Wood County man earns deer stewardship recognition
BY MIKE WARREN
WOOD COUNTY – Brian Ruesch of Vesper has achieved a deer-management accreditation level that very few in the country have. Ruesch is the first in 2023 – and just the 67th ever – to receive Deer Steward Level 3 recognition from the National Deer Association.
“With his Deer Steward 3 distinction, Brian joins a select group of some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable deer enthusiasts in the country,” said Ben Westfall, NDA’s Conservation Coordinator. “We are thrilled to honor Brian for his ongoing dedication to wildlife management and conservation.”
Ruesch is just the second in Wisconsin to ever attain the Level 3 ranking, the most prestigious accreditation in the Deer Steward program, achievable only through an individual’s long-term service to the NDA and conservation.
“It’s kind of a combination of a lot of the education part, just the understanding of deer in general,” Ruesch said, during our March 27 interview. “These courses that you go through, that they put you through, most of the people that are teaching them are biologists,” he added. “It got pretty technical and stuff that you wouldn’t think most deer hunters would ever need to know or have to know, and they don’t. It was a pretty intense education program that they have in Level 1 and Level 2. Then on the Level 3 basis, it’s a, ‘What have you done with all this information over your lifetime?’ From there you have to meet a certain number of checkmarks, or points, out of all these different activities to be considered.”
Ruesch graduated Deer Steward Level 1 in 2014 and Level 2 in 2018, helping pave the way to his Level 3 designation.
“We started, basically, the first chapter in the country back in ’93,” said Ruesch. “It was just a startup, little grassroots organization with some biologists that wanted to promote this idea of allowing young bucks to walk while taking adequate amounts of does so that you had a healthy deer herd. That was really the whole concept behind it,” he added. “Traditional hunting was you shoot the first buck you saw. It didn’t matter what the size, as long as it was a legal buck, you shoot it. That was the mentality of hunting for generations,” Ruesch recalled. “This concept is to make sure that the herd is healthy by removing excess deer, which are usually the antlerless deer, and allowing that young buck to get at least a year or two older before you harvest it. What that does is it creates a structured age in the buck herd. In other words, you have older bucks and younger bucks in the same deer herd. There are some advantages to doing that for the deer themselves, as well as for the hunters that want to see a nice buck every now and then. And if you don’t take that small buck and you want meat, the opposite is to take that doe, which is healthy for the deer herd because then it doesn’t get overpopulated.”
Brian was one of the earliest members of the organization and has been heavily involved in volunteer work since the early days of the Quality Deer Management Association, which over the past few years has merged with the National Deer Association. In 1994, Brian founded the central Wisconsin branch, the very first in the state of Wisconsin, and one of the first in the nation to hold a banquet with its proceeds going directly to national deer and deer hunting-related issues.
Ruesch said the concept caught on quickly.
“I went around the neighborhood and asked if they would be interested in doing this and that’s when I found out that a lot of them would,” he remembers. “So, that’s how we got things started. The next year we went up by Marshfield and over by Lindsey, and I became kind of a speaker for the organization. I went around and gave presentations to these people that would set up kind of an open house-type thing at a bar or a town hall,” Ruesch recalls. “We had hundreds of thousands of acres in central Wisconsin committed back in 1995 already.”
Ruesch says the concept behind the original Quality Deer Management Association – now the National Deer Association – has worked.
“Most of the record-book deer in Wood County, for example, have been taken after we started Quality Deer Management,” Ruesch says. “I’d say 90 percent of what’s in the record book, starting from day one a hundred years ago, the far majority of them were shot after we started Quality Deer Management back in the early 90s. So, yeah, it’s had a huge impact on the number of hunters shooting big deer.”
In addition to his volunteer work with the organization, Ruesch has extensively managed his own property for deer by implementing numerous forest stand improvement projects, food plots, invasive plant control, tree plantings, and much more. Brian has provided access to his property for numerous habitat and food plot seminars, assisted Wisconsin DNR biologists with data collection, and oversees the central Wisconsin branch’s Conservation Seed sales every spring. Ruesch and his wife own an 80-acre farm that has been in his family since 1879, along with an 80-acre hunting parcel a mile east of the farm.
“It’s just my love for deer hunting and the excitement of seeing a big buck or maybe even shooting one every now and then that just kind of propels me to keep on doing it,” he adds.
Formally launched on November 10, 2020, the National Deer Association is a non-profit deer conservation group that leads efforts to ensure the future of wild deer, wildlife habitat and hunting.
For more information on the Deer Steward program, contact Ben Westfall at [email protected].