Motorists, beware. State and local wildlife officials say your chances of hitting a deer are at a peak this time of year.

"Just be careful when you're driving on the road," said Lt. Randy Quesenberry of the Loudoun County Sheriff's Department. "Because they're out there, and they will hurt you."

The area's deer population has skyrocketed over the last few years, wildlife officials say, with an estimated 750,000 deer in Virginia, more than in Colonial times, and about 150,000 in Maryland. An estimated 300,000 deer are in Northern Virginia, according to Bob Duncan of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

Along with the higher population, there are two other reasons why deer are likely to run into the path of a car: the hunting season is underway and it is mating time.

"The does are pretty cautious, but the bucks are not cautious at all," Quesenberry said. "They really don't have safety on their minds."

Even in the District, deer have turned up, although such incidents are rare. Last month, the owners of a dry cleaners in Chevy Chase found a dead 200-pound doe in the alley behind their business.

"We've had sightings of 10 deer at a time on two occasions in the last three years," said Bob Ford, resources manager at Rock Creek Park. He estimates there are about two dozen deer in the park.

In Montgomery County, wildlife specialist Cliff Horton said the Department of Natural Resources is beleaguered with calls. Not just from folks who have hit deer, but often from folks who see deer in their yards or on neighborhood streets.

"A lot of times they'll ask, 'Can you come get it?' " Horton said. "We tell them no, for a couple of reasons. Even if we wanted to, which we don't, there's no place to put it."

In Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, police officers and sheriff's deputies receive dozens of calls weekly from motorists who have hit deer, while the Virginia Department of Transportation picks up as many as a dozen deer a week in more rural areas such as Gainesville in Prince William County.

"It can be in any area of the county, whether it's highly urbanized or rural," said Capt. Ron Miner of the Fairfax County Police Department's traffic division. "We've had them on the interstates, we've had them in downtown McLean."

So what's a motorist to do when a deer crosses the road? Quesenberry offered these tips: Do not take drastic action to avoid hitting a deer. Slow down if you have time. Don't swerve, but move the car slowly away from the path of the deer if it is safe to do so. Don't blow the horn. If you hit a deer, notify the police or sheriff's department.

Some law enforcement officials, including Quesenberry, recommend the use of "antideer whistles," devices that can be purchased in a hardware, auto repair or department store. The devices are mounted on the hood or bumper of a car and emit a high-pitched whistle meant to warn deer away.

"It's worth a try," Quesenberry said.

Apparently some motorists agree.

"Sales are picking up all the time," said Kenneth Nichols, co-owner of a hardware store in Purcellville, near Leesburg. "We've sold hundreds."