Dogged by animals rights advocates, neighbors and reporters, some residents of Gibson Island, Md., secretly began a two-day hunt today to thin the local deer population.

John Quinn, designated master of the hunt, refused throughout the day to confirm even if a hunt was still planned on the privately owned, 1,000-acre island in the Chesapeake Bay north of Annapolis.

But Donald E. MacLauchlan, state director of Forest, Parks and Wildlife, confirmed tonight that a two-day hunt had started. The hunt had to be conducted prior to the end of deer season Saturday.

Two members of the Gibson Island Club, a recreational club that includes nonresidents, said a total of eight deer -- six bucks and two does -- were killed in the hunt by residents who maintain that the island's booming deer population must be brought under control.

Critics, including some of the island's 177 residents, said the deer posed no major problems and argued the hunt was merely for sport.

Ingrid Newkirk, a spokeswoman for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, said tonight leaders of the Gibson Island Corp., which owns and governs the island, promised earlier this week not to proceed with the hunt before notifying her.

"This is absolutely the scummiest trick. They've deceived everybody," Newkirk said. Her group had tried to stop the killing and at a Tuesday meeting with an attorney for the island offered five alternatives, including relocation and sterilization of the animals.

A disgruntled member of the Gibson Island Club said the deer had never posed a problem. "The deer on the island have become the kids' pets," said the member, who asked to remain anonymous. "The middle-aged ladies don't like them nibbling their shrubs, so there's been a fuss about the deer. Ironically, the reason the deer are so visible is they are treated like pets."

Proponents of the hunt said the herd has become excessively large and bothersome in recent years, invading residential areas.

If the herd were not thinned by man, it could eventually fall to hunger and disease, said Bob Miller, a deer specialist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Miller advised the islanders, who have a reputation as preservationists, to schedule their first hunt.

Because the island is privately owned, no permission was required from the state, and the state did not participate or oversee the hunt today, said MacLauchlan. He said he learned of the hunt through reports from islanders and confirmed it with the corporation attorney.

"The publicity was unfortunate," MacLauchlan said.

Today's hunt was originally scheduled for last Saturday, but was called off after Newkirk said she would seek an injunction to stop it because "more humane" methods of dealing with the growing deer population had not been explored.

Gibson Island residents, who dislike publicity, tried to keep the first planned hunt quiet, but club members tipped off reporters after they received a mailed warning to stay indoors last Saturday while the hunt began.