More than 180,000 hunters are expected to take to Utah's hills this weekend for the opening of the annual 11-day deer hunt. Many take non-hunting spouses and children along, so the numbers of people actually involved could be as high as 300,000 or more. That's a significant portion of the state's population.

If recent years are any indication, about a third of the hunters may actually bag a deer. Experiences may vary in different locations, but the state Wildlife Resources Division says bucks may be larger this year.Hunting has been disappointing in recent years, partly because of a brutal winter in 1983-84 that starved many does and fawns. Drought also has affected range conditions the past few years.

Wildlife Resources experts carefully calculate the number of deer that need to be harvested in a given area so that the animal population does not grow too large and starve because of a lack of food.

It's clear that natural conditions like harsh winters and drought can be more devastating than hunting. Hunters take full-grown bucks while severe weather kills the weaker does and fawns.

For a successful hunt, people need to exercise care, follow safety rules and use common courtesy. A few bad examples can ruin hunting for everyone else. Among the suggested rules:

- Wear bight orange safety clothing. It reduces that chance of being mistaken for a deer and is easy to see, better than red or yellow. Dress for the worst weather conditions and equip vehicles as well.

- Stay off private land posted against hunting. An additional 65,000 acres have been posted this fall. When on private land, don't litter, damage fences or leave gates open. Be respectful of private property.

- Never shoot without being 100 percent sure of what the target is. Never shoot at unseen sounds in the brush or something that looked like it "might" be a deer. It might be a farm animal or a person.

- Carry guns with the muzzle down and the safety on. Keep all guns unloaded in vehicles. Most gunshot victims are wounded by their own firearm or someone in their hunting party who was careless with a rifle.

- Clean up campsites, be careful with fires and obey all rules about hunting hours and methods.

Be well prepared, careful and respectful of others. That's the recipe for avoiding accidents or unpleasant situations. After all, there are worse things than not getting a deer.