15 Questions with Skull Bound TV’s Jana Waller

We sat down with hunter, television host, writer and artist Jana Waller to chat about her start in hunting, what keeps her inspired and the balance between managing hunting as both a passion and a business.

It would seem no two days are the same for Jana Waller. Based in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley, she has plenty on her plate—ranging from host for Skull Bound TV, writing for various magazines, appearing at trade shows, working with conservation and veteran’s organizations, crafting decorated skulls to simply getting in some hunting or fishing time for herself. Here at onX, we’ve worked with her for eight years and always enjoy seeing her stories make the rounds.

Woman in camouflage glassing for animals while hunting in the mountains.

We recently caught up with the busy hunter and had a conversation about priorities, passions and the real reasons that drive all of us in this industry:

Let’s talk about your background—where you came from and what got you into hunting and the outdoors. How did your outdoor professional career get started and how has it grown?

I’m from Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin; a mid-sized, agricultural community in the southern part of the state. I grew up in the country, spending all of my time outdoors. My dad was smart enough to foster that love of nature and took me along on his hunts when I was in grade school. He signed me up for Hunter Safety Class when I was 12, kick-starting my love of hunting. I picked up a bow for the first time when I was in college and started archery whitetail hunting in the early ‘90s.

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Why do you do what you do? What made you get in front of the camera?

My first time on camera was for an Animal Planet pilot that featured women who hunt and the topic of sustainable living. The producers found me through a website called womenhunters.com, where I used to write articles. The series never did get picked up, but shortly thereafter I met my current producer Jim Kinsey and we developed our own show idea based around hunting, our connection to nature and my skull artwork. We felt there was a need for hunting programing to show that it’s not about killing but more about living and conservation.

What’s integral to your work? What keeps you inspired?

For me it’s crucial that I stay true to myself. Everyone has their own style or ways of “branding” for lack of a better word, but in this technological era it’s important to remember that people are viewing what we hunters do, making their own assessments and judgments. It’s important to me that the non-hunters, or “friends of friends” that may not live our lifestyle, see that we hunters are animal lovers. We truly care about the herds, flocks and habitat, and we do more to protect them than any other group in this country.

Whether it’s through social media, online outlets or TV, I want to show hunting as a beautiful, integral part of living. I’m also very inspired by others who have the same goal. My passion for hunting only becomes stronger when I see others like Jason Matzinger, Robbie Kroger, Ivan Carter and other conservationists showing the masses our love for healthy and sustainable wildlife and public lands.

Female hunter hunting in the plains with antelope she shot.

Hunting and an individual’s relationship with hunting are intimate topics—how has your personal hunting experience helped shape your media career?

I feel both are one in the same. My “media career” IS my personal hunting experience. What you see is what you get. I don’t feel that I tailor my show or my social media to fit a certain agenda or image. I simply put out there exactly what I’m experiencing and how I’m feeling at the time. There are often tears of joy, tears of frustration, moments of elation and triumph but also the lows that can result from a hunt. It goes back to the point of staying authentic, which is extremely important to me.

On the “media career” side of things there are sponsors who are expecting you to brand their products in a certain way but I’m lucky enough to work with amazing companies that simply believe in my message and give me free rein to help them market their products. I would not work with a company that wanted me to act or portray anything that wasn’t ME.

Love the bright colors in your painted and beaded skulls. What inspired you to start doing that work?

I’ve always been a painter as a fun hobby but my dad returned home from a trip to New Mexico years back where he had taken a photo of a painted ram skull. It was painted in a Native American dot design with bright bold colors and I got inspired to start painting whitetail skulls. One thing led to another and I started painting other skulls, both from people’s hunts or even skulls that they had purchased like longhorns or buffalo. The painting slowly evolved into beading which is primarily what I do today. I use anything from turquoise and arrowheads to Swarovski crystals and wooden beads.

Jana Waller with a crystal decorated animal skull.

What’s the typical artistic process like for you, from inception of an idea to a final piece? I love the use of color; how do you decide which colors will go in which piece?

I often discuss the design idea with my customers. I’ll have them go look at paintedskulls.com to look at a variety of styles and colors and we go from there. It often depends on where the skull will hang. Some look very rustic or Southwest-inspired while others are very blinged-out.

If you could tackle any hunt around the globe, where would you go / what would you do?

I would love to go on a grizzly bear hunt. I have plans to go to Alaska next year and am so looking forward to the adventure.

What has chiefly influenced your outlook on life, in both outdoor sport and life in general?

I’m constantly influenced by people who are literally living their dreams—as cliche as it sounds, people who are living their best life. They all seem to have a few things in common. Truly happy people all look at life through the same lens. They have a positive outlook that only promotes growth, both personally and professionally. The attitude of gratitude so to speak; a “What’s this trying to teach me?” versus “Why is this happening?” mentality. I have always believed that you get out of life what you put into it and when you’re constantly working hard, doing good things for others and trying to consciously better yourself then upward growth is inevitable.

Woman in camouflage hunting in the snowy woods holding a compound bow.

Any real-life situations or stories that have inspired you?

There are SO many stories that inspire me weekly. My friend Jason Kroger who lost his hands in an electrical accident but is still a very active dad, husband and hunter. Daniel Lyon, who lost three of his co-workers and burned nearly 70% of his body in a tragic forest fire but who remains positive and still chases his dreams. My buddy Eric Galvan, a triple amputee Marine, who just graduated college and is going to become a counselor, therapist or social worker. I have met so many inspiring people who don’t let potential life changing events slow them down or keep them from loving life.

Any memorable responses you’ve had to your work?

I’ll often receive messages from men who’ve said their daughters were inspired by my show and decided to go to Hunter Safety Class and start hunting. That truly melts my heart because I know that can be the first step to having a lifelong passion for hunting as well as a connection they’ll share together. It’s what bonds my dad and I together and it’s such an amazing gift to be able to call your dad one of your best friends.

Women bowhunting with elk she shot.

You’re based in the Bitterroot Valley. What’s your favorite thing about this part of Montana?

I love the Bitterroot not just for its beauty, but because there’s so much to do. From kayaking the river to hunting and hiking, this part of Montana is such a treasure. I look out at the snow-capped mountains every day and can’t imagine a more perfect place for my lifestyle.

What’s your ideal day? How would you spend it?

My ideal day is out in the mountains either hunting, looking for sheds or even just hiking. A close second would be spent on the water fly fishing.

Woman hunter posing with deer shot during hunting season.

Any advice you’d give someone wanting to break into the hunting industry?

As more and more people try to get into the hunting industry, given the technology we have today, I think it’s critical to know your market and offer something original. Whether it’s a product or a point of view, it needs to be unique these days to stand out and be noticed. I also think it’s important to utilize all of the pieces of the pie in this industry… from online websites to print to social media to TV. One of the keys to Skull Bound’s success is that we try to hit all of the ways to market our show. I write for hunting and conservation magazines, do weekly podcasts, appear at expos and events across the country, have a show on both online and network platforms and utilize social media outlets. I think it’s important to stay active in all areas and to be authentic in your delivery.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I was recently given the advice to look at your life every three months like a lease that’s up for renewal. Asking yourself, “How’s this working for me?” can be applied both professionally and personally. I think it’s easy to fall into situations that are stagnant or comfortable but not the best for you or the most productive. I think it’s important to get pushed out of your comfort zone in order to grow and learn, and to surround yourself with people who allow you to be authentic. People who celebrate your success but who also will call you out on your shortcomings.

What’s your ultimate professional goal?

I feel so blessed to be able to be doing exactly what I’m doing now. I’m currently filming season 9 of Skull Bound TV and am working on our Skull Bound Chronicles show on Carbon TV. I am truly living my best life on a professional level and simply hope to continue, whatever that means. I’ve always said yes to opportunities that are out in front of me, even when they’re intimidating or uncertain, but I have faith in the process and path.