It was raining a cold rain in the woods and just a half-hour until dark. Not a time for deer hunting at all, really, and the man on the plywood stand in a tree 20 feet off the ground smiled and thought about the drive home and how he would go about describing to his wife the pretty doe he had seen that morning.

Ka-WHUMPFFFF!

It was the sound a deer's soft hooves make when the animal stops short on a bed of pine needles or damp leaves; the sound the man heard behind him.

His left hand gripped the bow and his index finger coiled around the shaft of the arrow that was already notched and ready. He leaned against the tree at his back, felt his heart pound and watched his chest lift and fail.

The man shifted his eyes showly to the left across the damp forest floor until they locked where he sensed, though didn't actually see, movement.

The deer moved after only seconds. It did not make any sound and it walked warily, ears perked, stopping every few steps to look and sniff and listen. It had moved a dozen steps or less when the man first noticed the bony protrustions atop its head.

"a buck," he thought.As the deer moved closer, still sniffing and listening and watching, the horns stood out more clearly until he could count the tips, or "points" as hunters call them.

He thought there were six, but decided there could be eight. Hard to tell in the failing light. In any case it was a fine trophy deer because the rack swung out and then in like a basket, indicating a strong, healthy deer.

To shoot or not to shoot. You have come this long way and stood in the rain and cold; you have practiced with the bow and envisioned the good and honest shot, the one that can not miss.

Now here is the deer, in front of you but never in the position you really want, so alive and beautiful. A trophy head, a wonderful heavy body that would grace the table with wild meat all winter.

The buck settled into a spot 20 yards from the man and stayed there. It shook its withers to rid itself of some itch and the white underside of its neck where it meets the chest shone as if it had a light inside.

To shoot or not to shoot; for five minutes the man wondered while his heart beat hard and fast and his hand clenched tight on the weapon. It was not an easy shot; the dogwood trunks were a little in the way. It was nearly dark and the rain would make tracking the wounded beast hard, maybe impossible. d

No shot. He made up his mind. Too late, too wet, too much risk of a nonfatal shot that would leave a handsome animal wandering and wounded. The deer still didn't know he was there, so the man relaxed and for 10 minutes he stood and watched, no longer tense, and the smile came back to him.

The deer never came closer. Still it was as close as he had been to a buck. The deer scratched its neck with a hind foot and chewed at a flank, pursuing a flea. Then it turned and walked away.

"that's how bow hinting is," said Jim Crumley, who built the deer stand on which this saga took place last week. "You may not get a shot, but you'll see things you'd never see any other way. You'd sure never see anything like that during gun season."

Crumley thinks gun season is something of a shame. One week, the woods fill with men and women dressed in bright orange clothes so they won't shoot each other, shots booming across the fields. "if you do see a deer chances are he'll be so spooked he won't do anything natural. He'll be on the run," said Crumley, a bearded school administrator for Alexandria who hunts Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Last year Crumley took his limit of deer -- two in Maryland and one in Virginia -- with bow and arrow. This year he has hunted every weekend since the Maryland season opened Sept. 15. He has passed up shots at about 15 does, he said, though female deer are legal. He's waiting for the buck he wants.

The bow hunter is a silent, solitary type. Crumley is no exception. He will take his stand before dawn, camouflaged and quiet. You will not see him or hear him in the woods, even when he shoots.

Advances in bow design have made archery a rational alternative for deer hunters. The compound bow, invented 15 years ago, uses cables and pulleys to increase the power transferred to the arrow while at the same time decreasing the strength needed to use it. It has revolutionized bow hunting.

Shooting an hour a day for two weeks provides competency to hunt, according to Crumley. He put the compound bow in my hands and proved it. Within two hours I could consistently hit the fatal zone on styrofoam deer from 20 yards. h

Styrofoam deer are one thing. They don't scratch or go ka-WHUMPFFFF! They don't shake their withers in the rainy woods. And of course they don't bleed.

Crumley is a goose guide during the waterfowl season, but over the last two years he has expanded his operation to included deer hunting as well. Archery season in Maryland runs from Sept. 15-Jan. 1, and Crumley has a number of good tree stands available for deer hunters who lack a place to hunt. nHe charges $25 a day, plus a $25 trophy fee if a deer is shot.

One word of caution: Tree stands are not for the aged, the infirm or those afraid of heights. For more information on Crumley's program write to W. David Powell Outfitting and Guide Service, P.O. Box 931, Easton, Md. 21601.