My old brown hat; shared adventures
By By Otha Barham
June 15, 2001
Though it happened several years back, I remember well the day when panic struck at my house. I was preparing for a hunt in the western mountains, going over my handful of lists, retrieving and packing gear into certain bags, boxes or backpacks. My system of multiple lists works this way: If I am going on, say, a mule deer hunt, I will use the mountain winter camping list, the deer hunt list, the general hunting list and the backpacking list. I have my lists very organized in folders. What I don't have organized is my gear. I know exactly what I want to pack, I just don't know where to find it.
What was missing at that moment was my hat. Because I have perhaps 4 fruit boxes full of every known style of hat or cap, one might wonder why my concern for the disappearance of one hat. Well, every hunter has an
assortment of hunting hats and caps, but there is only one known as "my hat," and to his or her spouse as "that hat," the latter name often being lengthened by the spouse with the addition of adjectives – usually derogatory ones.
My hat for western hunting is an old brown felt cowboy hat that has stood by me for almost 25 years now. For the first half of its life, it had an inch-wide brown leather outer band with toolwork that made it look like platted rawhide. I wore it proudly to rodeos, stage shows and 2-step dances for most of the 14 years we lived in Texas. The hat finally lost its shape and it became my hunting hat. When the years claimed the band's stitching, I cut it loose and discarded it, happy that the headpiece was now an ounce or so lighter.
A few years later the inner band gave up the ghost and I gladly cut it out and tossed it, for its steady shrinkage had caused too tight a fit. With the inner band gone, the old hat was a perfect fit. It would ride lightly above my ears on sunny days or jam down to my eyes to keep out downpours or blowing snow.
My attachment to the old brown hat grew through the years as it accompanied me on many junkets. Eventually I would no more consider heading out for western game without it than without my rifle or bow. My photo albums reveal the longevity of the old hat and the varied adventures I enjoyed beneath its protective crown.
There I am, wearing the brown hat and posing with my first antelope, the one my old friend Don Hardy spotted for me as he peeked over a Wyoming rimrock cliff one dawn long ago. And there it is again, with its leather band still intact and covered with an orange watch cap, as Don, Lew and I tug on an elk quarter west of Piceance Creek in Colorado. And here I am with the brown hat on top of Grand Mesa with a stringer of Colorado brook trout. This is fun!
There is a shot my son John snapped as we hiked above timberline near the continental divide, the old hat holding off the high-dose ultraviolet sun rays. It looks as if I had sat on it in the boat in this picture of Ronny Lee and me with stringers of Toledo Bend bass.
Uh Oh! Here is a sad one. I am wearing my hat while holding up a big New Mexico Merriams gobbler. The photo was taken by my friend Dave Wilson, who later died on Father's Day while floating the Arkansas River with his young son.
There are more; poses with gobblers and rainbow trout and the giant bull elk I bagged last fall. Someday I should put all these into one album. This photo research has further strengthened the bond between the old hat and me.
When I couldn't find it that day that I was packing for a hunt, I did what I always do in like situations. I asked my wife if she had seen it. Lurey had not seen it and that bothered me because she knows where everything is in the house. Well, everything except stuff in the deep recesses of my gear piles. Further searching was fruitless and I began to wonder if Lurey had done away with the greasy old hat, yielding to her abhorrence for dirty, worn out things that clutter her house and have no evident value.
Before my suspicion led to a confrontation, we found the hat. Not wanting to experience the panic and withdrawal pain again, I fixed a special spot for my hat – a nail in the wall of a dark closet, high enough to discourage even a tall hat thief. It waits there patiently for the next sojourn in the wilds. I check often to be sure it is still there and when I see it hanging there, it takes me back to countless campfires and snowstorms and trout streams and aspen thickets. And at once I am content.