Photo by Chuck Martin.

May 1, 2024

Introducing IRAP’s 2023 Landowner of the Year: Lifelong Bird Hunter and Conservationist, Chuck Martin

Chuck Martin isn’t your typical landowner. An avid upland bird hunter, Martin’s love of wildlife and spending time in the outdoors has made him an exceptional advocate of conservation practices on his property in Christian County. To date, he has enrolled 45 of his 70 acres in Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which encompasses all of the tillable acres on the property. Martin’s dedication to conservation isn’t the only thing that sets him apart, however. Through his enrollment in the Illinois Recreational Access Program (IRAP), Martin has been able to implement habitat management projects on his 70 acres while also providing opportunities to countless hunters and anglers in Illinois.

A young boy and older man walking in a tall grassy area. The young boy is holding a shotgun in his right arm. In the background is a line of trees against a bright blue sky.
Chuck Martin posing with his grandson. Photo courtesy of Chuck Martin.

Finding a place to hunt in Illinois can be especially difficult, as nearly 97 percent of the state is privately owned. Over that past two decades, more and more private landowners have become less willing to allow access to their property due to concerns about liability. Thankfully in 2011, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) received a federal grant through the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Voluntary Public Access-Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP), which led to the creation of IRAP. Because of IRAP and landowners like Chuck Martin, many first-time, veteran, youth and displaced adult hunters now have a place to hunt and experience the benefits of spending time together in nature.

By working with private landowners, IRAP is able to make private land available for semi-controlled public access. In exchange for allowing semi-controlled public access, landowners receive a lease payment, a habitat management plan, assistance with habitat projects and $2 million liability insurance. To date, IRAP has offered more than 28,000 acres in over 54 counties that are leased for activities ranging from youth turkey hunting, spring season 3 and 4 turkey hunting, pond and riverbank fishing, squirrel and rabbit hunting, youth firearm and archery deer hunting, and upland game and waterfowl hunting.

Rooted in Family Values

Martin first enrolled in IRAP in 2016. He now allows youth, third, and fourth season turkey hunting, archery deer hunting and pond fishing on his property in Christian County. His decision to become a land steward himself was heavily influenced by the time he spent quail and pheasant hunting with his father, which he described as ‘some of the best times of [their] lives.’

At the time he and his dad hunted together, neither of them owned land that provided access to hunting. This meant that they had to rely upon the generosity of other landowners who granted them permission to hunt their property. The generosity of those landowners left a big impression on Martin, and it made him realize that he wanted to continue hunting with his son and grandson while also offering access to other hunters.

“I told my dad that I was going to buy existing farmland and turn it back into habitat for wildlife,” Martin recalled. “My dad didn’t think that was the brightest idea because of the high price of farmland at the time, but thanks to the encouragement and support of my wife, we now own 70 acres that we can manage for wildlife and make accessible to other hunters just like my dad and me.”

Indeed, Martin’s favorite part about being enrolled in IRAP is being able to provide to other families the same kind of experiences that he and his dad enjoyed. Martin is a proponent of youth getting into the outdoors where they have opportunities to learn about nature and bond with family. He’s always happy when he sees a young hunter heading out into his timber with a parent or mentor for their first hunt in a controlled setting where they can practice skills and techniques they have learned together.

IRAP’s Benefits to Illinois Landowners, Recreationists and Wildlife

A young boy wearing warm gear and a red stocking cap stands in a tall grassy area. He holds a shotgun in his right arm. In the background is a line of trees against a bright blue sky.
Photo by Chuck Martin.

Martin discovered IRAP through a chance meeting with IRAP staff in 2015 while promoting his book, Bird Hunting: Tales and Tips, at the annual Southern Illinois Hunting and Fishing Days event at John A. Logan Community College in Carterville. Besides having sustained a successful career in the coal mining industry and still being actively involved in overseeing the Christian County Coal Mining Museum in Taylorville, Martin is also a published author. (The proceeds of his book go toward funding of the museum). Martin’s book features a series of stories about upland bird hunting that highlight the importance of spending time in the outdoors to foster meaningful relationships with both family and nature.

Martin’s love of upland bird hunting hasn’t changed, and it’s what he and his son and grandson primarily hunt on the property together. While he hasn’t had as much luck getting a breeding population of quail to establish, there are plenty of wild pheasants on the property. Because the property contains a mixture of prairie and timber, it is also ideal habitat for deer, turkey and just about every other native wildlife species in Illinois. Martin and his family do not hunt deer or turkey, and because they also have a pond on the property, they are happy to provide public access to IRAP-assigned spring turkey and archery deer hunters and anglers. He and his wife like people, and they like being able to provide a place for others to hunt, especially when they aren’t using it. Martin happily reported that all of the IRAP assigned hunters who have accessed their property have been respectful and courteous.

“No one has ever destroyed anything, left any trash, or caused any issues with parking,” he explained.

Of course, one of the main, additional incentives for Martin to enroll in IRAP was the assistance he has received with habitat management on his property. Landowners who enroll in IRAP become eligible for a written or updated habitat management plan, and cost share and technical assistance with the implementation of habitat management projects on their property. Since he first enrolled in 2016, Martin has conducted prairie restoration and native forb plantings, prescribed burns, vegetation management and stocking of fish in his pond through the guidance of his IRAP Coordinator. Martin explained that all of the IRAP staff he has worked with have been extremely cooperative and easy to communicate with.

“Every single one of the [IRAP] staff I have worked with have done what they had said they would do, and more,” Martin said. “They are quick to answer questions and provide technical expertise.”

Martin’s next management project will be creating a vegetation buffer along the creek that runs through his property that will provide habitat for quail while also preventing soil erosion and nutrient run-off from adjacent agricultural fields. He feels like he is finally at a point where his property is ‘in a good place,’ and where he doesn’t need to plan out any more long-term projects to enhance its beauty or ecological potential. It is a place where many landowners may struggle to find themselves due to the proliferation of non-native invasive species across Illinois, which in turn has been the impetus for many landowners to seek enrollment in IRAP.


The members of Martin’s family enjoy the property in their own way, whether it be through long walks along the trails on the property, exploring the woods and prairie, observing wildlife (including the annual, spring ‘snapping turtle migration’ from the pond), or the beautiful sunsets. In fact, Martin ultimately attributes his decision to purchase and build upon the ecological value of the property to his wife, who is just, if not more, passionate about conservation, enjoying wildlife and providing meaningful experiences to outdoor recreationists.

“None of this would be possible without my wife, Mary Jo,” he noted. “Without her, I wouldn’t have done all of this. She encouraged me to promote more wildlife on the property, and to make it the beautiful place it is today. ”

IRAP staff are thankful for landowners like Chuck Martin and his family, who so clearly understand the importance of creating habitat for wildlife, and how doing so contributes numerous other ecological and social benefits. IRAP is dedicated to improving habitat for wildlife while also providing opportunities to first-time, youth, veteran, and displaced hunters and anglers. Without landowners who are willing to enroll their program in good faith, expecting that the public who access it will treat it with the same respect and reverence they do, we wouldn’t have programs like IRAP.

Alex Davis is the IRAP Marketing and Outreach Specialist. She has a degree in Anthropology (B.A.) from SIU Carbondale, and a degree in Environmental Studies (M.A.) from UIS Springfield. She was a graduate student intern with IDNR’s Natural Heritage Database in 2017, and then spent two years working as an ecological restoration technician for Nelson Land Management where she conducted invasive species management, timber stand improvement and prescribed burns. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, botany, mycology and nature photography.

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