Team Fortress 2 Poly count competition

http://www.polycount.com/forum/showthread.php?t=74095

^^ Here is my thread for the polycount competition, basically the challenge is to create new game models for Team Fortress 2.
But I have hit a brick wall. You see, As you can see in the thread that I have decided to make a Scottish hat, with feathers on. This is becoming a huge challenge for me as obviously TF2 cannot support Blender Particles and the hat needs to be <800 tris.
I was looking into following this method shown below, but I haven’t a clue how it is done. could someone shed some light on this for me?
http://blenderartists.org/forum/archive/index.php/t-77818.html

I may come back here for more help. It is a tough project!

Ok, here is the hat that I am trying to achieve
http://www.scotbagpipes.com/acatalog/FeatherBonnet.jpg
It is quite a complex thing to do in a poly limit of around 400 (Which will convert to around 800 tris)
So I am wondering if there is a good, simple way of creating it.

The ideas I have thought of are:
Particles
Manually placing them
Arrays
Dupliverts

But I do not have enough knowledge in this field to be able to create anything that is convincing.