ANCHORAGE — A former beauty queen who hosts an Outdoor Channel adventure show illegally shot an Alaska grizzly bear and conspired to cover up the violation, according to charges filed in a rural state court.
Theresa Vail, 25, of Wichita, Kansas, the star of “Limitless with Theresa Vail,” is charged with killing a grizzly bear in May without possessing a state bear tag for the animal. Investigators say she held a single bear tag and shot a male grizzly bear, attempted to kill it with a second shot, and instead fired and killed a second bear, a sow grizzly.
Vail also is charged with unsworn falsification, another misdemeanor. Prosecutor Aaron Peterson in a criminal complaint said Vail signed and backdated a big game tag record to make it appear she had purchased the tag before shooting the bear.
Also charged in the case are master guide Michael Wade Renfro, 46, and assistant guide Joseph Andrew Miller, 45. They conspired to cover up Vail’s violation by obtaining the second bear tag after the bears died and submitted wrong information to game authorities, charging documents say.
Renfro’s attorney, Myron Angstman said Monday that he had not seen the criminal complaint but was aware of the charges.
“It’s an unfortunate event,” Angstman said. “It was an accidental shooting of a second bear while a person was lawfully engaged in shooting a first bear,” he said. “Those kinds of things happen once in a great while.”
Afterward, Angstman said, it appears errors in judgment occurred.
Tom Caraccioli, director of communications for the Outdoor Sportsman Group networks, said in an email that the Outdoor Channel is committed to legal and ethical hunting.
“We have strict policies and procedures in place that require all of our talent and producers to abide by all hunting regulations,” he said. “In June, Theresa Vail and the ‘Limitless’ production team alerted the authorities of the situation. The hunt never aired on Outdoor Channel.”
The channel describes the show as “the compelling story of a young, grass roots, red-blooded, all-American woman who is on a mission to overcome stereotypes, break barriers, and use her life story as a platform to help transform people’s opinions of all the things a woman should, could and can be.”
Vail is a former Miss Kansas, a member of the Army National Guard and an “ambassador” for Bass Pro Shops, Franchi Shotguns, and the National Rifle Association, according to her biography on the show.
Vail was on a hunt May 19 to May 27 arranged with Renfro’s business, Renfro’s Alaska Adventures, south of Holy Cross, Alaska State Trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said in an email.
According to the criminal complaint, Vail hunted with Miller and used a right-handed bolt action rifle even though she’s left-handed.
The hunting party spotted the bear and sow, and at Miller’s direction, Vail fired at the bear. She chambered another round, fired a second shot and hit the sow. Both bears died.
According to prosecutors, Miller contacted Renfro and a collective decision was made to obtain a second grizzly bear tag. Renfro, according to the criminal complaint, packed the second tag in a bag, flew over the group and dropped it out of a Piper PA-18 airplane. Miller attached the invalid tag to the second bear, and the parties skinned both bears.
Vail a day later signed the second bear tag and backdated it to May 26 to make it appear that it had been purchased the day the bears were killed, according to the complaint.
Renfro and Miller as guides are required to contact authorities to report illegally taken game, according to the complaint.
The film crew on June 3 reported to Alaska Wildlife Troopers what happened.
The investigation comes on the heels of another hunting case that involved a television show.
Clark W. Dixon, host of another Sportsman Channel show, “The Syndicate,” pleaded guilty last month to poaching at remote Noatak National Preserve in northwest Alaska. Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Skrocki said the investigation uncovered an extensive illegal outfitting enterprise that operated undetected for years and that hunts were edited to appear legal for Dixon’s TV show.
Dixon’s plea arrangement called for an 18-month prison sentence, a $75,000 fine and forfeiture of trophies and weapons. Sentencing is set for February.