Rep. Thomas E. Petri tells a story about two hunters and their two moose to make a point about what he sees as the major issue in his congressional district.

Each hunter had shot a moose, but when the bush pilot arrived to fly them out of the wilderness, he said that the total load would be too heavy -- he could either take two hunters and one moose or two moose and one hunter but not all four. The hunters protested strongly that he had put both of them and two moose on the plane the year before, and he finally agreed to try.

The overloaded plane got airborne but quickly faltered and crash-landed in the woods. One hunter looked at the other and asked, "Where are we?"

"About 20 feet further than we got last year," was the reply.

That's about the pace the administration and Congress are making on reducing the federal budget deficit, Petri contends. The Republican tells his constituents that congressional leaders contend that they have cut $56.3 billion in the current budget resolution but that stringent analysis puts it closer to $11 billion, which in the face of a $200 billion deficit is virtually no cut at all.

At every stop this August recess, Petrie is asked about the deficit. Over and over he preaches that the red ink is the source of most of the country's economic woes -- the $150 billion trade deficit, high interest rates and other skewings of the economy that will only get worse unless something is done.

What should have been done, he contends, is for the administration and Congress to accept an across-the board budget freeze followed by negotiated cuts and additions that result in a final total that equals a freeze.

He has spent the August recess crisscrossing the district, part dealing with constituents on Social Security and other personal problems, part educating them on the economic consequences of the budget deficits.

His district, which cuts almost across the center of the state, has a wide variety of small manufacturing, timbering, paper milling and agriculture -- it is a big dairy area and the second largest producer of vegetables, after California, in the country.

It is strongly Republican, moderately conservative, and Petri, 45, is not at odds with his constituents, although he is somewhat more liberal on defense and foreign affairs.

At least two or three times a day he holds "office hours" or town meetings with constituents in the city hall or county courthouse. Notices go out in advance and those with problems or grievances or a need to talk wait their turns for a private meeting, sessions a bit like a young priest hearing confession. It works for him. He has won reelection with ever-increasing margins -- 59 percent in 1980, 65 percent in 1982, 76 percent in 1984.