“Bob,” my wife Joanne asked as I reached for my hat, “ why do you insist on wearing that old, faded, disreputable-looking hat? I know that you have other, nicer ones.”

“None of them have this hat’s memories,” I said. I kissed her goodbye, put on my hat, picked up my shotgun, and left for the trap range.

As I drove I remembered when this Ruger hat was fresh and new with a green crown and a light-brown brim. My friend Dave gave it to me at his five-stand range when I first came to New Hampshire. Twelve years later it is old, sun-scorched, and sweat-stained; most of its green and brown has weathered, and in the right light the hat is almost gray-white. It is so light in color that this year in Ontario I finally stopped wearing it while waterfowl hunting for fear that it would flare the birds.

I wore this hat when I ran 50 straight at our local club’s trap shoot a few years ago. I was wearing it last year at Dave’s when I shot a perfect 25 at five-stand. I was wearing it when I ran the first 24 birds at skeet and then blew the last shot. This old hat heard some choice words then.

This hat has helped me break clay birds in sun, wind, rain, and snow. A bit of sleet, too. Seeing the trail your shotstring leaves in a New Hampshire snowstorm is an unusual experience—a real trip. And believe me, you need a brimmed hat then.

The stains on the side over my left ear are from when I was fly fishing on Cape Cod. I had waded out 50 feet from shore when a striper hit my fly on the second cast. As the fish took me into the backing my hat blew off and was washed ashore. My hands were still fishy when I picked it up. Saltwater and fish left their mark. The smell departed; the stain did not.

Marks from Atlantic salmon fishing have joined the display. A miscast bomber caught in the wind hooked a hole in the back of my hat. And more fish goop, this time from salmon, is on the brim and crown. The summer sun and heat reflected from the rocks and high cliffs of the Northwest Miramichi combined with my sweat have bleached “Old Ruger.”

There is some dried blood on the inside—fresh from this year’s salmon trip. As I was walking into the outhouse, my hat brim hid the low beam and I gave myself a fearsome whack. Most of the blood washed out in the stream, but a small amount still remains on the hat. How the fish must have laughed. My companions certainly grinned. Broadly.

The hat has been on my head as I flew to Saskatchewan and back. It has been zapped by both Canadian and American inspectors. (The Canadians are much more civil.) It has been on my head in Saskatoon hotels and restaurants and bars, and probably has a stray beer or bacon stain from those establishments.

Its brim has shaded and hidden my eyes for ten years as I tracked and waited for birds in layout blinds in the Saskatchewan grain fields. More sun, rain, wind, and an early, heavy snowfall weathered “Old Ruger” on those trips. And the birds did come in—mallards, Canadas, snows, pintails, and sandhill cranes. This hat “watched” as singles, doubles, and the occasional triple fell. And then, after the waterfowl hunting, we went out for sharptail grouse and Hungarian partridge. More sweat and sun and good times.

Here in New Hampshire the hat has shielded my head as we’ve worked our way through the brush and brambles, through the remains of ten-year-old logging operations, after ruffed grouse and woodcock. A bit of blood from thorns and lots of sweat from the uphill climbs have dried on this old hat. Marks of honor.

My hunting partner from Arizona came to visit a few years ago, and we went after grouse and woodcock locally (Jim got his first woodcock in years) before driving to the Ontario side of the St. Lawrence River to hunt duck and geese. The hat went, too. More birds and more memories of shots fired, jokes told, grins exchanged, and drinks bought.

A hatful of memories, that is why I wear it.

 

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