Chuck Delaney jokes that, even at age 86, he’s never thought of kicking back. “That’s because most of my friends who kicked back are really kicked back — as in dead,” he said, chuckling.
The owner and promoter, with his wife Loral I, of Game Fair, Chuck was tooling around the other day in a golf cart on the grounds of Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Ramsey.
Opening Friday for two three-day-weekend runs at Armstrong Ranch, Game Fair is in its 38th year — a stretch neither Chuck nor Loral I imagined when they founded North America’s first “game fair,” which they patterned after a similar outdoor festival in Great Britain.
“We had a friend in Wales who had invited us to come over to see Britain’s Game Fair, and we thought something similar could succeed in Minnesota,” Chuck said.
Succeed it has, but it didn’t happen overnight. Fewer than 20 paying exhibitors greeted attendees of the first Game Fair in 1982. This year, about 350 outdoor retailers, hunting and fishing destinations and dog and conservation clubs, will be on hand when Game Fair opens at 9 a.m. Friday.
A dozen or so similar outdoor festivals have sprung up around the country since the debut of the Delaneys’ Game Fair, but most have failed.
“Minnesota is unique in many ways,” Chuck said. “The number of people who hunt and fish here, and who generally spend time outdoors, far exceeds participation in these activities in most other states. That of course helps us. Additionally, there are plenty of places for outdoors people to play in Minnesota. My background in sport-show management also helped.”
Chuck and Loral I met, in fact, at a sport show in Chicago that Chuck was promoting. That was 60 years ago, and Loral I, then 22 years old, was already a well-traveled veteran of the national sport-show circuit, having appeared since she was a young girl at such exhibits coast-to-coast with retrievers and other hunting dogs she had trained.
She had been taught about dogs, dog training, shooting and horsemanship by her dad, Fred Armstrong, who founded Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Ramsey in 1926.
Now 80 acres — most of which will be taken over by Game Fair Aug. 9-12 and Aug. 16-18 — Armstrong Ranch originally covered some 300 acres and included a bird-hunting preserve that years ago often played host to sports and other celebrities.
Famed big leaguers Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, for example, visited Armstrong Ranch when their New York Yankees were in town, sometimes fishing the compound’s bass-laden lake and at other times targeting pheasants or other game birds at the hunting club.
The first German shorthaired pointer field trial held in North America also was at Armstrong Ranch.
As Loral I’s dog-training and, later, shotgunning prowess gained national acclaim in her teen years, she became an ambassador of sorts for her dad’s business.
“I was 6 years old the first time I appeared with my dogs at the Minneapolis Sport Show,” she said.
A many time state, national and world champion shooter, Loral I was named to Sports Afield’s All American trapshooting team 10 times and for five consecutive years was the Grand American’s high overall woman shooter.
Also a competitive marksman, Chuck teamed with Loral I five times to win the national husband and wife trapshooting title. For many years he also managed Federal Cartridge’s north metro gun club.
“At the Game Fair in Britain we saw lots of leashed dogs attending with their owners, and many who attended also brought their cased shotguns to participate in shooting games,” Chuck said. “We thought we could also feature dog and shooting games here, in part based on our experience with dogs and guns, and especially with dog owners and gun owners.”
Many archers also tote their bows to Game Fair, and this year they will have a new game to try featuring moving animal targets on a large electronic screen.
Along with daily dog training seminars and conservation and hunting workshops, trick shooting has been a Game Fair mainstay since its inception. John Satterwhite entertained crowds with his Benelli for 26 consecutive years, and this year, Texan Travis Mears will appear each day, as he did in 2018.
“We’re also excited that the U.S. Army marksmanship team will be at Game Fair to shoot on the second weekend,” Chuck said.
Daily adult Game Fair admission is $12, with discount tickets available along with parking, exhibitor, directions, fair hours and other information at gamefair.com or by phoning 763-427-0944.