I heard deer mating in the woods behind my house the other night, and the next morning there were four fawns in the yard. Then a buck showed up with several does in tow.

"Get outta here!" I yelled. But they just kept snacking on my shrubs. When I threw a rock at the buck, he gave me a kind of dead-eyed stare you'd expect to see in an Alfred Hitchcock movie about bucks gone wild.

It wasn't just my imagination, either.

"Montgomery Police Shoot Deer Injured in Supermarket Rampage," read a Nov. 4 headline in The Washington Post. Before that, on Oct. 27: "Deer Horns In on Shoppers in Tony Georgetown Stores."

A lot of people thought that was cute: A buck with dough gotta shop. But don't be fooled. We're not talking about Bambi or Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Consider Adrien Pantaze, who was driving a two-seater convertible in Accokeek when a buck ran out of the woods and rammed his car. "It kept running next to me and trying to jump in," Pantaze told me. "Messed my car up pretty bad, but I'm glad it didn't get inside because those horns and hoofs could have messed me up pretty bad, too."

Breaking and entering. Destruction of property. Attempted carjacking. When the buck went on a rampage inside Giant Food at the Germantown Commons Shopping Center, one eyewitness told The Post: "He went from zero to 60 in like two seconds. I was like, 'Don't impale me.' "

Unlike bad people, bad weather and bad flu that might be threatening to strike us, the deer are here.

"The natural fear of people that characterize deer in the wild seems to have disappeared," said Rob Gibbs, natural resources manager for Montgomery County Parks. And it's not just people that no longer faze these creatures.

Last week, a young buck got into the largest cheetah yard at the National Zoo. The mother cheetah jumped on the buck. End of story, or so you'd think. But, no: The buck bucked off the cheetah and escaped into Rock Creek Park.

"Right now, deer are in heat, and it can be a time when you don't challenge a buck," Gibbs said. "They can be quite feisty when those hormones are pumping through their veins."

Still, you've got to admit that it takes a different breed of buck to cheat a cheetah in a cheetah pen.

Ordinarily, deer season in the Washington area is just another opportunity to remind motorists to take basic driving precautions. November is the peak time for deer-vehicle collisions, and the best ways to avoid such accidents is to obey the speed limit and stay alert, especially at dusk and dawn.

But these are not ordinary times. There are an estimated 250,000 deer in Maryland and about 900,000 in Virginia -- and to think that a mere 40 years ago deer were so scarce in these parts that they could have been on an endangered species list.

Now, they're back -- with a ferocious appetite that is destroying parkland and causing some farmers to abandon hundreds of acres of corn and soybean fields. Pressed for space and food, they roam the landscape -- rural, suburban and urban alike -- with a decided taste for the plants and flowers that you spend the most time and effort growing.

"I met a couple who told me what a treat it was the first time they saw a deer in their yard," Gibbs recalled. "After a while, the deer became a nuisance, and they had to chase them away. What they're telling me now is, 'I can walk within three feet of them, banging pots and pans, and they won't even look up.' "

In Montgomery County, which has as many as 200 deer per square mile in some areas, a deer management team teaches residents how to employ such tactics as defensive driving when a deer gets caught in the headlights and other countermeasures such as "defensive landscaping, repellents and fencing."

Experts say that substances with a bitter taste or putrid smell can ward off deer. So can a rifle or a bow. Just remember, it's your roses, your tulips, your azaleas. And deer ticks do carry Lyme disease. It's your pet, your child. Your life or Buck Wild's. Your call.

E-mail: milloyc@washpost.com