Shots rang out in the fields last week in Maryland and Virginia as hunters took advantage of the traditional season opener on swift mourning doves.

"We had a wonderful shoot on Saturday (Sept. 1)," said Bailey Orem, a member of the Legal Limit Dove Club on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Virginians had their chance yesterday as dove season opened there.

Remaining seasons unfold over the coming months and the accompanying chart, an annual feature of The Post's sports section, gives specific dates and limits.

Maryland and Virginia officials have very few bad things to say about hunting prospects in their bailiwicks.

"I'd say it's the best general outlook for hunting we've had in several years," said Raybourne, who heads the Game Division in Richmond. His counterpart in Maryland, Duane Pursley, was only slightly more circumspect.

"Most everything is expected to be as good as or better than last year, looking at animal populations and not, of course, at what the weather is likely to do," he said.

Last year the most widely publicized hunting in Maryland -- for Canada geese -- was about wiped out by the warm, fair fall, and Pursley wants no credit for that.

If there are any problems they are these:

Maryland looks for a poor squirrel season after last year's miserable mast production. Squirrels live largely on acorns, hickory nuts and beechnuts (mast), and they simply didn't get much last fall. That will cut into the bushytail population this year, Pursley said.

He expects reduced populations of pheasant in Baltimore and Carroll counties, due to loss of habitat and land development and clear-farming techniques, but the pheasant should be more plentiful further west in Washington and Frederick counties, he said.

Both states predict some decrease in rabbit populations, which traditionally fluctuate in cyclical fashion and are on a downward trend.

In Virginia, Raybourne is worried that quail production will suffer from the severity of the last two winters.

'We had major losses with the persistent ice and snow," he said, "but these birds tend to bounce back quickly when the conditions improve."

That's the bad news. All the rest is good.

Here is a breakdown of the major species, with population predictions, in both states.

DEER: In Virginia the outlook is "very good," according to Raybourne. "We're still on an upward population swing with record harvests every year for the last several. We expect another record or near record this year," with expected population concentrations in the central piedmont and mountain areas.

Maryland foresees general increases in the deer herds statewide, and especially good hunting in the western mountains and on the lower Eastern Shore.

TURKEYS: Virginia recorded excellent hatches of young turkeys in the lowlands in the western part of the state and a better-than-average hatch statewide. Good hunting is predicted.

In Maryland, where turkey habitat is not widespread, officials have decided to reopen a brief fall season after closing it last year. They cited good nesting conditions and increased populations.

GEESE AND DUCKS -- The outlook for Canada geese in Maryland is excellent. Last year more than a half-million Canadas wintered there, and even more are expected this fall after very good nesting in the north.

Maryland will open an early season Oct. 26-27 for ducks, following a lead started in Virginia three years ago. Overall, duck populations in Maryland are expected to compare to last year, when there was some improvement over previous years. Pursley also expects an increase in hunting for snow geese which are wintering in increasing numbers in Maryland.

In Virginia the duck hunting is expected to be generally good in upland and tidewater areas after good nesting seasons in the north.

SMALL GAME: Both states expect declines in rabbit kills, with populations on a downward trend. Virginia hopes for average squirrel production, while in Maryland the prospect for bushytails is less optimistic.

QUAIL: Pursley said there is "some concern" over winter loss of quail in Maryland, but "We expect a little better hunting this year, particularly on the Western Shore."

Virginia is less optimistic about quail hunting opportunities after the severe winter, but Raybourne noted that nesting this summer was good and "we're in the process of recovering."

GROUSE: Virginia sees about an average population in the western mountain areas and Raybourne predicts a repeat of last year's good hunting prospects there. Maryland has almost no grouse habitat and offered no specific predictions.

DOVES: Both states, and just about anyone who looks around for these beautiful birds, expect very good dove hunting. "Large numbers of young doves are already congregating after very good nesting conditions," Raybourne said. Additionally, the rainy summer should mean early corn harvests, which improves hunting early in the season.

BEAR: The outlook is about average in Virginia, where hunters have taken 200 to 225 black bears a season the last several years. Maryland has no open season on bears.