In preparation for a recent garage sale, Amber steeled her courage and looked under the bed in our guestroom. “Aha!” she announced triumphantly, “I just found two boxes of caps even you can’t say you really need.”
“Two boxes?” I’ll readily admit a host of the “gimme caps” that are standard fare at conferences, trade shows and just about anywhere else outdoor writers and the press relations people who represent a seemingly infinite number of companies and organizations rub shoulders do follow me home. Most of them get consigned to a large box suitable for under-a-bed storage, pending later disbursal.
The probable contents of the second box, on the other hand, sent me scurrying to the scene of a potential crime not equaled since the ravaging of King Tut’s tomb. When I got to the guestroom, she waved a navy blue cap with a “CBS Sports” logo at me and asked, “Why are you keeping this one? It’s almost worn out. Oddly enough, the other three caps in the same box don’t look like they’ve been worn more than a time or two.
I tried–without, I must admit, total success–to explain that these four caps have gained well earned immortality. They are, in fact, what Glenn Titus, my first outdoor writing mentor, called “vault hats.”
The well worn cap belonged to my dad who, while not directly affiliated with CBS sports per se, was a charter employee of KTVH, CBS’s pioneer TV station in central Kansas. That cap was the most completely luck-saturated fisherman’s talisman I’ve ever seen. Exceptional catches followed it wherever it went.
For example, I took him fishing north of Dinorwic, Ontario, in May 1990. It took Dad less than 10 minutes to win the “I Caught the Big One at Ben’s Black Bear Camp” cap for the week. Naturally, that cap has a place in my vault.
Dad’s cap reached its zenith in August 1996 when he and I caught a boat limit of crappie out of a single treetop on Truman Lake. It was, as he knew and I feared, our last outing.
Ben’s Black Bear Camp produced a vault hat for me, too. I spent the evenings of our 1990 trip hunting black bears with what, to put a positive spin on it, was a perfect lack of success. Then as we were headed back to camp on the last afternoon of the trip, we spotted an impressively large bear feeding on clover along the edge of a two-rut access road.
Dad, who was normally a stickler for keeping to prearranged schedules, suggested I make a try for it despite the fact that my success would have significantly delayed our departure. I barely had time to get into position on a rocky outcrop before the bear appeared, walking parallel to my position but downslope so far that only the top half of his back showed.
When I fired, the bear flipped completely over and slid out of sight with all four feet in the air. Half an hour of increasingly frantic searching failed to turn up any trace of it, so a friend and I decided to reconstruct the shot and its possible consequences. We concluded that my bullet had passed over the top of the bear’s back almost close enough to cut hair. Startled, the bear had slipped and fallen on the steep slope, leading me to the logical conclusion I’d delivered a mortal blow.
At the following March’s preseason fish fry, I was called to the stage. With a flourish and an overly complete explanation, I received a cap which announced, “I Shot AT My Bear at Ben’s Black Bear Camp.”
The fourth vault hat, a bright blue billed cap with “National Action Pistol Championship 1989 Bianchi Cup” printed on a gray background, is a memento of one of my most ego-enhancing accomplishments. The day before the Bianchi Cup pistol matches would be shot, a number of gun writers, a few general interest reporters arrived at the range to begin covering the event. By mid afternoon, all of the obligatory interviews and photographs were finished, so the range master offered to set up a slightly abbreviated version of the competition course for us to shoot.
So there I was, standing on the firing line flanked by men who specialized in writing about guns and who shot virtually every day. I’m reasonably proficient with a handgun, but, in the real world, there was no way this was going to be pretty. But when the smoke cleared, I was standing alone on top of the heap. I couldn’t have done it again if they ran the course 50 more times, but I didn’t have to. I accepted the cap that was the winner-take-all crown for being top gun among the outdoor press and tried to keep my jaw from dropping open.
Gerald Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org