The following is the third and final chapter in a short series about small businesses that started, grew and thrive in the shooting sports community of Cowboy Action Shooting. While these aren’t gun, ammo or even holster companies, they each play a vital role in the Cowboy Action ecosystem.
The clothes make the man. In the case of Cowboy Action Shooting it’s the hat that makes the cowboy…or cowgirl.
All cowboy hats are not created equal. Step inside the Colorado Mountain Hat Company tent and you can find, or have made, the perfect hat that fits your style. Photo by P. Erhardt
So, when you’re ready to cowboy-up you may want your first stop to be a meeting with Smitty at the Colorado Mountain Hat Company. Robert Smith has been in the business of making hats for 29 years, and has his hats adorning heads in all 50 states as well as 22 countries.
Smitty’s been a regular at this event for a while. In fact, it was back in February of 2010 that I first visited the Colorado Mountain Hat Company tent at what was then the Winter Range SASS National Championship (now the End of Trail SASS World Championship). SASS is the Single Action Shooting Society, for those of you unfamiliar with the governing body of Cowboy Action Shooting.
It was 13 years ago when I first met, and photographed, Robert “Smitty” Smith at the 2010 Winter Range (top). It was good to see him back at the Ben Avery ranges for the 2023 End of Trail, and showcasing the best cowboy hats around (bottom). Photo by P. Erhardt
Based in Fairplay, Colorado, Smitty and his wife, Cherie, have been making custom handmade hats for all sorts of customers, and not just Cowboy Action shooters. Their clientele includes celebrities, musicians and the former Mayor of Fairplay. They have even exhibited and sold their hats at the National Finals Rodeo, where you’d no doubt find several real cowboys.
Last week when I asked Michael Bane if he had ever had a hat made for him by the Colorado Mountain Hat Company, he didn’t hesitate, “I have a fedora they made for me.” Which answers the question of whether or not they make hats other than those for cowboys.
During my visit with Smitty at End of Trail I asked him about his custom hats and what all could he make for his customers. “If we see it, we can make it,” he declared.
These are the tools of the trade for hat making. Above is a device called a Conformateur which measures the head size and shape, and is still used by Smitty to make his custom hats. Below is a hat stretcher, for those times when a cowboy’s head swells a little too much…I’m guessing. Photo by P. Erhardt
While we were talking a woman walked in to his tent to inquire about refurbishing her favorite hat. I watched as Smitty walked through the variety of features her hat had – it didn’t appear to be a custom-made hat – and what he could do to bring it back to its former glory.
By the time he was finished walking her through every aspect of her hat, I half expected him to turn back to me with a “thank you for coming to my TED Talk” to let me know his masterclass in hat making was over. The man knows his hats.
Getting to watch a master at work was a real pleasure, and an education into what goes into the art of custom hat making, as well as customer service. Photo by P. Erhardt
Before leaving I asked him the all important question of pricing. Smitty’s hats start at $400 and range up into the thousands. It all depends on what you want and how fancy you want your hat to be.
The great thing about End of Trail, and the Cowboy Action Shooting community, is that it supports a number of small businesses. I watched as shooters – and spectators – ventured empty-handed into vendor tents only to reappear moments later with a newly purchased item, or two.
Many of these vendors, entrepreneurs like Smitty, are true artisans that eschew the shortcuts of mass production to ensure the highest quality, thus providing a lifetime of value to their many, many satisfied customers.
The quality speaks for itself, but the word-of-mouth is what keeps these small businesses busy during End of Trail.
– Paul Erhardt, Managing Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network