Since being crowned Miss Kansas on June 8, Theresa Vail’s life has been a steady procession of fashionable dresses, high heels and smiles for cameras and crowds.
But drawing a hunting bow in her hands Wednesday morning was more fun for the 22-year-old. She shot three arrows into a deer target 20 yards away.
“It just feels so good to be in my jeans and boots, and doing something I really like,” Vail said. “I love all the Miss Kansas stuff, but….”
Mike Holland, manager of Diamond Archery, raised his eyebrows and said, “That’s nice shooting.”
Vail knows far more about the outdoors and shooting than pageants, runways and crowns.
She was a small girl when she began heading into the German countryside with her father, Mark, an Army dentist, on hunting trips.
“I have five brothers, but none of them ever really wanted to go hunting, so I went with my Dad,” said Vail, one of nine siblings. “I guess that may have been one of the reasons. It gave me some great time alone with my Dad.”
Eventually the family came to Fort Riley, and later Fort Leavenworth. Vail became more of a participant than spectator.
She shot the first of several deer with a high-powered rifle when she was 14, and has had shotgun success on wild turkeys and squirrels.
A friend introduced her to archery and bowhunting last summer.
“It just feels more natural and more of a challenge,” Vail said. “I’ve just fallen in love with the whole thing.”
Last year she shot a yearling buck bowhunting by herself in Kansas. In November, she bow-killed a 150-class eight pointer in Ohio.
“That was so exciting,” Vail said of having a deer that big, in close enough for archery gear. “(Her friend) was shooting video and you can hear my screaming after I made the shot.”
Vail, by the way, wasn’t using a mid-sized, low poundage bow made specifically for women and youth. Her bow is set at 55 pounds, a setting many men use. Wednesday she shot if for about an hour.
“It’s a lot in the technique, what muscles you use to draw the bow,” said Vail. “My dad shoots 65 pounds. I can draw it, but it’s a bit much.”
Vail, too, is in the military as a member of the Kansas Army National Guard since she was 17. Majoring in chemistry and Chinese at Kansas State, Vail said her ultimate goal is to be a military dentist.
It’s also her goal to get more women introduced into the outdoors and a healthy lifestyle.
She wanted to demonstrate archery as her talent at the Miss Leavenworth pageant in December. When that wasn’t allowed, she turned to singing.
She’ll be packing her bow and arrows on a lot of her travels over the next year.
“A lot of people are interested in this side of me. I’m Miss Kansas, but I’m a Miss Kansas with a lot of other interests,” she said. “My platform is to empower women through male-dominated activities ... and that’s not just hunting and archery.”
Vail said she’d like to encourage people to try another of her passions – skydiving.
“K-State has a really great skydiving club,” she said. “I’ve probably been 10 times.”
She’s also hoping to incorporate some of her outdoors loves in fundraising events for the Children’s Miracle Network, a platform for the Miss America Pageant. She’s also selling T-shirts on her website, www.missoutdoorgirl.com. All profits go to the charity.
She’s already been invited on several upcoming Kansas celebrity hunts, and hopes to take her father along.
A lot could change, though, should she win the Miss America title in September. Then her fall and winter schedule would about eliminate any opportunities for hunting.
But only for a year.
“Oh, I’ll be a bowhunter the rest of my life,” Vail said. “I love it, and it’s just part of who I am now.”