The name Loral I Delaney may not ring a bell for most gun owners, since her heyday ended back in the 1980s, but for decades the Minnesotan was one of the finest trapshooters in the world. Her skills shooting clays were matched, however, by a passion for training animals, and she lived the kind of life that would make a pretty incredible movie.
Delaney recently passed away at the age of 83, and her obituary in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune detailed just a few of her most memorable experiences.
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.
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.
Delaney ended up training the bear to assist her in one of her other pursuits.
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.”
By the time Delaney brought the bear into her waterskiing act, she’d already emerged as one of the top trapshooters in the country. Her first competition was the Minnesota State Trapshoot when she was just 19-years old, and she not only smoked the women’s division but ended up winning a shoot-off against five male competitors.
Between 1966 to 1981 Loral I Delaney missed being named to All-American trapshooting team only once, and won five straight Grand American World Trapshooting Championships along with a host of other titles. It’s fair to say that if trapshooting had been an Olympic sport back then, Delaney would have walked away with a number of medals, but she never had the chance to compete on an Olympic stage. Still, Delaney was a well-known figure, even to other world-class athletes.
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.”
Delaney’s accomplishments earned her a spot in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame back in 1989, though she didn’t rest on her laurels after receiving that honor. She and her husband Chuck continued to compete, teach, and promote trapshooting, and in 1982 the pair established the Game Fair, an annual sporting event and fair that takes place each year on the couple’s farm and kennel outside of Anoka, Minnesota that regularly draws tens of thousands of attendees.
Loral I Delaney’s legacy will live on for decades to come, and I hope her story will as well. She was a legendary figure in several fields, and my fingers are crossed that we’ll get one day to enjoy a full biography of her long and fascinating life, either in print, on the big screen, or both.