A Gentleman’s Hat for the Uplands
Bringing style back into bird hunting
By Edgar Castillo
Yes, I wear a baseball cap during the majority of my upland jaunts. During those cold frosty mornings when flurries of snow are falling and gently covering the bobbing dekes, I don a Stormy Kromer cap. As the story goes, it is a redesigned ball cap created in 1903 by the wife of a railroad worker. It became a staple in the outdoors as its popularity grew. It is to me, the quintessential cap of a waterfowler.
But, on occasion I reach for the chocolate felt-colored “Fedora” style hat and load my over-and-under shotgun with a pair of crimson colored shells, snap it closed and step into the uplands…feeling like a gentleman of yesteryear. The hat is paired with high-tech clothes made up of fabrics fused with traditional wool and other synthetic materials. It’s also partnered with an innovative and technical upland bird pack vest. I have meshed tradition with the modern times.
A hundred years ago, no man would leave the house into wilds of the uplands without wearing a flat cap or fedora hat. The wearing of these hats derives from a time when sportsmen ventured into the great outdoors in pursuit of game from a bygone era. From the thickets of New England bustin’ brush for grouse, to the cornfields of the Midwest chasing pheasants, the hat of choice for outdoorsmen was the either the flat cap or the more gentlemanly fedora.
Long associated with working class men, the flat cap has a rounded shape, a small brim, and a high back. Many bird hunters donned such a head covering. But it was the fedora that caught the attention of men who saw it as part of their hunting gear, just as much as their wool pants and plaid coats from companies that are still around today but have lost their association with hunting. Companies such as…Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Pendleton, Woolrich, and Eddie Bauer to name a few.
The modern-day use of the term “fedora” is far different than its historical use. The term fedora is used to describe, practically any men’s felt hat. The “fedora” hat first emerged in the early 1890s. The hat became popular after a woman wore it in the play “Fedora”. The title character wore a center-creased, soft brimmed hat. The hat soon became a popular fashion for women.
In the 1920s, the fedora was adopted by men. It was mostly worn by lower-and-middle-class men that needed a multi-purpose hat. It was primarily worn for protection from bad weather. The fedora was unofficially declared to be a country hat to be worn in nature according to a snippet in a magazine.
There isn’t one specific kind of fedora hat; it’s actually a set of basic characteristics that can be applied to many variations. Over the years, history has shown us through old photographs of bird hunters, the appeal of the fedora hat. Even though the hats are no longer a wardrobe staple for the uplands, there are some albeit few that find the classic fedora’s versatility and function afield worth wearing. One of those is Nathan Spaulding of Maine. A bird hunter with which I had connected with via social media. Nathan explained he is drawn to a time when men dressed with a level of self-respect and decorum. His exposure to hunting was through the influence from his grandfather’s Outdoor Life magazines from the 40s to the early 70s. Nathan has adopted a vintage style by wearing a fedora. He admits that overlapping classic with the modern upland hunter hipster, has not escaped him.
For the field, the fedora is a great alternative to wearing a ball cap. Many fedoras sold are advertised as crushable or packer hats. The brown fedora style hat I wear is made of 100% wool, its water and windproof, has fold-down earflaps during those brutal cold days chasing ringnecks in the snow, and can be crushed and stuffed into my bird vest or travel bag. It keeps my head dry and warm for when the temperature drops bitterly cold. With its wide brim all the way around the hat, the fedora shelters me from the rain streaming down my back. A baseball cap cannot do that. It also functions as an umbrella from the sun and makes for a nice impromptu shade as it blocks out the sun for a mid-day nap atop a hill when searching for prairie chickens. What more could a bird hunter want in a hat?
Compared to other more recognized brands, mine was purchased at a no-name department store. It has served its purpose for what I intended it to be used for. I bought the fedora relatively cheap at 40 dollars. I went so far as to buy a blaze orange safety hunting hat band made of cloth that attaches itself via Velcro. Fedoras come in array of “field” appropriate colors; brown, tan, hunter green, black, and even blaze orange.
The fedora has accompanied me across vast landscapes in search of birds. From walking rows of corn to cut milo for running roosters, to walking the fence lines for coveys of bobwhite quail, to even a stint or two in the duck blind. The fedora is a multifaceted hat for the uplands. It’s used as a means to carry and display some iconic hunts from my past outings.
Feathers from an array of birds have graced the leather band that’s affixed to the hat. Plumage from my first prairie chicken I shot in 2015 while trekking across the Flint Hills of Kansas dances with the wind when I wear the fedora. Staley the vizsla, had pointed a duo of birds, which both succumbed to my over-and-under giving me a limit of chickens. A hard feat for any upland bird hunter to achieve.
A plume from a flushing blue grouse that escaped with its life in Wyoming, only leaving a trio of feathers adorns the hat as well. Bobwhite and scaled quail quills have occasionally been inserted. The feathers are equivalent to notches carved into a wood stick or bed post.
One of the hallmarks of the fedora is that it can be used during an array of outdoor activities. Be it waterfowling, turkey hunting, and even deer and other big-game hunting. So the next time you are in the market or have an itching for yet another logoed ball cap to add to your vast collection of hats from different outdoor sporting brands and companies, take a different route and choose a gentleman’s hat, the fedora, to accompany you into the field. The fedora is due for a full resurgence. Their comfort, functionality, and adaptability to be worn is second to none.
Let’s bring back those days of wingshooters and birds depicted in vintage sepia photographs. Walk into the uplands just like well-known bird hunters and iconic Hollywood actors Gary Cooper and Clark Gable…now, if they’re not the epitome of gentlemen wearing fedoras into the field, then I don’t know what is.
About the Author: Edgar Castillo
Edgar Castillo was born in Central America in the country of Guatemala. He moved to the United States with his family as a young boy and is now a 12-year Marine Corps veteran and has been a law enforcement officer for the past 25 years. Edgar eventually found his way into the world of upland bird hunting, where his passion has since blossomed into a significant social media presence that allows him to share his experiences and connect with other hunters. Along with his new contribution(s) here at the GAC, he’s also a contributing writer for Project Upland and various other websites and journals.