A whipper-in is someone who assists the huntsman during a hunt for foxes and other quarry. The whippers-in are responsible for helping the huntsman to keep the hounds organized and focused while out in the field, and they may also help to care for the hounds in the kennels, depending on the organizational structure of the hunt in question. This position may be professional, or volunteer, again depending on the hunt.
While a hunt is in the field, the huntsman is responsible for handling the hounds. He or she gives the hounds orders, encourages them to pursue particular quarry, and stays attuned to the activities of the hounds as they travel across the countryside. However, a big pack of hounds can be difficult to manage, and this is where a whipper-in, or several, come in.
A whipper-in walks or rides along the side of the hunt, ensuring that hounds who try to split off will not wander too far. He or she also discourages the hounds from unacceptable quarry, and communicates with the huntsman about the movements of the hounds. To control the hounds, the whipper-in carries a large bullwhip, which he or she cracks near the hounds to get their attention. Some whippers-in also carry rifles or shotguns to handle emergencies and to get the attention of the hounds if they become too unfocused.
When the hunt returns from the field, the whipper-in helps the huntsman to count the hounds in and check on their condition as they are loaded into the kennels or traveling crates to return to their kennels. He or she will also inform the huntsman about any unusual activities that the hounds engaged in, and any signs of unsoundness or distress on the part of members of the pack.
At the kennels, a whipper-in may help to choose hounds for a particular hunt, and to care more generally for the animals, providing food and water and cleaning the kennels along with offering basic medical care and keeping an eye on the social structure of the pack. Whippers-in may not have the same status as the huntsman and the Master of Hounds, but their views are often respected, because they get to know the hounds very well. It is also typical for people who are interested in a career as a huntsman to start as a whipper-in, so some may ask a great deal of questions or try to get more involved in the activities of the hunt to build up knowledge about the sport.