It’s early August 32 years after they first unveiled Game Fair, and Chuck and Loral I Delaney are watching as the 80 acres of woods and fields that surround their picturesque exurban home and kennel are transformed from private retreat to public playground.
Circus-like tents pop up as far as the eye can see. Electric cables coil on the grounds like snakes. Griddles and deep fryers are slid into food tents.
Opening Friday for a six-day run over two weekends, Game Fair will attract tens of thousands of hunters and anglers to the Delaneys’ home turf.
Joining the visitors will be their moms, dads, kids, hunting dogs — and guns.
“When Loral I and I first went to Britain in 1980 to see that country’s Game Fair, and saw all of the shooting games and competitions they held, we knew we had to offer similar opportunities at our show,’’ Chuck said.
So it is, and has been for more than three decades, that at 9 each morning, a line of shotgun-toting fairgoers forms at the event’s entrance, their dogs tethered to them by leashes — eager to see the latest outdoor gear and gadgets, while learning from hunting and fishing experts, and also testing their dogs’ field skills.
That the Delaneys’ rendition of Game Fair has succeeded where others in the United States have failed is testament perhaps equally to their understanding of Minnesota’s unique outdoor culture, and to stubbornness.
“I was confident we could make it go, but it didn’t catch on right away,’’ Chuck said.
Confidence was needed five years into the project, when the Delaneys and their partner had lost all of their seed money.
For the partner, the temptation to quit was too great, and he walked away.
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“But 32 years later, we’re still here,’’ Chuck said.
A lifelong outdoors sportshow promoter, Chuck had focused primarily on operation of the couple’s expansive Armstrong Ranch Kennels in the years leading up to Game Fair’s launch.
But his heart, and experience, were in hunting and fishing shows. So when an English friend told the Delaneys about the British Game Fair, they flew abroad to take a look.
It wasn’t that they needed a new project to stay busy. Their boarding and training kennel was highly successful, and had been since Loral I’s dad, Fred Armstrong, founded it in 1926.
Armstrong was a well-known and widely respected hunter, trapshooter and hunting-dog and field-trial-dog trainer who held the first U.S. field trial for German shorthairs at his kennel.
It was from her dad that Loral I learned to shoot, hunt, ride horses and train dogs, and she burnished her reputation as a nationally known outdoorswoman from a young age.