How do you accurately describe someone who is as multifaceted as Jana Waller?
She’s a hardcore hunter, a TV producer, a writer, artist and humanitarian. She’s been involved in the conservation arena for 30 years. She considers one of the highlights of her life as the experience of taking disabled veterans hunting.
This 51-year-old tour de force wears many hats, but the center of her orbit is her love of the outdoors and, of course, family. Jana grew up in the agricultural community of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. She recently moved from the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana for love; she married John Bair; and her career was more mobile than his was. They now live in the South Salt Lake City area of Utah.
Even Jana’s hunting is a medley of everything from the mundane to the exotic. Using rifles, muzzleloaders and bows, she has hunted Whitetail and mule deer, elk, bear, bighorn sheep, sika deer, coyote, cougar, pronghorn antelope and javalina. And then there’s even ostrich, eland and African wildebeest from Africa to add to that list.
“I’m a huge predator hunter,” says Jana, “and I’m passionate about bear hunting.” She even pistol hunts with a Magnum Research .429 Desert Eagle and fishes with an AMS bow.
As a writer, Jana is the western region’s contributor to Bear Hunting magazine. She also served a term as a Montana wildlife commissioner.
This Renaissance woman finds true joy in the outdoors, and through hard work, she has created a career in the field that she loves. She credits an early influence—her dad—for shaping the trajectory of her life.
The Dynamic Duo
Never underestimate the bond between a father and his daughter. Jana describes her dad as one of her best friends. He was her first hunting mentor. She can talk about him for hours.
She was the second of two daughters in the family, and her earliest hunting memory is waiting in the garage for her dad to return from hunting ducks so she could touch and smell them. As a young girl, she sat in his blinds while he hunted ducks and geese.
“I think my dad wanted a son so badly that he turned me into one,” Jana laughs. “I have a picture from my first day of kindergarten. I’m in a full cowboy outfit: Hat, double holsters, pistols and all.”
When she was in grade school, Jana and her dad went to South Dakota to pheasant hunt. “I walked the fields as one of the pushers,” Jana says. “I was one of the official bird flushers, and I thought that was such a cool role to have. Those moments of my childhood really solidified my love–not so much of hunting–but my love of nature and being outside.”
Jana picked up a bow for the first time when she was in college, and then started archery Whitetail hunting. One day back then, her dad called and said, “I shot a buck last night, but I can’t find him. You want to come home and help me look?”
She skipped class and went home, which was only 10 minutes away. As they walked the rows of the cornfield, Jana spotted the buck’s tracks from the drag marks in the mud. She found the buck, and yelled to her dad, who was elated.
“I’ve never seen him more excited,” she recalls. “He was jumping up and down. I remember literally thinking, ‘I want that. I want to feel that.’”
That experience began her kinship with the land and its creatures, and that would lead to a career.
Bringing That Love to TV
Jana worked in the financial industry and in outside sales for 15 years before breaking into the outdoor industry, both in front of the camera and behind it. She has made the shift from network shows to digital TV because she sees the immense potential of it.
Currently, Jana is the host and executive producer of Skull Bound Chronicles, an on-demand channel appearing on CarbonTV. Her show features the adventures of hunters and fishermen and their conservation work from around the world. With over 4.5 million views, she also portrays her own hunts, her conservation initiatives and her artwork.
“I hardly ever hunt anymore without a camera,” she said.
“One of the reasons why I love CarbonTV so much is that it’s owned by hunters,” she says. Jana’s series, “Skull Bound TV,” has its own FAST channel on the CarbonTV platform, which features all of her previous episodes from network television. The popular streaming video platform is moving the bar as one of the first digital platforms to start FAST channels.
Compassion runs deep as a motivator for Jana, as her close friend Jules McQueen describes.
“Jana has a deep connection to people who are in service to others,” says Jules. “She is the only person I know who cries when the national anthem plays. And it’s not for show, I’m usually the only one who notices. She devoted an entire season of her show to veterans, and she has given much of her life to that cause. Everyone thinks that it’s Jana who is blessing others by taking them on epic trips. But she has been blessed by each person she’s taken into the field, and she’s learned so much about life from their stories. “That’s the real beauty of it,” she says.
The genesis for Jana’s work with veterans began when she met Bo Reichenbach, a double amputee Navy SEAL, through a fundraiser in Missoula, Montana. She asked him if he’d like to go on an elk hunt. It snowballed from there.
The 2022 season of Skull Bound Chronicles features all-veteran shows. That’s the show’s fourth season. Jana says all the participants were combat veterans and many of them were amputees. Some had been hunters previously, and most of the hunts were for elk.
Jana shared mountain time and campfire time with the combat vets. It’s clear that she appreciates what they’ve been through and the challenges of their lives now. It has made my life so much richer because I appreciate where I live. I appreciate my freedoms more than I ever have before. I appreciate my own health,” she says. “There are so many things that we take for granted, and these veterans have opened up my eyes to that. My favorite moments in the field are with these combat veterans, because it’s not just appreciating the hunt, it’s literally that they have changed my life.”
Art, Conservation Merge
Jana and her dad also share their love of art and painting. Again, thanks to her dad, Jana now creates unique and dramatically decorated animal skulls.
Years ago, her dad returned from a trip to New Mexico with a photo of a painted ram skull in an antique store. Jana put her painting skills to work and started on her European Whitetail skulls. Then she started adding beads, crystals, arrowheads and other semi-precious stones.
She uses skulls from animals she has hunted, ones she buys online or those of her clients. Species include deer, longhorn steers, and buffalo. Many of her decorated skulls are donated to nonprofit conservation organizations and are auctioned off for fundraising. “I just beaded up a replica skull of a mule deer that raised $14,500 at the Hunt Expo this last February,” she says. “Every dollar goes to the Mule Deer Foundation.”
That’s the largest amount one of her pieces has garnered to date. They go from a couple of hundred bucks at a small gathering to several thousand dollars, which is average. The relationship between Jana’s artwork and her hunting reflects her conservation ethic. “My artwork is just another way for me to express my gratitude for wildlife and my love of the hunt,” Jana says. “It’s also a way to protect hunting and habitat. She says she has raised over $98,000 through her artwork and donated to hunts.
“I’ve been involved in conservation for over 30 years,” she says. Jana currently holds membership in nine conservation groups, including being a life member in four of them. Her favorites include the Mule Deer Foundation, Sportsmen’s Alliance, Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, National Wild Turkey Federation, and American Bear Foundation.
Conserving Heritage for the Future
Through her TV show and her conservation work, Jana is dedicated to protecting and conserving animals, their habitats, and North America’s hunting culture. “We have the best conservation model in the world. Clearly, by protecting hunting, we are protecting animals,” she says. “If we want to keep this hunting heritage, we have to pass it along to the youth, to the moms, to all these other subgroups.”
Jana’s life work lauds the rewards of hunting. “I don’t think anything else in life delivers the spectrum of emotions like hunting does,” she says. “That beautiful, breathing creature is giving its life to sustain mine.”
She describes all the positive emotions she experiences through hunting, like the thrill of getting your animal and the appreciation and pure joy of being outdoors. She admits there are some negative emotions of frustration and sadness—to a degree—in taking the life of an animal. She describes the physical challenge of putting in 15 miles a day and packing out a bear on her back several miles. It can be exhausting, she admits.
So, how does Jana stay in shape, given her self-description that she was an “athletic klutz” as a kid?
“I don’t train for a specific hunt, but I work out three to five times a week to stay healthy,” she says. That includes weightlifting and cardio work to help make her ready for a hunt at the drop of a hat. She describes a recent mountain lion hunt, where the party went straight up a mountain for three hours.
A Woman in Hunting
Jana doesn’t spend much time tooting her own horn, but this successful woman has received numerous awards over the years. Two that mean the most to her were the “
Communicator of the Year” from the National Wild Turkey Federation in 2015, and the “Distinguished Alumni Award” from the University of Wisconsin–Whitewater for promoting women in the outdoors and conservation. That’s where she received a degree in public relations. This has been such an incredible 13 years of my life being in the hunting industry,” she says. “I feel super lucky to be a woman in the hunting industry and to have the opportunity to share my passion for the hunt and our sustainable lifestyle.”
Jana admits, “People ask me, ‘What’s it like to be a woman in the hunting industry… is it tough?’ “Jana laughs and responds, “I’ve had more doors open for me because I am an older woman in the hunting industry. I have credibility. I have time in the field. Women are so important to the promotion of hunting as a healthy, viable sport because they break the stereotype of men with guns.”
Grow New Hunters Organically
To a large extent, Jana Waller is who she is today because of her father’s unfaltering mentoring and encouragement.
“He let me shadow him in the field,” she says. And that experience comprises her advice to men who want to get their wives or children out hunting: “Let them shadow you.”
“My dad signed me up for a hunter safety class when I was 12,” Jana says. She often gets messages from men who say their daughters or wives were inspired by Skull Bound Chronicles to take a hunter safety course and to start hunting.
“Nowadays, you go into a hunter safety class and it’s 50/50 girls to boys, which is awesome to see,” she says. “I’ve seen a huge shift in that ratio in the last half-decade.”
Shadowing goes beyond being outdoors together, she contends.
“When I was young, my dad took me to Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever banquets,” she says. His conservation ethic sparked his daughter’s subsequent conservation ethic years later.
Jana recently attended a banquet of the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (where her husband is an auctioneer). She applauds the special activities for kids at these events, including games and prizes. “The kids know they belong there,” she says, “and they can see the excitement.”