit.

"Then I got drawn in the lottery for permits to hunt the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, where they have those little Sika deer that taste like Kobe beef and breed like rabbits. Drew the best area, and the week I wanted. Three-deer limit, can be all does. Best hunting in Virginia, and rangers patrolling to make sure nobody trespasses."

I snitched one of his rolls. "Is that all?"

"No. There were two other Virginia invitations, but I passed. It felt strange.

"Then a neighbor took me out to a 200-acre farm he's just bought in Southern Maryland. We went for firewood, but we kept coming across deer trails so old and busy they were two feet wide and a foot deep. Got to come help him hunt it, he says. Two-deer limit, either sex. The adjoining landowner, 600 acres, says he can put us in places where you can predict deer with a watch. Fat as butterballs, he said, from eating his crops all summer."

"I'm not sure I understand your problem."

"Well, there's this guy I used to work with who has a friend who owns a mountain in Pennsylvania. Surrounded by a state park where no hunting is allowed. Got a terrible problem with deer, this friend does, and wants to know could we come up and help him out. He doesn't hunt any more, but says if somebody doesn't shoot some they all will starve, the browse is so eaten out. Says we can stay in his cabin, but keep the windows closed or the deer will come in and eat all the groceries and then crawl into bed with us."

"You're breaking my heart," I said, starting on his Jell-O. "I have to get back to the office, so could you explain what the problem is?"

"I haven't even told you about the place in West Virginia where the bears chase the deer up onto the porch. Or the orchard in North Carolina whose owner has an open-ended deer-control permit because the deer are tearing up his trees."

"It sounds to me like you've got what Andy Beyer calls a mortal lock," I said, finishing his beer. "And last week you were complaining that you had so much vacation time accumulated they told you to use it or lose it."

"That's why I'm not going to get a deer."

"With all the time in the world and so much great get ground, how can you miss?"

"Because the only time I ever get anything when I go hunting is when I don't think I will. All these people are telling me how their land is crawling with deer, and I'll go out expecting to have to beat them off with a stick. The first opening day I'll be out before first light and then by sunup I'll get impatient and start moving around and I'll never see a thing. Then I'll get bored and sit down and go to sleep and freeze half to death and pretty soon it will develop into pneumonia, which will last until about the second week in January, after all the seasons have closed."

He disengaged my fingers from his coffee cup and took a sip. "The rest of the month will be spent explaining to people what happened to the venison I promised them."

"You did that too?"

"Yeah. The office has already laid on a game dinner, with me supplying the venison. And my wife went and bought a new freezer after I told her there was no way I could miss bringing home about a dozen deer."

"Sounds like you've pretty well boxed yourself in," I said. "What are you going to do about it?"

"Same thing I've been doing since all these people started inviting me to hunt on them," he said. "Keep hoping I'll wake up."