PEABODY, Mass. (AP) _ After months of protests and hours of legal argument, a judge decided in just five minutes that a sharpshooter, using a spotlight and bait at night, can continue to shoot white-tailed deer at a seaside refuge.

The controversial deer kill at Crane Memorial Reserve and Wildlife Refuge, which began Monday night, can proceed until 65 deer are thinned from the herd of 150. About six deer have been shot so far, according to court testimony.

''The court has agreed that the program is well-founded and there is no compelling reason to stop it,'' said Fred Winthrop, head of Trustees of Reservations, a private group that operates the 2,100-acre refuge in Ipswich, 30 miles north of Boston.

In arguments Friday lasting nearly two hours, opponents of the plan had asked Essex Superior Court Judge Peter Brady to stop the shooting because healthy, pregnant does were being killed, not just sickly, starving deer.

They also argued that the deer kill violated a 1952 agreement between the town and the reservation, banning firearms from the refuge.

The trustees had argued the killing was necessary because deer are starving to death and eating shrubbery near the grand mansion called Castle Hill that sits atop a hill on the reservation.

Five minutes after the judge walked into his chamber to consider the request, Brady's clerk emerged and said, ''Denied.'' The judge himself made no comment.

''I'm kind of upset for the simple reason that these animals there are rather tame...and now they're going to be shot,'' said William Curran, the New England director of the non-profit Fund for Animals, one of the groups that sought the restraining order.

''Now the deer are going to be dead, and there is no way to amend that,'' he added.

Richard Bluestein, a Boston attorney representing opponents of the deer kill, said he would try to determine whether his clients have any further legal recourse to stop the shooting.

Opponents of the herd-thinning plan began protesting in the fall when the trustees announced that a marksman, using bright lights at night to startle his quarry into immobility, would begin his work with the first frost.

The opponents held off the plan with protests and with threats to stand between the hunter and the deer.

One opponent of the hunt, Ed Brown of Beverly, was in the reserve woods Friday, spreading 200 pounds of feed.Brown said he has been providing the feed daily for six months, at a cost of $22 per day, to keep the deer from starving. Now, he said, he hopes the food also will draw the deer away from the area where the marksman has been hunting.

''I'm a hunter, by the way,'' Brown said. ''But that's not the place to hunt. The deer are too friendly and tame.''