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Choosing the right hat for shooting

It's a difficult job says Giles Catchpole

Headwear is one of the few areas of the sporting wardrobe where you can make your mark (so choosing the right hat for shooting is key). The cap is a generic term that defines a soft hat with a brim that, instead of circling the entire form, protrudes only at one end. And a flat cap describes those which have a fold at the front rather than a peak, such as is much favoured by the military. And that’s that. That’s a flat ’at. (Read more on the tweed cap here.)

right hat for shooting

An eight-piece flat cap in tweed remnants is a sight to behold on the shooting field

The right hat for shooting

However, if you think that there is only one style of flat cap, then I am afraid you are in for a rude shock. If you were to venture into a decent hattery and ask for a flat cap, they would look at you a bit slantindicular then emerge from the back with a plethora of varieties. (Take a look at our list of the best shooting hats.)

The halo and the ivy. The huntsman — much favoured by racing trainers and stable lads. The winnie and the duckbill. Saxony, Breton and magee. There are five-piece, six-piece and, for the truly devil-may-care, the eight-piece.

An eight-piece or octagon cap in a ragbag of vigorous tweed remnants is a wonderful thing and truly a sight to behold, but it is not something that can be carried off by everybody, let me tell you. You have to shoot awfully straight to wear one of those with confidence in the field.

Standout style

The baker boy is a favourite with the more pessimistic shooter because in its broadest form — which will be a foot or more across — it will keep the rain off nicely. Though it has been known to collapse abruptly under the weight of heavy snowfall to deliver a small avalanche into a chap’s lap.

For those who like to arrive at a shoot at a collected canter in the two-seater rag-top, there is the one-button Brooklands or the two-button Silverstone. Or is that the other way round? They are certainly worn the other way round. With enormous goggles. Whatever your chosen style, always remember this important point. Never, as a Gun, wear a cap in the same tweed as your suit. Only the staff wear uniforms. (Read more on what to wear shooting.)

Hats, on the other hand, have a rim all the way round. There is the minimalist fore and aft, in tweed, which extends into the deerstalker, with or without flaps. Crafted in felt, these become the trilby, which has a narrow brim and a dimpled crown.

Broaden the brim and you make stately progression via the racing felt, popular at Cheltenham, to the planter, then the miller — which has a round crown — to the fedora, beloved of the louche gangster, to your basic stetson and thence to the sombrero, an unusual choice in the field.

Those elegant Edwardians favoured the Homburg, of course, in brown perhaps, or pearl grey. I had one for several years until the dog was sick in it in the back of the car. A low-crowned topper, such as top riders wear for dressage, is a cool look, but beware the stovepipe as that was strictly for headkeepers. The keepers at Holkham still wear bowlers designed by their boss, Thomas William Coke (hence billycock hat), so we had better not trespass there.

For years, I wore an inherited felt affair much adorned with darns and fishing lures. When it was on the brink of collapse, I took it to Lock & Co in St James’s and asked if they could make me a new one. The rather wry assistant there looked at it for a couple of minutes and then pronounced: “With a following wind, an assortment of dead animals and the free use of a steamroller for a few weeks — probably; but I doubt if Sir could afford it!” He was quite right, of course, but a man can dream, can’t he?