A standing-room-only crowd of prospective and practicing whippers-in gathered at Morven Park on May 25, 2013, the Saturday before the Virginia Foxhound Show, to hear huntsmen from eight respected hunts discuss the art and practice of whipping-in. The seminar provided an interesting mix of wisdom from the older, experienced huntsmen and fresh insights from our bright, younger huntsmen.
Our sport is changing. Coyotes are increasingly becoming the predominant quarry, making new demands on staff in terms of speed and distance. Road traffic is increasing in many hunting countries, posing new safety issues. As a result, many hunt staffs are breaking away from established ways, to the dismay of traditionalists, by utilizing high tech equipment to meet these new challenges. The use of radios, cell phones, tracking collars, and GPS equipment would not have been a serious subject for discussion at a seminar held ten years ago, but were among the topics addressed that day.
Organized by the MFHA Foundation, the seminar, was moderated by Andrew Barclay, former huntsman of the Green Spring Valley Hounds (MD); Dennis Foster, MFHA Executive Director and author of Whipper-In; Tony Leahy, MFH, Fox River Valley Hunt and Cornwall Hounds (IL); and Marion Thorne, MFH, Genesee Valley Hunt (NY). Leahy, who developed and now chairs the Professional Staff Development Program for the MFHA, led the day’s program.
There were two panel discussions separated by a brief presentation by the seminar leaders. Each panelist presented a short prepared talk then fielded questions. In the first panel were huntsmen John Gilbert, Essex Foxhounds (NJ); Tommy Lee Jones, Casanova Hunt (VA); Johnnie Gray, Hillsboro Hunt (TN); and Donald Philhower, Millbrook Hunt (NY).
The second panel consisted of huntsmen Sam Clifton, Green Spring Valley Hunt (MD); Ivan Dowling, Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds (PA); Ken George, Moingona Hunt (IA); and Geoff Hyde, Elkridge-Harford Hunt (MD).
Among subjects discussed were the qualities needed in a whipper-in, philosophy of the job, duties, training, and the need for bringing on the next generation. Some examples follow:
Tommy Lee Jones regards anticipation as the most important trait a whipper-in can possess.
Ken George insists that the whipper-in must buy-in to the huntsman’s philosophy and goals for the pack. If he or she doesn’t agree with their huntsman’s program, they should rethink the job.
During a hunting day, Ivan Dowling wants his whippers-in to be constantly counting hounds, aware of where they are headed, and remembering how the fox ran the last time they were there.
For training honorary whippers-in, Geoff Hyde suggests that they not be allowed to carry a radio for the first year so they learn to use their senses.
To encourage the next generation, Sam Clifton pairs enthusiastic juniors with his whippers-in during the early part of the season.
The day’s discussions showed that whipping-in, like any other job, is not following a static, unchanging set of rules. Periodic seminars like this are both valuable and necessary not only to educate aspiring staff members but to air new ideas.