50 Years Hunting Over Bird Dogs

“The French call their supreme dogs “le trouveur” – the finder. Despite all fashions, when a great game-finder is at his best on wild birds it is obvious to all that they are watching something special.”
Leon in July 2000 with “Tweed” and “Woody”.
An hour earlier he had given a class performance – the Sportsman and his bird dog – at the very top of their game. He mentions this episode in his book, and I was lucky enough to sit on a hill witnessing it all. “Woody” was ranging fast and wide, in perfect casts. Where you wished he would turn, he would turn – moving with power and style, the running in itself was satisfaction enough. When you added the most important of all: Four successive bird works, complete, with the same style, class and precision, absolute manners from the dog, the handling, the shooting, the delivery of the birds, the single-pat-on-the-head after each delivery, the efficient and aestetic wholeness displayed from what you knew was a master at work. I quote from the book;
“…his nose is exceptional. He demonstrated this many times. One instance happened when I was pheasant shooting in sand dunes that had heavy fern and rush cover. Woody pointed a covey of five brown quail. I got one on the covey rise. Normally, if I am shooting quail, I sit down for ten minutes before looking for the singles. This time allows the air washed birds to give off scent. However, I was after pheasants and sent Woody straight on. He found three of the four singles, one after the other.”
Leon with FTCh Wingfield Annie in 1978.
Above: ES Awahuri Rock & IS Diane of Mineola.
It should also be said, that 25 years before the scene described above, there was an extensive quail survey that showed “Dr Leon Mortensen shoots more quail than any other person in the North Island”. If anyone in the South Island shot more, it would perhaps have been the old Dane – Tom Zachariassen – whom at one stage also had a setter from Leon as his main dog. That was Wingfield Lady. Leon had from the same litter kept FTCh Wingfield Lace.
Though Leon obviously was a great quail hunter (and duck hunter), it was the truly wild New Zealand pheasants he used as a bench mark for his dogs, as a hunter and trialist. From his old stock he had top pheasant dogs like Grand FTCh Wingfield Annie and FTCh Wingfield Intrigue, “who made it look easy”. Later, especially through two particular imports, Sharnberry Quin & Kiki Gem and their progeny, there were further developed some great pheasant dogs.
What made the dogs top flight on pheasants? Obviously the ones who could read the ground and had the ability of finding, setting and holding the cunning birds. This ideal Leon was forever true towards, following the old maxim: “the best dog is that which gives the sportsman most chances of a shot…”
The production of shootable birds is the main aim. Accidentally bumping birds or missing birds are the dog’s worst faults. These are the fundamental truths from which the class bird dog should be built. The class bird dog also has the ability to do at great speed and with unusual accuracy what the average dog can only do slowly, and under particularly favourable circumstances. Leon was also a passionate fisherman, and stated; “The test of a great fly fisherman is the numbers of educated trout he can catch…”

I took this picture of Woody’s son Wingfield Warrior in 2000, aged 12 months old. Shortly after the photo I sat there watching Leon work Woody in the situation described above.