The state's annual deer hunting program for youths as young as 8 years old began Saturday with protests by animal lovers who hurled charges of "Bambicide."

The state issued permits last month to 160 youngsters. The first two-day hunt began Saturday at the Camp Blanding Wildlife Management area near Starke.Wayne Pacelle, executive of the New York-based Fund for Animals, said he observed a checkpoint at Camp Blanding, and that by 11 a.m. two boys, ages 10 and 13 had gotten a deer each.

"Very healthy animals were killed," he said.

Educators in Dade County joined with animal lovers' organizations to seek an end to the hunts, which they called "Bambicide."

Dade County School Board Chairman Michael Krop said in a letter to state game officials that the board opposes the program.

"It is a lesson in selfishness, cruelty and other anti-social attitudes," Krop said. "It teaches those in whose hands our future lies that those very hands may be used to inflict suffering on others, particularly those who are defenseless or weak."

But hunters and state game officials say the program is a way for kids to learn about nature, survival and responsibility.

Dewey Weaver of the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission said the intention is to give kids who are going to hunt anyway a safe area to hunt in. Weaver said the state has held youth hunts every year since 1985.

Hunts were also planned for the following two weekends, but Sharon Bailey of the Friends of Animals said Saturday she hoped the weekend demonstrations would lead the state to cancel them.

She said she was leading a group that was headed for the headquarters of the state Game and Freshwater Fish Commission at West Palm Beach.

"By the third week of the hunt, we hope to have people from all over the nation down here to protest, but we hope this will be the last one," she said.

She said she had hoped that Gov. Bob Martinez would have used his influence to stop the hunt.