Courage Is a Plaid Hat

By Leif HerrGesell

Stormy Kromer cap
The original Stormy Kromer cap. Image courtesy of Stormy Kromer.

Hunting is a personal expression for many of us who follow Orion's path. We define some, or many, aspects of ourselves through our pursuit of game.

A southern gentleman quail hunter does not identify himself the same way a northeastern turkey hunter does. To be sure, they use some similar implements. Both are pursuing game birds with shotguns, but clearly no self-respecting turkey hunter will be caught with a puny 28 gauge double gun and no gentleman quail gunner wears camouflage.

The turkey hunter more than likely identifies himself as a fellow who puts meat on the table. Now, I know there are many southern gentlemen who enjoy chasing gobblers, but their true identity is encased in generations of southern gentility.

Sippin' whiskey, mule drawn wagons and feather-haired bird dogs who point and fetch are who they are. My dog would not know a bob white from a timber-doodle, I sip Chock-Full-A-Nuts and my double gun has a sling and goes by the name Nitro Special.

If I was on a quail hunt I would be the guy on the left yelling at the dogs, "Git 'im!" while chucking rocks in the general direction of the covey. I do okay on a rocketing rooster pheasant, because they distract observers from my uncivilized manners.

Our hunting identities are expressed by diverse elements, including what we wear. This includes what our family members give us at Christmas or Father's Day, thinking to surprise us with a treasured item that will help us bring home the venison or a brace of bunnies. Rich men get oilskin coats from Barber & Filson and Average Joe receives a pair of good work gloves.

There is one wardrobe item that marks me as a deer hunter and for which I would daringly risk a water filled boot, plugged muzzle, or other minor injury. I am not sure I am ready to dangle from a cliff, or snatch it from the slavering jaws of a grizzly, but I'd inconvenience myself some.

No it's not my long johns. A couple of days into season and I doubt I could entice a starving possum to show a passing interest in those. Bear with me and I will reveal the identity of this treasured garment.

Deer hunters, as a group, cannot agree on anything as universally identifying them. Duck hunters have waders, john boats, decoys, calls and such. Grouse hunters have soft crusher hats and duck brown/blaze colored vests, but whitetail aficionados are all over the map.

Western deer hunters used to sneer at the eastern "dude" in his red coat, buffalo plaid wool pants, matching hunting cap and mittens. In the 1970s, in the plains states and Rockies, a deer hunter would have worn a checked wool coat (typically not in a safety color), Levis, a cowboy hat and leather work gloves.

In the northeast, we wore red or green buffalo plaid coats and gum soled boots, probably from L.L. Bean. Now this combination is worn by only a precious few and they are almost always between the ages of 50 and deceased.

I was a fox hunting man once, years ago. I had a four legged partner from the beagle dynasty who was hell on Reynard and we enjoyed some stellar winter days.

For foxing, I wore German army surplus wool pants and the blaze camo coat I still wear. Because it was colder than a Klondike outhouse, I donned a vinyl, blaze orange hat with faux fur lining on the pendulous earflaps.

My coat is blaze camo and is 27 years old as of this writing. Yes, my coat is older than many hunters and has served me through entire epochs of my life.

My LaCrosse boots are held together with shoe glue and tied with laces I looted from a pair of combat boots. Currently, my pants are woodland cammies, or a pair of my DCUs from Afghanistan issue. On warm days I wear a digital pattern boonie hat and a solid blaze orange hunting vest for safety. It is what I call my "look."

Aroma management is provided by cleaning my clothes and hanging them out for several days to get the stink off. I hear there are special scent free, scent trapping, or odor eliminating togs, but I do not see the need.

I used to use baking soda and I was very careful with detergents. I have still-hunted more successfully since I gave that up, concerned myself with which way the wind was blowing and placed more emphasis on being quiet.

I have seldom spooked deer with scent, but I know noise attracts undue attention that leads to heads on a swivel and then the jig is often up. Be quiet, don't stink, shoot straight, get deer.

Most hunters today seem loathe to make a sartorial statement. They all want to look "tactical," regardless whether they have slept in a barracks and awakened to reveille.

If you cannot recall a drill instructor, drill sergeant or Gunny gently waking you from your somnolent slumber, you did not go through military induction and training. You won't understand why some of us want to wear anything but the uniform of the day. I take perverse pleasure in mixing my camo patterns.

This leads me to the focus of this article. You were probably wondering if I had one. I do. It is the lowly hunting hat. The hat has always been important to me. It makes a statement.

Hats have been an expression of a person's station, occupation and taste since the first Neanderthal tied some antlers to his head as a decoy and became a fashion sensation with his tribe.

In the days of yore men did not wear coonskin caps. That is American mythological hokum. No doubt there was some sad sack who lost his cap, was cold and so had to make a hat out of fur as an interim item until he got back to the settlements. However, the Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett style, coons face and tail cap, belongs largely in the dustbin of Hollywood legends. Even Native Americans in the colonial American era could hardly wait to discard furs in favor of more comfortable and stylish wools, linens, fustians and silks.

The colonial American cap of choice also was not a three cornered hat. Those are great at collecting water and then directing it onto your firelock as soon as you look down to check your priming. They offer damn near no shade and get caught on every twig and branch.

The British Soldiers in the French and Indian War abandoned them for a design that was popular with long hunters, the jockey cap. This is almost exactly a ball cap with the brim tied-up in front. You could let the brim down if the weather went south and fold it up when not needed.

There were several other popular models and they included the round hat, which is just a fedora with no crease that looks like it belongs on a hobo, or the tam-o-shanter, better known as a "tam." The tam is a Scots style floppy beret, if you will. The tam kept you warm and did not get knocked off easily.

Then, there was the "liberty cap," a stocking cap like the long ski hats some of us remember from the 1960s. Finally, a Canadian cap was de rigueur with some. Roughly round, made of soft wool, edged and lined with fur trim and no brim. This sort of looks like it belongs on Genghis Kahn.

More recently, in the 19th Century, hunters relied on the slouch hat and variations on what would eventually evolve to be called the ball cap. The true ball cap styles go back to the beginning of the 20th Century and look very much like woolen versions of something Casey (of Casey at the Bat fame) would have sported. There were some other sweeties, though, before and since.

There was a time when a sort of furry "pillbox" shape was also in fashion in the late nineteenth century. They seem to have been mostly made from mouflon hide or beaver fur and could be seen on rich hunters in the Western wilderness. If I had to guess, I would suggest it was inspired by Russian design. Such caps are seen occasionally in Gold Rush images.

I think Custer wore a very similar hat with his buckskins. I doubt it resulted in his demise, although we can discuss that another time.

The Bird Hunter or Jones Cap Hunting Hat was a cap that was popular in the 1960s and '70s. Sort of like a Robin Hood job without the long feather, often with earflaps that folded up.

I had one in the middle 1970s that was red; I think it originally belonged to my father. Shortly after, I had a duck canvas brown version and later still I had a real beauty that was blaze orange vinyl with a leatherette finish. Apparently the manufacturer thought leather textured blaze orange vinyl would be a better seller than smooth vinyl. I saw my reflection wearing that one and discarded it.

Today's hunters seem to have shunned any kind of style and opt for the beanie cap. It is hard to find anything else, even in the better stores. However, a few of us cling to a chapeau that makes a statement.

I was given one of my heart's desires a few years ago for Christmas. My kids forked over for a genuine, original Stormy Kromer cap ( To me, there are only three appropriate colors for a Kromer. Beginning at number three and continuing in ascending order: gray, scarlet and red buffalo plaid.

My kids are savvy. I got the red buffalo plaid. It has a serial number, so you can register it online with the company, which I did. I have not memorized it like my social security number, but I left the tag with the number firmly attached inside the hat. That way, if I lose it in the woods, a plaid alert can be issued and I can be reunited with my hat.

I think that is the idea, or maybe it is to create a database, so that anyone who would dare to wear a Stormy Kromer can be tracked by the FBI. I am not sure, but I am thinking I may have the number tattooed on the inside of my lip. In case we are separated a positive match can be made.

The recent spate of gun laws makes me suspicious this database is part of Big Brothers clandestine clamp down. Statistically speaking, people who wear buffalo plaid wool also own guns, which of course makes us shifty and villainous.

Follow the plaid trail and it will lead you to a secret cell of deer hunters plotting to overthrow the woods. Keep an eye on those plaid wearers!

It is a truly warm hat, but it comes with complications that require the firm hand of a strong and courageous individual. The Kromer earflaps tie in front and never need to be untied. The ties simply secure the front portion of the earflap. To lower the ear flaps, you simply tug them down over your ears.

Here is where the courage of conviction comes in. To the amateur observer, the plaid pattern and the tie in front vaguely resemble Elmer Fudd's hat.

Now, any fool knows that Elmer's hat ties on top and that said tie releases the earflaps to drop over the ears like a miniskirt. I have repeatedly stressed to my friends that the Stormy Kromer is a hunting classic. It is unrelated to that Fuddish, unholy, bastardized creation that no doubt was sired by Abercrombie & Fitch. The Kromer, I repeat, is not a Fudd!

This past season I was wrapping up the last day of deer season by hunting on some state land. The morning was gorgeous. Overcast with about three inches of snow on the ground and a busted featherbed snowfall coming down. I had still hunted for several hours and was returning home to wake up the sleeping Prince (my teenage son) to come out for the afternoon hunt.

As I walked back to the Jeep I glimpsed the only other hunter I had seen. As there were only two vehicles in the parking area and one was mine, deductive reasoning suggested it was just the two of us.

You and I both know this calls for some field manners. He was a hundred yards behind me, so I was stashing the rifle and securing gear as he walked up. When he had finished unloading his Marlin brush gun I thought the moment called for a polite parlay. I addressed him over the bed of his rusty white Chevy pickup.

We exchanged a pleasantry and I asked him if he had seen anything. "No," he said and I continued to press home the friendly tete-a-tete by mentioning that I had seen some sign down low, they seemed to be staying in the brush and I had noted one particular section of brush that seemed to be a core area.

He then began to explain to me, speaking slowly so I would not get confused, when and where the deer had been moving. He elaborated that the tracks he had seen had contained a light dusting of snow and how that meant they had been made very early in the morning, or the previous night.

He was right and this should have been apparent to any stumbling idiot, but I had also seen some fresher sign and went on to highlight where. At this point he looked as though he was humoring me. I broke off the exchange, realizing he thought I was a lunatic, or worse, a phony deer hunter.

He was wearing the ubiquitous beanie and I was wearing, as you can imagine, the Stormy Kromer. Cold, sub-freezing temperatures demanded cozy warmth and nothing says deer hunting like a Stormy Kromer!

As I was driving home, I tried to figure out what had brought on his patronizing tutorial and I slowly concluded that he could only have decided that anyone who would wear a buffalo plaid Stormy Kromer must be a dunce in need of monosyllabic explanations of deer movements.

Everything else about me was reasonably normal. I do not drool, my eyes are not crossed, I was not wearing jodhpurs, or carrying a tinfoil ray gun.

I wanted to find him and explain that I had shot three deer in roughly the same area this season while still-hunting. Did he not understand I was a mature man who had probably shot more deer than he and his kin combined?

I imagined the conversation in my head. This is how it went:

"You think because I am wearing this hat that I am an idiot, don't you?"

He'd reply sincerely, "Oh no, it's not that at all! Well, I mean, I guess it is. Did you buy that, or steal it from some homeless person? In either case, why would you wear it in public, especially with the earflaps down?"

"Oh, you"re one of those guys! You had me pegged as some sort of neophyte, no doubt from a subdivision, didn't you? I know, you think I am one of those chaps who buys all the cool stuff and walks around in the woods pretending he is deer hunting, so he can tell his friends he went deer hunting. Well, let me tell you something, Bub . . ." and I would go on to shame him for making a snap judgement based upon a hugely stylish hat that is a classic, ". . . and don't you forget it!" Then, I'd slam the Jeep door and leave him in stunned and duly chastised silence, as I drove off.

I am certain he would not think I was the least bit insane after that and I know he would think twice before he judged the next wily, slightly older hunter by his stylish, buffalo plaid wool hunting hat. I insist I am not insane. I am just passionate about my hat.

The next time you go hunting, spend some time trying on a hat. I guarantee whatever you put on will say a lot about you. It takes a real man to wear buffalo plaid.

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Copyright 2017 by Leif HerrGesell and/or All rights reserved.