The Hunter’s Orange Beret — Sort of, Maybe

Harvest Festival Orange was as close to Hunter’s Orange as I could find. At least it fits.

I rebel at the whole concept of hunter’s orange. Yes I do comprehend the safety issues and no I don’t want anyone to shoot me, but still there is this issue of having to wear something that to anything that isn’t colorblind will stand out like a strobe light in the woods. If I am doing some serious survival hunting the first thing to go will be the hunter’s orange. On the other hand, if I’m just out for a walk in the woods in hunting season, or I’m looking for mushrooms, that orange clothing makes really good sense. Even though I’m not obligated to wear it if I’m not hunting, it’s a really good idea to do this.

The problem I still have with the hunter’s orange concept, even when it’s something I want to wear, is that hunter’s orange clothing totally sucks. I’m fond of hats and have a large collection of them but I do not have the stupid ball cap hunter’s orange hat that Walmart sells and most hunters wear. I have never liked baseball caps. The modern “one size fits all” caps leave a big gap in the back and are just never right. Hats for men used to be a big deal. Now they aren’t popular enough to justify accurate sizes unless you are looking for cowboy hats or are willing to buy hats from Poland as I have done. In Eastern Europe, men still wear hats. My favorite hats are the Trilby, a standard among Scottish gamekeepers, and the Basque beret, which is a very practical woodsman’s hat. Cowboy hats are not made for the woods and I learned this the hard way while doing some tricky maneuvering on a rock ledge in Washington back in the 70’s. I swung around a dicey spot and bashed my head straight into a point of rock blocked from view by the brim of my Stetson and nearly knocked myself out. Probably the splash at the end of the hundred foot fall would have awakened me but there’s no guarantee. I went for smaller hats after that.

Although it’s not popular here in the States, the beret is one of the best woodsman’s hats you can get. As a knit cap it does all the things a watch cap will do, plus there’s enough extra hat to form a bill when you need to shield your eyes from the sun. Usually people wear the surplus to the side, but there’s no reason you can’t wear it to the front. A beret is low profile, good for sneaking through brush and for ducking limbs, and doesn’t interfere with your field of view. But! can you get one in hunter’s orange? Nope.

Me mug and me orange hunting hat

For two years I’ve been going round and round with both the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and various yarn manufacturers about hunter’s orange. Hunter’s orange is mandatory for most types of hunting and I’ve even acquired the legal definition of it, a very specific spectrum of light described in the statute in such technical detail that only a chemist would understand it. It’s so well defined that no yarn manufacturer will risk marketing this product because it might be wrong. The only place I’ve found anything even described as hunter’s orange yarn is Etsy and the prices there are way out of reason. Plus, there’s no reason to think that someone dying yarn at home will actually produce real hunter’s orange yarn. I had a long correspondence with the DNR here about this and eventually they stopped talking to me.

At this point I have concluded that the DNR rangers don’t really care a whole lot about this issue. They don’t have pocket spectrum analyzers and a faded orange hat is probably just as good in legal terms as a bright brand new hat. Of course they don’t want to say this is so. If you can buy a hat or a vest from China in Walmart that supposedly meets this standard, it can’t be all that tricky. Probably what you buy doesn’t technically meet the standard but Chinese manufacturers are willing to risk it. American companies are not.

So what I did finally was to buy the brightest shade of orange yarn I could find and I made myself a hat anyway. I like it a lot and it’s a custom fit. I tried several different beret patterns and wound up combining the best features of several. I may not meet the legal standard but I bet I’m pretty close, and it’s a hat I like. If I wind up in court because of it, it will be worth the hassle.

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About JTHats

Avid backpacker and outdoorsman with old skills and interests in old ways of doing things; equally fascinated by electronics, from the days of Sputnik, to the Zilog Z80A, to the present day of black box circuitry. Sixty years of experience with growing my own food and living simply. Certified electronics technician, professional woodturner, woodcarver, and graduate of two military survival courses -- Arctic and Jungle.

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