Loral I Delaney, the world champion trapshooter and renowned dog trainer who with her husband, Chuck, owned Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Ramsey, died Sunday after battling breast cancer for more than two years.
She was 83.
Delaney was born in the home where she lived nearly her entire life — on the grounds of Armstrong Ranch, her parents' hunting preserve, kennel and mink and fox farm that once spanned 360 acres.
Every August, Armstrong Ranch's present-day 80 acres is the site of Game Fair, which the Delaneys founded in 1980.
An animal lover who as a young girl kept as pets every creature from raccoons to skunks, Delaney at age 5 headlined her first dog act in 1943 at the Northwest Sportshow in Minneapolis.
When she returned to the same stage a year later, the Minneapolis Tribune gushed, "The tiny daughter of Fred Armstrong put her two beautiful black Labradors through a retrieving act that literally brought down the house.''
In the nearly six decades that followed, Delaney and her dogs would appear at sports shows from New York to Los Angeles. She often drove herself, pulling a trailer full of Labradors, setters, pointers and Chesapeake Bay retrievers.
“Don't hunt next to her.You'll never get a bird.”
Confident she could train nearly anything with four legs, she once added a pair of half-coyotes-half-huskies to her act. While at a Seattle sports show in 1960, she bought a bear, which she put in her trailer before driving to the next show in Los Angeles.
"We were married here at the ranch in 1960 and returned a year later to take over the kennel,'' Chuck Delaney said. "In the meantime, for a year, we lived in California. After our wedding in Minnesota, we loaded Loral I's five dogs and the bear into the trailer. At one stop, in Denver, Loral I brought the bear into a restaurant. That was interesting.''
As a teenager, Delaney had been part of a water skiing act in which she stood at the top of a pyramid of skiers. Wanting to ratchet up the act's "wow'' factor, she trained the bear to ride a surfboard with her, along with a Chesapeake Bay retriever and a golden retriever.
"The two dogs sat in front of the bear; the bear stood on his hind legs holding the rope, and I stood behind the bear,'' she once recalled. "It was a pretty big hit.''
Trapshooting brought Delaney still wider acclaim. The first time she competed at the Minnesota State Trapshoot at age 19, she won the women's title, breaking 197x200. At the same competition, she won the handicap in a shoot-off with five men.
A member of the National Trapshooting Hall of Fame, Delaney was named to every All-American Trapshooting team from 1966 to 1981, with the exception of one year. She won the Women's World Flyer Championships four times. She shot on the U.S. Women's Trapshooting Team before women's trapshooting was included in the Olympics. And she and Chuck won the husband-wife U.S. trapshooting title four times.
Delaney also won seven Grand American World Trapshooting Championships, include five years consecutively, and was the only woman to win more than two in a row and more than four total.
Among entertainers, professional athletes and the very wealthy, Delaney's prowess with a shotgun and her dog-training reputation earned her rock star status.
“After our wedding in Minnesota, we loaded Loral I's five dogs and the bear into the trailer. At one stop, in Denver, Loral I brought the bear into a restaurant. That was interesting.”
Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Billy Martin were regular visitors to Armstrong Ranch when the New York Yankees were in town. Red Sox slugger and outdoorsman Ted Williams was a friend. Artists as disparate as Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy, and Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees shot alongside her. She trained dogs for Minnesota Vikings Wally Hilgenberg, Roy Winston and Mick Tingelhoff, among others. And Minnesota business titans Philip Pillsbury and Jim Cargill kept their Labradors in training with her year-round, in preparation for hunting seasons.
"Don't hunt next to her,'' retired Vikings coach Bud Grant would tell his sons when they hunted pheasants with the Delaneys in Iowa. "You'll never get a bird.''
Besides her husband, Delaney is survived by daughters Sherry Miller (Eric) of Ramsey and Chandra Twede (Scott) of Aliso Viejo, Calif., and grandchildren Ana Miller and John Miller of the Twin Cities.
Delaney's life will be celebrated this fall at Armstrong Ranch.