The Book

My qualifications for writing such a book follow. It all began in the forties when, as a ten year old, I accompanied my uncle pheasant shooting. He was a great shot and hunter and had setters which were always excellent game finders though not well trained. As a young man he had spent one season in the North as a market hunter where he shot as one of a team of three who left their pheasants at preaaranged trees to be collected by packhorse.

At weekends, during the shooting season, his home was a meeting place for pheasant hunters. This assembly of sportsmen, bird-dogs and guns, with its atmosphere of excitement and suspense as they set out: tales of chances taken, chances missed: the inspection of the bag, with a remark or anecdote for this bird and that, fascinated me.

When I was twelve, I came across and bought the book Gun Dogs And Their Training by Atwood Clark. I realized that the sport could be taken to quite a different level. I determined that one day I would shoot over such dogs as those described in the book.

My home background was from a dairy farm, where my grandfather and father bred pedigree jersey cattle. From early days I was exposed to discussions on breeding, and was seeing the results of the decisions made. My father’s absorbing hobby was racing. With very limited means he was able to produce a series of winners. By this time I was studying and had several books on genetics and anmial breeding. We had many discussions and arguments: the inexperienced theorist, and the man with a lifetime’s experience working with, and breeding, horses and cattle.

When I had completed my medical studies, I set about obtaining dogs of the quality I had never seen, but only dreamt about after reading Atwood Clark. I wanted to be able to train them to the level of perfection that he described as possible. The book will describe the mistakes I have made, and the successes I have had, breeding, buying and training dogs.

My dogs have won the New Zealand Pointer & Setter Championship a record ten times. One of these wins was also a double win, with the judge finding it impossible to separate the two sisters GRFTCh & FCh Wingfield Token and her older sister FTCh Wingfield Sioux, both of which I handled. So perhaps I should say there were eleven wins! My dogs have won the North Island Championship fifteen times. They also hold the record for wins at championship level on wild pheasants and quail.

My main interest has been English setters, but I have had Irish setters, pointers, springer spaniels and labradors. I bred thoroughbred horses, producing Andretti, who won both of New Zealand’s Group One 2 year old races in 1982.

I have imported several dogs, some in partnership, bred many, and trained all my own dogs and many others. My present dogs have the best of English, Irish, French, American and Norwegian blood.

The dogs provide great interest and enjoyment. If your aim is to breed, train and shoot over great dogs, of attractive appearance, then read on.

Some world wide readers’ comments and a review of the book…

Readers’ comments from four different continents…

Leon Mortensen was and is a legend in Australasian gundog circles and his book is a mine of information that will give insight and tips to anyone who reads it. No other person in New Zealand has been able to emulate Leon’s influence and success and I doubt they will. He has been described as “A Gentleman in pursuit of excellence” and there can be no better description… Our gundogs and gundog fraternity is poorer for the loss of Leon, a gentle man who had “a way with a dog”.

Clark Reid (New Zealand gundog/spaniel authority)

The book is saturated with knowledge and dedication to the subject, and the author brilliantly describes his love towards bird dogs and hunting. It is a very educating book about breeding and I have and always will recommend it to all with an interest in bird dogs.

Jørn Wølner, Norway (40 years with bird dogs, 30 years with setters)

Dr Leon Mortensen’s book is a wealth of actual information on field trialing and hunting dogs. This is a true book recorded from Dr Mortensen’s huge experience.

Young-Bae Chung, Korea (Vice President Classic Pointer & Setter Club)

Dr Mortensen poses an interesting question in his introduction: “Why write another book on bird dogs?” In my experience, many of the standard “how-to” training books simply rehash a few tried and true methods that have been around for hundreds of years. But Dr Mortensen’s book is different. It offers fresh insights into breeding, the all-important role of genetics in determening the potential for great performance, and some very useful common-sense “maxims” based on the author’s experience in the field. I can’t think of a more truthful bit of advice than Dr Mortensen’s observation: “The dog is more important than the pedigree.” Dr Mortensen’s passion for high-performance bird dogs is impressive. Even more impressive though, is his deep love for the individual dogs that were part of his life.

Ted Baker, Ontario Canada (35 years with English setters)

Review of the book…

Bird Dogs – Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

Bird Dogs

Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

by Dr Leon Mortensen

This book, written by a gentleman of the bird dog sport, was published a few months before his death in January 2004. Through the book the author has left an open and honest document of his life with bird dogs, with stories, qualified opinions and reflections.

Dr Leon Mortensen was probably the greatest personality of the gundog world downunder. He had more than fifty years experience hunting and training bird dogs, and almost as long field trialing and as a breeder. His abilities as a trainer were reflected in the absolute class his dogs displayed in trials. As a breeder he combined theory and practice better than anyone. His home work was solid. Everything was checked and double-checked. He knew exactly what he wanted to achieve and was completely pragmatic about it.

The doctor hunted more than most people, shot thousands of birds over pointing gundogs and trained and handled a number of topdogs. He bred approximately thirty litters (English setters, Irish setters and also pointers with his wife Joy), successfully bred thoroughbred horses and had a great insight into animal breeding in general (and delivered more than 500 babies!).

He visited various field trials abroad both as judge and spectator, and he read about and studied the subjects of breeding and bird dogs. In Leon Mortensen, theory and practice reached a new dimension. He understood the principles of genetics in the smallest mathematical detail, while at the same time he had practical experience and an eye for talent and traits.

The entire book is interesting – a huge enthusiast freely sharing his thoughts with the reader. Some of the chapters are exceptional, in particular those entitled “Getting started”, “Breeding” and “Trials”. In these chapters he deals with some myths, truths and complete un-truths. He gives both praise and criticism, both to living and dead personas. He also talks about and gives his views on the trial systems of Norway, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Italy. He portrays the reality with great insight.

In a chapter called “Dogs I have won with”, he describes 9 different dogs among those he has trained and handled to success. Some of them were bred by himself, some bred by others, including imports. Pedantic as the doctor was, he had accurate journals about every dog he had in his hands, from puppy to top trial dog. Through the entire book he shares anecdotes and interesting notes mixed with hard facts. Many entertaining hunting stories are also included.

Through nearly two hundred pages the reader is presented with an eventful and interesting life, passionately dedicated to working towards better bird dogs. I dare say that anyone who shares this same interest at any level will get great pleasure from the book. In particular, anyone with aspirations as a breeder should take time to enjoy the 19 pages in the chapter about breeding.

Leon Mortensen always practised what others often talk about, with reference to Thomas Oakleigh’s famous words: “The best dog is that which gives the sportsman most chances of a shot.” This sentence runs like a thread through the entire book. He also warns against irrelevant ideas which become “fashion”, often conflicting from country to country and between different trial cultures.

Mortensen also recommends (with explanations) various literature, ranging from Roland Huntford’s book about Scott and Amundsen to Tesio’s book on breeding thoroughbred horses to various gundog literature. There are also references and footnotes throughout the book.

This will be a valuable and treasured addition to any gundog enthusiast’s library.

To order the book please email

Frank-Tommy Olsen