Maybe people are spending more time reading about their sport because they can't afford the gas and gear to go out and do it anymore. Whatever, a flood of outdoor books has hit the market in the last year, and some would make fine Christmas gifts for the outdoors person in the family.

The book that people who like to read for reading's sake are most likely to cherish is John Madson's OUT HOME, published by Winchester Press. It's a collection of some of Madson's best short stories and articles that have appeared in Audubon, Gray's Sporting Journal and other magazines. They range from 500 words to 20 pages.

Madson is a genius at bringing to graphic life the world of the prairies, swamps, forests and mountaintops and the creatures that inhabit these wild places. His primary theme is man's attempt to enter that world and become a part of it, mainly through hunting. The temptation to quote from Out Home is fierce, but space forbids all but two: "Hunting is a timeless effort to close that magic circle of man, wilderness and animal . . . "Geese are not smart. They're just smarter than most hunters."

This 203-page, $10 book holds treasures for hunter and non-hunter alike -- but not for the anti-hunter.

Aside from the split-cane fly rod, no piece of sporting equipment carries quite the prestige and mystique of a fine double-barrel shotgun. Anyone who does more than a smidgen of shooting knows that these are the most graceful-looking, smoothest-handling, best-balanced and most pleasurable to use of all the shotguns. Too, the finest doubles are hand-crafted and embellished with detailed works of engraving art.

Don Zutz is a double fanatic, and he's written a book on this infatuation that all similarly possessed souls will want. Called THE DOUBLE SHOTGUN, this $13.95 Winchester Press book opens by dicussing the theories of wingshooting, then details the advantages of double shotguns and how they work. wThen Zutz turns to the guns themselves and names in sporting arms that ring with history and class -- Holland and Holland, Parker, Winchester, Verney-Carron, Purdey, Churchill, Granger and more. A thorough index and ample black-and-white photos make this a fine book for anyone interested in double-barrel shotguns.

In a more practical vein, THE WHITETAIL DEER HUNTER'S HANDBOOK by John Weiss is an excellent choice for anyone who joins the 4 million other hunters pursuing our No. 1 big-game animal each fall and winter. Weiss, who lives in Ohio, has hunted whitetails extensively and also draws heavily on current scientific research into the animal's lifestyles. This puts Weiss' work a cut above most of the dozens of other books on hunting whitetails that have appeared recently. Weiss covers everything you could need to know to improve your chances of bringing home a trophy rack and high-protein venison for the family freezer. Stalking, driving, stand hunting, rifles, shotguns, shooting, practice, scrapes and field dressing are some of the areas treated. Since the average hunter spends five to ten years to bag a single deer, most of us, it seems, need all the help we can get in outwitting this familiar yet elusive game animal. Priced at $10.95, The Whitetail Deer Hunter's Hanbook, like the other books I've mentioned, is available from Winchester Press, P. O. Box 1260, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74101.

Steve Price is something of an anomaly among freelance outdoor writers. First, he's young and doesn't hold any "normal" jobs on the side; second, he knew exactly what he wanted to do for a living from the time he was 15 years of age. Those qualities aided Price in assembling his second book, published by East Woods Press, called WILD PLACES OF THE SOUTH. From Texas to Virginia, the author takes the reader on a tour through 23 congressionally designated wilderness areas, describing the unique natural features of each area, geography, vegetation, wildlife-viewing opportunities, rafting, hunting, fishing and camping. This is an excellent guide, whether you simply want to learn more about the South's wildernesses or actually plan to visit some of them. Price writes in a smooth, simple style that's a pleasure to read. A paperback. Price's book sells for $7.95 and is available from The East Woods Press, 820 East Boulevard, Charlotte, North Carolina 28203.