JOPLIN, Mo. — Jane Mitchell is the first to admit that her favorite hobby is a bit incongruous with the rest of her life. She just completed a six-year term heading up the local garden club, is a former chamber of commerce director and is 67 years old.
She’s also a bear hunter.
“I was born in a generation when there was no such thing as gender neutral – unless you lived way off in the country and did things out of necessity,” she said. “When I was a child, my dad hunted rabbits with my four brothers, but hunting was not something that girls did.”
Born and raised in Joplin, Mitchell graduated from Joplin High School in 1963. For 35 years, she has been self-employed as a real estate developer. Seventeen years ago, her husband, Steve, a bowhunter, introduced her to hunting.
“He asked me if I would be interested in learning how to use one. I said yes, and I really liked it. But when bow season came around and he asked me if I wanted to hunt, I didn’t know. I just wasn’t sure if I would like it,” she said.
She began by sitting in a tree stand with him, easing into an environment in which deer fed right under them at the base of the tree. She was armed with a compound bow with a release.
It wasn’t long before she had called in her first buck.
“I grunted it in with my grunt call, and it was a 3-point spike,” she said. “I was so proud that I actually did it.”
She was 50.
“Age doesn’t matter,” she said. “The skill of the bow has to do with your upper body strength. Once you have developed those muscles that are needed to draw back your bow and hold it, you don’t lose it.”
Steve, who has won numerous awards for his marksmanship with a bow, coached her on her technique. But when he suggested a bear hunt, Mitchell wasn’t sold on the idea.
“I thought, ‘What will make them think I’m not bait?’ ” she said. “I was not anxious to put myself in that situation, but he wanted to go, so I agreed.”
They watched numerous videos about bear hunting, talked to others who had been and then arranged a trip through an outfitter in Alberta, Canada – the only way to hunt there, Mitchell said, as non-Canadians are not eligible for hunting tags.
On her second night in the tree stand, she bagged a bear.
Although she didn’t bring home the meat – in Canada, it’s common practice for hunters to give the meat to Aboriginal Canadians – she did bring home the bear hide and the desire to go again. She has since returned to Canada for four more bear hunts, the most recent earlier this month.
“(Steve and I) have a great friendship because of this. Everyone asks us, is there competition? We’re not like that; we’re so happy for each other. Anything he gets, I’m thrilled for him, and anything I get, he’s thrilled for me,” she said.