DULVERTON, ENGLAND — Dulverton, England -- Prince Charles rides to the hounds hunting the fox, and he's inducting his sons into this ancient prerogative of kings. His father, Prince Phillip, shoots pheasants by the dozens at the royal country retreat at Sandringham. Queen Elizabeth follows after her husband armed with a small cudgel called a "priest," whacking the merely wounded pheasants over the head to dispatch them. These l activities are among the "blood sports" under vigorous attack in Britain. Royal family members are simply the most visible proponents in an ongoing and escalating controversy that agitates their realm. A low-level, more or less nonviolent, guerrilla war is fought almost daily among supporters of the field sports and their opponents. It's a typical British conflict in that it is between two groups who claim to love animals, between modern life and a traditional culture, between creeping urbanization and a shrinking countryside. The arguments resonate with overtones of class, rank and privilege. "All of the royal family has killed things ever since there has been a royal family," says John Byrant, researcher and spokesman for the League Against Cruel Sports. Prince Charles' born-again green-ness particularly annoys him. "He's Mr. Green, Mr. Environment, and spends most of his time butchering birds and animals as fast as he can," Mr. Byrant says, a bit hyperbolically. "The biggest problem we have in this country," he says, "is infusing a population of 60 million people with a genuine conservation ethic because they can see the royal family and prominent members of society killing wild animals for entertainment." Fox hunting takes the brunt of the attacks from anti-cruelty people. Hunting in Britain, incidentally, means pursuing a beast with hounds. That's different from shooting, which is killing them with a rifle or shotgun. The League Against Cruel Sports would ban all hunting eventually. Fox hunting, they say, should be banned as soon as possible. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals agrees. Fox hunters are those emblematically British horse people, mostly wealthy and frequently from the nobility, who dress up in formal riding kit -- often a red or black coat, jodhpurs, white shirt, tie, vest, boots and that hard, black cap peculiar to serious riders. They assemble in groups of a dozen to more than 60 to ride behind packs of 30 to 150 hounds in pursuit of a single fox. There are 193 packs of foxhounds in Britain. (There are 80 or 90 hunts in the United States, including nine in Maryland, but Americans rarely kill the fox, which is what agitates anti-hunt people here.) British hunts kill about 20,000 foxes a year, which sounds like a lot, but twice as many get run over by cars. Farmers and gamekeepers kill another 150,000 to 160,000 each year. At the height of the breeding season there are 500,000 foxes in Britain. Three packs of stag hounds hunt red deer here in the Exmoor country, where Lorna Doone roamed the moorlands. Red deer are more closely related to the American elk than the white-tailed deer of Maryland and the Eastern United States. Another pack hunts fallow deer in the New Forest in Hampshire, which was put under the forestry laws by William the Conquerer in 1079 as a hunting preserve. Hunt people insist that all the species hunted by hounds are agricultural pests. They contend that they perform a needed service controlling the fox and managing and culling the deer herd. Besides, they think "it's great fun." "Hunting takes place in Britain on 26,000 days every single year," says Lord Mancroft, who is a vice chairman of the British Field Sports Society, figuring that each pack hunts two to five days a week. Lord Mancoft, Benjamin Lloyd Stormont Mancroft, whose title was created in 1937, is an ardent, articulate and imperious spokesman for the hunt. He's 37 and former master of the Vale of White Horse Hunt in Wiltshire. He's ridden with the Elkridge Hounds and the Green Spring Valley Hunt in Maryland. "I love being in the countryside," his lordship says. "I love riding a horse. I love jumping fences. But more than anything else, for me, the most exciting, exhilarating thing in the world is to follow a pack of hounds hunting. Bill Andrews, master of the Ludlow Hounds and chairman of the Campaign for Hunting, says a pack of hounds at work is "an exciting, fascinating and intricate performance." Both huntsmen say most people do not hunt for the kill. "Yes," Mr. Andrews concedes, "we like to see our hounds rewarded when they've hunted well." Hounds eat the fox That means the hounds are allowed to eat the fox. But not, the huntsmen say, until it's killed relatively cleanly. "One bite from a foxhound is enough to kill the fox," Bill Andrews says. "It would be quite wrong to let them eat it if the creature were alive. But it's dead. And that's their prize, if you like." Fox hunters contend the first dog kills the fox instantly. The foxhound is a big rangy beast, "fantastically fit," weighing about 75 pounds usually, five times as much as a fox, which averages about 15 pounds. The hound kills the fox, according to the hunters, by biting it on the neck, flicking it "like a terrier does a rat," and breaking its neck. Anti-hunt people say that's nonsense: Hounds are trained for a ++ lengthy chase rather than the quick kill. The hounds frequently pull apart a living fox, they say. "The real cruelty of fox hunting," a Cruel Sports leaflet says, "lies in the exhaustion, terror and trauma inflicted on the victim." Both sides wage a propaganda war with an inundation of leaflets, brochures and pamphlets. "But the most devastating weapon the animal welfare has at its disposal now is the video camera," John Bryant says. "Our people are just camera carriers," he says. "That is what's winning the whole animal rights war the world over -- the video camera, the ultimate weapon." Both sides have produced high-quality, professional videos. Kevin Hill, an officer at the Baronsdown game sanctuary near here, monitors a deer or fox hunt nearly every day with a video camera. He recently filmed the prolonged death of a wounded stag run to exhaustion and trapped in a river by the Devon and Somerset Staghounds, a hunt that traces its origin to 1598, when royal staghounds were kenneled on Exmoor. The tape resulted in a five-week ban for the hunt by their own Masters of Deer Hunters Association. "I've seen some dreadful incidents over the last three years," Mr. Hill says. "But this really was the worst incident that I've seen. I just was not prepared for the cruelty that was inflicted on that poor stag." For years, defenders of the hunt relied complacently on Conservative supporters in Parliament to defeat any ban on hunting. But the last bill lost by only 12 votes and jogged them awake. They marshaled enough Tory support to include a section in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act creating a new crime of "aggravated trespass" aimed at "hunt saboteurs." Thirty-three persons testing the act were arrested at foxhunt a few days after it was passed. But John Byrant believes his anti-hunt people are winning a war of attrition in a country that is becoming more and more urbanized and where even Princess Diana doesn't much like her estranged husband taking their sons hunting.