One of Joshua Bruckert's favorite activities has now led him to a national FFA award.
The Sauk Prairie FFA member has always been drawn to the outdoors and hunting and eventually channeled that interest into a Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) in Wildlife Production and Management.
He was recently recognized for the quality of that project at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, winning one of four national proficiency awards earned by Wisconsin members. (See related stories.)
Bruckert's advisor Troy Talford has been with the Sauk Prairie FFA chapter since 2006 and worked with him for four years.
"In the introductory classes, students develop their SAE's," Talford explained, "and some don't know what they're interested in, but Josh always had a love for hunting.
"We talked about how he could work on improving habitat but he didn't know how he could do that since the land where he hunts doesn't belong to him or his family."
The advisor and student together came up with an agreement between the FFA member and the landowner - a man who Josh says is more like his second dad, and who is his own dad's best friend, Brian Kindschi.
The plan they all came up with is one designed to improve the habitat in many ways on the 280-acre farm while also creating better hunting for all who use the land.
"Josh has done a lot of monitoring of wildlife populations and he records all that information on his smart phone to give him some idea of what the numbers of wildlife are that exist on the property."
The land supports good populations of deer and turkeys but it has done much better since the habitat improvement.
Bruckert also did some work on several existing ponds on the property that predated his SAE, as well as monitoring water quality.
Putting in food plots was another major part of his project. "He researched what food plots would be the best for the different species on the land and tailored the food plots to those species."
Eight food plots on the tract of land cover about nine acres but the total acres that have been improved for wildlife habitat includes 30-35, Bruckert said. The improvements have resulted in a much higher wildlife population on the land, with a much healthier deer and turkey population.
On much of that Sauk County farm he planted rows of trees to feed the wildlife - apple trees, berry bushes, oaks and maples. "There are now plenty of food sources," he said, "and the number and quality of trophy bucks are starting to show a benefit.
"It has turned into a property Uncle Brian can be proud of." The improvement in the kind and number of deer on the land now has exceeded Bruckert's expectations. "I didn't expect to see this kind of change in only four years."
One of the first things that happened on that land was that Bruckert convinced Kindschi to remove cattle from the pastures, which made an immediate improvement in habitat.
His farming operation includes raising beef cattle and custom raising heifers for dairy farms, so those animals were moved to other locations to improve this land for wildlife.
"I'm so thankful to have had Brian there to help me with this project and help me along."
Another part of his project involved determining the carrying capacity of the land, with regard to deer populations, and how many deer could be harvested without hurting the population.
Other projects the FFA member carried out on that land as part of his SAE included maintenance and thinning of trees as needed, and the maintenance of several roads on the property, his advisor said.
"It's honestly a rewarding experience as a teacher to be up on stage with a kid and see the culmination of years of work on a project," Talford told Wisconsin State Farmer.
Bruckert graduated from Sauk Prairie High School last year and is now a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point majoring in business. He plans to transfer next year to the UW-Madison and hopes to earn degrees in agribusiness and applied economics, with a minor in wildlife ecology.
Eventually he would like to start a business that would use all the skills he has been developing. He and his best friend, who is already at UW-Madison, hope to build an agriculture consulting service when they graduate.
Part of that consulting service might also include Bruckert helping guide farmers who have a piece of land on which they want to create or improve wildlife habitat.
As for winning the award in Indianapolis, Bruckert said it was a surreal experience.
"Honestly I never thought I would get to that point. For something that started out as a class project, then winning at the state level was a joy enough. But to go forward and be nominated for the national award and then hear my name called on stage - to tell you the truth I was a little light headed."