In the 40 years since Chuck and Loral I Delaney founded Game Fair, the gathering of hunters, anglers, shooters, dog lovers and others impassioned by the outdoors has been considered a harbinger of fall. The open-air festival in Ramsey is that, and especially this hot summer — if it again fulfills that role, marking the onset, soon, of cooler nights and the coming migration of warblers, hawks, ducks and geese — Game Fair's arrival will be welcome indeed.
Patterned after a similar annual fair in Great Britain of the same name, the Delaney version also is a reunion of sorts for families and friends, though by now, 40 years on, some of the event's original stalwarts have passed. Chuck's brother, Frank, is among these; also Ray Ostrom, one of Chuck's original partners in the venture, and national champion archer Ann Clark, among others.
Add to this list now Randy Bartz, an all-around interesting and innovative dude, Minnesota-style, who died July 16 at age 81.
"I talked to him a short while before he died and he said he would be at Game Fair," Chuck said. "I didn't doubt him. He's been at every one since we started."
Southern Minnesota bred and born, Randy grew up in tiny Elgin, Minn., whose population hovered at about 500 in 1940, Randy's birth year. Popular in high school and by all accounts a cutup, he enlisted in the Army after graduation, serving as a military policeman and, foreshadowing one of his future lives, dog handler.
Coincident to this, at about the time Randy re-entered civilian life in 1963, Dr. Harold Hanson of the Illinois Natural History Survey, together with staff from what was then the Minnesota Department of Conservation, along with Fish and Wildlife Service Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife personnel, trapped about 200 geese roosting on Silver Lake in Rochester.
When examined by Hanson, these birds, remarkably, were found to be specimens of Branta canadensis maxima, or giant Canada geese, a species that 30 years earlier had been declared extinct.
Fast forward to any recent autumn, and waterfowlers have rejoiced a thousand times over at this discovery, especially considering the rabbit-like proliferation of these birds, making them abundant targets. Golfers and lakeshore owners, meanwhile, ever the contrarians, have had it up to here — and here and here — with goose poop, and rue the day Hanson ever poked his nose into Minnesota's avifauna.
Regardless, like vines growing up a wall, Randy's life and that of Canada geese — not just giants, but all sizes — would eventually intertwine, but not before he retired at 50 from a 25-year career selling insurance.
"His dad had died at 55 and he was aware of that. He wanted to do something else besides sell insurance," Randy's son, Kyle, said.
Reprising his Army days, and by now immersed deeply in waterfowling, Randy trained dogs, retrievers mostly, but threw down also from time to time for a few greyhounds, which he ran on tracks in Iowa. He also owned a boarding and training kennel in Oronoco, Minn. But his true calling was as a goose-hunting guide in Rochester. Not so much because he wanted to shoot the birds. Instead he intended to outfox them — to trick them into thinking he was one of them.
In many ways he was.
"The first year or two of Game Fair, I remember he wore an outfit in which he appeared to be a cornfield," Loral I said.
But disguise was only a part of the hoax Randy intended to play on geese. Calling was critical, too, and he was good at it; so good he would become a highly sought-after calling-contest judge.
All of which was preamble to the day a light bulb exploded in his brain, revealing to him a vision of the final frontier of his efforts to bamboozle geese: The Flag.
"Randy's dad was a goose hunter in Rochester, and his dad always told him when he was putting out decoys, especially if they were throwing them up in the air into a lake or wetland, to keep an eye out for geese, because they were likely to be attracted by the motion and come in at that time,'' said Jerry Thoms of Brookings, S.D., an outdoor writer, decades-long hunting partner of Randy's and author of "Waterfowl Flags and Flagging: A Handbook.''
Inspired, Randy believed if he could create a kite-like "decoy" that could be waved by a hunter to simulate a landing goose, honkers seeing the movement might come ever nearer to check things out.
Thus was born the concept of flagging and, not incidentally, Randy's business, Flagman Products — whose inventions have often been copied but never improved upon.
"One time," Thoms said, "Randy flagged a goose so close to his blind he reached up and touched it."
Win Mitchell, another Game Fair long-hauler, also was a hunting partner of Randy's.
"He was always thinking about different ways to get geese close to him," Mitchell said. "After a while, he didn't shoot a gun much when he hunted. He was too busy thinking about flagging and different ways to flag geese to him."
For the past 20 or so Game Fairs, Randy — known to most fairgoers only as "Flagman" — has given daily seminars about how to attract geese using his hand-operated bird wings, or flags.
In his honor, Chuck and Loral I have renamed the seminar tent on Game Fair's Waterfowlers Hill, where Randy gave his flagging instructions, to the Randy Bartz Seminar Tent.
"We'll miss him,'' Chuck said.
Note: Jerry Thoms has put together a book of Randy Bartz's principles. Order it from Thoms for $6: Jerry Thoms, 1121 Telluride Circle, Brookings, S.D. 57006