The debate over the right of hunters to shoot deer and the right of protesters to annoy hunters raged on yesterday, the start of Maryland's annual firearm deer-hunting season.

About 40 animal-rights activists donned blaze orange vests and ventured into the McKee Beshers Wildlife Management Area in western Montgomery County to try to frighten deer away from hunters while dozens of shooters, some dressed in green camouflage and hunters' red, were equally determined to bag their prey.

Five members of the Fund for Animals were charged with violating the state's hunter harassment law, which animal-rights activists seek to have overturned by the courts or repealed next year by the state legislature.

By late afternoon, about 135 does and bucks had been shot, gutted and carried home by hunters who checked in at the nearby game inspection station. Officials said the kill figure was much lower than last year's.

"I feel proud of myself. I think I've done a good service," said Robert Mattia, 31, of Gaithersburg, who was one of the first hunters to haul a deer carcass out of the woods. "If they knew . . . how many deer die every year from starvation and disease. It {hunting} helps the environment."

As Mattia loaded the deer into the back of his blue pickup truck, Paul Williamson, 36, of Silver Spring, watched silently. "It's finally time for mankind to learn that not everything put on the planet is here for his abuse," said Williamson, one of those charged with harassing hunters. "It's not necessary for anyone's survival to get out and hunt."

Cpl. Ralph Parker of the Natural Resources Police reported a fatal hunting accident yesterday. Edward Nelson Hubner, 39, of Mechanicsburg, Pa., was fatally shot about 9:30 a.m. in Frederick County by another hunter. The state's gun-hunting season ends Saturday. But the bow-hunting season, which began in September, continues until January. On the first day of bow season, 10 people were charged with hunter harassment.

For the most part, the hunters and animal-rights people were cordial to each other, with none of the shouting and heckling that accompanied the beginning of bow-hunting season. The hunters, with 12-gauge shotguns at the ready and bowie knives sheathed in their back pockets, slipped through the swamp looking for a spot to crouch and wait.

The activists followed, sometimes talking to the hunters, sometimes saying nothing but rustling leaves if they thought a deer was near.

Whenever a hunter said he was being interfered with, the Maryland Natural Resources Police moved in.

The activists who were cited under the hunter harassment law said they will not pay the $110 fine. Instead, they said, they will seek to have the state courts find the law an unconstitutional abridgment of freedom of speech. Maryland is one of 37 states where it is illegal to disturb hunters tracking game on state-owned land.

The relatively new laws are seen as an attempt to quiet an animal-rights movement that has become more vocal, fueling public debate over the use of animals for laboratory research, the killing of animals for furs and other clothing, and the hunting of deer, fowl, bears and other game for sport.

Hunters have argued that their license fees have helped to establish wildlife preserves and that hunting thins overpopulated herds.

State Sen. Idamae Garrott (D-Montgomery) said yesterday that she plans to introduce legislation in January that would repeal Maryland's hunter harassment law.

"It is clearly unconstitutional," she said. "I think that when you have public land and when you have people who are walking through it and hunters who are hunting, they have the right to walk through public land. You shouldn't be arrested because the leaves are rustled."

Wiping deer blood from his hands, Frank Krasner said he sees the issue differently. "They {the activists} have got a constitutional right to protest what they think is wrong, but not to abridge our rights as hunters," he said.