More than 120,000 deer hunters will be on the move between Saturday and Dec. 7, and, if tradition holds, about one in three will harvest a deer from Maryland's burgeoning herd.
But if that ratio were closer to one in two, state biologists say, it would be better in the long run for man and animal alike.
"Our crop damage has been up statewide this year from Central Maryland to Western Maryland and from Central Maryland to the Eastern Shore," said Ed Golden, director of the state's deer management program. "And that indicates that we have a larger deer population. It is over 160,000 and pushing its way toward and perhaps beyond 200,000."
Interviews with Golden, four regional wildlife managers and wildlife director Josh Sandt last week produced similar forecasts for the six-day firearms season -- the potential is there for another record harvest.
"But it comes down to weather," said Golden. "That's always the key factor. If we have good weather, we will have a kill that will exceed last year's harvest."
Last year, firearms, bow and muzzle-loader seasons produced a kill of some 46,000 deer in unseasonably warm weather.
"I think we are all expecting that it will be a record kill -- providing that we have good weather, and that always has the most to do with it," said Doug Wigfield, regional director for the lower Eastern Shore. "Heavy rain, heavy winds tend to put deer down rather than having them moving around.
"Of course, any time you can have ideal weather conditions, with the deer moving naturally, plus on the first day you have a number of hunters that are moving deer unnaturally, that is the name of the game."
This year, the expectation is for a kill of more than 50,000, and the hope is that 40 percent of that harvest will be antlerless deer. A high kill of antlerless deer, biologists say, is the quickest and surest way to stabilize the deer population.
Only Western Maryland -- Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties -- seems to have experienced adverse conditions this year.
A drought has put pressure on animals and landowners, and crop damage has been severe. Golden said the drought brought the deer into the crops early.
On the Eastern Shore, Wigfield said that the deer population -- especially in Worcester County -- has exploded.
"We have had special problems with herd size in Worcester County," Wigfield said, "and that is why in deer firearms season we are going to have a special, two-day season above the normal season on the last consecutive Friday and Saturday in January."
That season will have a separate bag limit of one whitetail deer.
Dorchester County, Wigfield said, also has inordinate numbers of whitetails, as well as a strong population of sika deer.
For the regular firearms season, Wigfield said, the outlook is good.
"I do a lot of hunting myself, and it has been a fairly normal fall, but a little bit warmer than usual," Wigfield said. "But the rut, or breeding time, has been hot and heavy this past week. There has been a lot of activity."
Sandt said that the mast crop on the shore is "so thick that you can almost skate on it."
Look for some of the biggest deer in the state to come out of Kent and Cecil counties again.
Along with Kent County, some of the largest deer taken in the state have come from Southern Maryland, and wildlife manager Ken D'Loughy doesn't see any reason for the pattern not to repeat itself.
"When you look at some of these areas where the deer have been getting into the corn and soybeans," D'Loughy said, "you can understand what drives the weights up."
While the mast is very good in this region, the high mineral content of natural foods and the abundance of fertilized crops produce big animals and big racks of antlers.
"We are looking at basically the same opportunities in terms of places to hunt," said D'Loughy. "But I suspect that we may see something of an increase in the harvest in this region of the state."
If there has been a drawback in this region in recent years, it has been the animal rights activists who have demonstrated against hunters, especially in Montgomery County.
D'Loughy said that no rallies have been scheduled for state lands.
In the central section of the state, Mark Hooper said, there has been an increasing number of crop-damage complaints from landowners, which usually is an indicator of increasing herd size.
Sandt said the herd in upper central Maryland is expanding at perhaps the fastest rate in the state and is rivaled only by the deer boom in Southern Maryland.
However, there is virtually no public land to be hunted in Baltimore and Harford counties, and that makes it hard to control the deer population.
"Typically, land access is the problem," Hooper said. "Carroll County, I am sure, will have a big kill, and Baltimore and Harford will have as least as many as last year."
In Western Maryland, said regional manager Tom Mathews, the drought has posed some problems for hunters, but recent rainfalls have alleviated some of the difficulties.