Breeding Better Bird Dogs

“This I think is the secret of good breeding. you must do the measuring yourself. You must have the exptertise to make an accurate estimate of the dog’s natural ability, making allowances for training expertise, biased judges, luck, etc., etc. Several of the dogs I have used successfully have no trial record at all, but I have shot over them, running one of my good dogs against them. You will mentally be using the BLUP method, analyzing the dogs close up in the pedigree for progeny results, performance, and pedigree.”

Leon flanked by the judges at an Open stake in 1994, with Token 1st and Sioux 2nd. The same year these sisters were 1st equal in the NZ Champs.

Game Ridge Balas Q.C.

After having bred a few litters of Irish setters in the 1960s, Leon bred his first litter of English setters in 1969. During the next 32 years he bred 24 litters of English setters, consistently running a line based on old New Zealand lines mixed with various English imports (first from the Downsman kennel, later with several Sharnberry dogs). Between 1990 – 2000 he also bred 4 pointer litters with his wife Joy.

In 1988 Leon bred Game Ridge Balas and FTCh Wingfield Lace together for the first time. Though Balas was bred in New Zealand, he was pure Sharnberry product by the two imports Sharnberry Quin and Kiki-Gem. Wingfield Lace was also by Sharnberry Quin out of a Sharnberry Shooter daughter. The Balas x Lace combination was a definite success, with several strong bitches in particular. Among them Wingfield Silk was sold to Australia where she put a strong mark on the setter breeding, while Leon had a great trial dog in FTCh Wingfield Sioux. Unfortunately Sioux developed a skin condition, which made Leon decide not to breed from her, despite her brilliance as a worker. Instead he did the Balas x Lace combination again in 1991. Again this produced some excellent workers, like Wingfield Tex and of course Leon’s own Grand FTCh Wingfield Token.

It is an interesting fact, that the last Sharnberry blood, which had such a huge impact down under and was preserved by Leon Mortensen in particular, also made a significant impact in the Italian English setter lines. The Italians, primarily through Crismani, had got some earlier Sharnberry lines, through Sharnberry Nick and Sharnberry Fern, and eventually they got Sharnberry Donald as an older dog. Leon thought the Italians put too much fashion into their judging of gundogs. Leon himself was, in addition to having great all-round analytical skills, very pragmatic about what he thought a great bird-dog should deliver. That is probably what made him so successful both as a breeder & trainer.

Breeding better bird dogs… Leon regarded Game Ridge Balas (Sharnberry Quin – Kiki-Gem) as the best, most ideal dog he ever saw in New Zealand. If that is some modesty towards his own best dogs, who knows, but Balas was raw talent with a great nose and exceptional skills in his bird work. Balas was owned by Bill Teare, an avid shooter, who shot hundreds of pheasants over him.

“Balas’ bird work was so flawless that Bill had total confidence in him. He told me that he sometimes felt it was boring shooting over him.”

Balas only had two matings, both times used by Leon on half-sister FTCh Wingfield Lace (Sharnberry Quin – Wingfield Jemima). Those two litters produced some of the very best dogs to come out of the Wingfield kennel.


“….In her six and twelve months write ups I have recorded that she showed early brilliance, except she did not like water. This lasted all her life. She was so brilliant on pheasants that she was the only dog I have kept that would not retrieve a duck. I did not break her till fourteen months. She chased madly till then, but I could see she was so biddable that breaking would be no problem. So it proved.”

The English setters from the Wingfield kennel were known for decades as great bird finders. The dogs seemed to sell themselves, and buyers were often on a couple of years waiting-list to get a pup. There was never talk of a puppy factory. Leon bred when he thought he should breed. Though there was one time, described by Leon in his book: “One litter was bred to supply orders I received after some great work from one of Annie’s (“Lass”) previous pups. Not far from Whangarei there was a huge swamp famous for its duck shooting. There were many mai mais in the swamp, which was surrounded by rough hills. At midday, the owner of the dog from Lass, who was not having much luck with his duck shooting, decided to go pheasant shooting on the hills. These hills were in full sight of the shooters in the swamp. The dog put on a display of superb pheasant work. During the next two weeks I had five inquiries for pups.”

The Wingfield setters, combined with the Sharnberry imports, have been the foundation of every other kennel of field setters in New Zealand and Australia. Leon himself bred 24 litters of English setters, and despite the huge number of dogs going through his kennels he only bred from twelve different bitches. The most significant of them being GRAND FTCh Wingfield Annie who gave several top dogs and laid the foundation for three very successful decades. She bred with three different males; her half-brother Tuhimata Blue Boy (by Annie’s father Awahuri Rock), most importantly the English import Sharnberry Shooter and with another half-brother Wingfield Gunman (out of Annie’s mother First Lady). Another brood bitch he rated very highly was FTCh Wingfield Lace, who gave good dogs with Sharnberry Shooter and Wingfield Quill before she gave two exceptional litters with Game Ridge Balas. 

Two of the males from the kennel: WINGFIELD PRIDE (Sharnberry Quin – FTCh Wingfield Kandy) and WINGFIELD WARRIOR (FTCh FCh Chywoon Entrepreneur of Jonsmae – Wingfield Velvet)

The Pointers at Wingfield…

The first trial I attended after arriving in New Zealand, was the 1998 NZ Championship. It was won by Joy Mortensen and her 8 year old liver & white bitch FTCh Wingfield Alibi. It was a dog I already had seen when visiting Leon & Joy. Alibi’s looks didn’t appeal much to me, but she was a class act in the field. Already before winning this NZ Championship she had been one of the best running and competitive dogs during the past decade on the NZ trialling scene. Alibi was an exceptional dog for Joy and also ran well under Leon. Her parents were the New Zealand FTCh Devon Park Toss (by British import Blackcock’s Feather of St Aldwyns and Australian import Riprap Tennessee) and Joy’s own Kitty of Kilmacud (by British import Scott of Spinningloch and Irish import My Golden Lady). Scott of Spinningloch was line bred on the Danish import FTCh Scott (who John Nash bought of Fleming Borgkvist after the 1975 Danish Derby). Unfortunately for Joy, Alibi was not able to breed.

Among the later Wingfield pointers, the B-litter was exceptional. All eight pups turned out to be good shooting dogs and the four trialling were very good dogs. (Banner, Brogue, Briar, and Bonny.) Behind these dogs were Joy’s British import Sparkfield Souvenir Q.C. (FTCh Sparkfield Sceptre – Sparkfield Jaunty) and FTCh Innistona Shoot (FTCh Innistona Rum – Innistona Sue), who Joy imported in partnership from Northern Ireland as an older dog. Innistona Sue was exp to Japan. Innistona Shoot’s four Open wins were all on pheasants. Both he and Sparkfield Souvenir were line bred for five and six generations respectively and complimented each other very well in both temperament, working ability and conformation. Banner sired a litter in kennel Purdey on an imported Australian bitch (by Montenero Dougal out of a Innistona Shoot daughter), Brogue sired a litter in kennel Riverbend on a bitch whose father was of almost exactly the same breeding as Wingfield Alibi, as he was by FTCh Devon Park Toss – Sally of Kilmacud (Kitty’s sister). While Briar bred a litter in kennel Arddun with imported Oxspring Samson, giving some good dogs.

In Joy’s C-litter she used the New Zealand bred dog Cali Buster of Riverbend (Innistona Shoot – Advie Flare) on Sparkfield Souvenir. The four pups in the litter were very different from each other in size and looks. The first time I visited Leon & Joy they had kept two pups from that litter, then 8 months old. A nice, big dog pup called Chief, already running well, finding birds and retrieving. This pup was later sold to Tom Richardson, who also had Brogue from the litter before. The other pup was a little bitch called Cass, who was sold to Huw Taylor and became a brilliant trial dog. (Brogue, Chief and Cass can all be seen as experienced workers in the video “INSTINCT”.)

Joy also bred from Sparkfield Souvenir a third time, in her D-litter, using an import to Australia from the same Northern Irish kennel. That was Innistona Gun (Innistona Tan – Riverseke Jill), actually a grand-son of Innistona Shoot, as Tan was a son of Shoot. One of those off-springs have performed well in Australia. Unfortunately Joy herself never got to follow up on this litter. Both Joy and Leon still had so much more they wanted to do for the pointers and setters.