Utah's biggest hunting day of the year will officially begin at first light Saturday.

Weather cooperating, nearly 180,000 hunters will take up guns to hunt deer. When the hunt is over 11 days later, nearly a third of them will have game meat.Consensus is that with few exceptions this year's hunt will shadow last year's. Last year, according to records, about a third of the hunters got deer. Or, on the regular buck hunt, 169,475 hunters tagged 51,710 deer.

Some of those exceptions this year will be the weather, harsher drought conditions in some areas and plain old hunter's luck.

The drought, worse in parts of southern Utah, has hurt some herds and the results could be felt in hunt figures. In the Henry Mountains, for example, the fawn crop is way down. Where normally biologist count 70 to 80 fawns per 100 does, this year the figure was closer to 20 per 100.

No matter what, though, hunters can't compete against being in the right place at the right time. They can greatly help the odds and according to the caretakers of Utah's deer herds, officers with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, this is the year to exercise them.

Game managers report that because of the dry conditions and the unpredictable nature of deer under drought conditions, and the unusual weather, deer are going to be everywhere and nowhere. Which means hunters should do some scouting before the hunt.

"The trick," said Floyd Coles, big game manger in the Southern Region, "will be to find them. Last year hunters started out high, but the deer were lower on the mountain. It took hunters a while to realize it."

Reports from the Central Region indicate deer there are scattered. Some are being seen high, where feed is generally better, and some deer, even some of the larger deer, are being seen at lower elevations.

Best hunting is going to be in those areas hunters are most familiar with. This is not the year to be trying new hunting spots, say game managers.

Going to areas hunters have seen deer, and then scouting the area before the hunt, is going to play a major part in overall success.

Range conditions are generally better in northern areas.

But it was the northern areas, pointed out Mike Welch, wildlife biologist, that were hardest hit by the bad winter of 1983-84 . . . "And we're still trying to recover."

He warned hunters heading north to pay attention to posted-closed private lands. He pointed out that 65,000 acres of private land - between Lynn and Goose Creek and north of the town of Grouse Creek - that was once open is now closed.

Maps are available showing private and public plots, and he suggested hunters pick them up before the hunt to check accessibility.

Deer in the region, he added, are scattered. Some are high and some are low . . . "We're seeing a lot of deer in agricultural areas. I think the poor conditions on the mountains has a lot to do with it."

Coles noted that the deer in the southern areas are starting to move down.

"Not like last year. Last year they came off in force. And we're starting to get some road kill, which is a sign that they're moving," he said.

Hunting closed Tuesday on two limited entry units - Paunsaugunt and East Pine Valley. Coles said those areas would be heavy patrolled during the hunt.

Officials in the Southeastern Region are expecting heavy pressure on two newly reclassified areas - Book Cliffs and Daggett. Last year the two areas were listed as three-point-or-better hunting only. This year they were returned to open buck only. Indications are that a lot of hunters are going into the area thinking there will be more deer because of limitations last year.

Game officers around the state concur that the one common factor in all good hunting will be water. Because of the lack of it this past summer, deer are going to be concentrated around what sources there are.

Hunters are advised to find a good water source, locat well-used game trails, and then wait. Best hunting will be early mornings and evenings when deer traditionally go on the move.

Hunters are reminded that hunting within boundaries of Pioneer Trail State Park, north of Hogle Zoo, is prohibited.

Discharging a firearm within a mile of homes is prohibited.

Also, to hunt in canyons along the Wasatch Front, hunters must pick up a free Canyon Permit and maps showing open hunting areas. The permits are available at all DWR offices.