Nine-year-old Alex Collins sent his mother into the office of Sheriff Carolyn Bunny Welsh in West Chester earlier this month for what he thought was the last step in applying to win a hunting and fishing trip with a sheriff.

But there was a problem.

The contest was for kids almost 600 miles away, at the sheriff's office in Chester County, South Carolina.

"He was very upset when he realized it was the wrong Chester County," said Alex's mother, Leslie.

The family saw the contest on the Chester County Sheriff's Office Facebook page and assumed it was the Pennsylvania county.

Luckily for Alex, the two Chester County sheriffs happen to be friends.

In what the fourth grader called the best Christmas present ever, the two offices donated time and money to send Alex on a trip to South Carolina so he could hunt deer and go fishing with the correct sheriff.

Alex arrived in South Carolina on Monday morning and is scheduled to return home to West Goshen Township on Wednesday afternoon. He is staying with Sheriff Alex Underwood, his wife, and his 15-year-old son in their South Carolina home.

"It's going to be fun," Alex said before his trip. "I'm going to have a good time going hunting and meeting Sheriff Underwood."

In a letter to Underwood that was part of the application for the contest, Leslie Collins explained that she is a single parent and thanked him for the opportunity for her son.

"We don't have much money, and I have a chronic heart condition," she wrote. "I try to do as much 'boy' stuff as I can with him, but I have limitations."

On Monday morning, the boy who had always told his mother he would never get on an airplane flew from Philadelphia to Charlotte, N.C. The sheriffs took him to and from the airports in their vehicles, with lights flashing.

Leslie Collins said she was a little nervous about the trip, but she said her son is in good hands with the sheriffs.

"If I can't trust them," she said, "I don't know who else I could trust in the world."

The sheriffs met at the National Sheriffs' Institute in Colorado last year, and Underwood was one of 26 new sheriffs whom Welsh mentored there.

Due to their Chester County connection, Welsh said they were nicknamed "twin sheriffs," despite several differences.

"I'm a woman. He's a man. I'm short. He's tall. I'm white and he's black. I'm a Northerner. He's a Southerner," she said.

The sheriffs agreed they wanted to make Alex's hunting trip happen.

Underwood, who has been hunting since he was a child, said he advertised the contest on Facebook to reward children for being well-behaved. Hunting and fishing, he said, keeps children out of trouble and gets them interested in the outdoors.

He took a handful of children in his community hunting and fishing on Dec. 19, he said.

Then it was Alex's turn.

"Big A," as Underwood is known, said he was touched by the application letter written by "Little A," as Alex has come to be known.

"I really want to go hunting with you," Alex wrote. "I don't have anyone to teach me."

Underwood said people from across South Carolina heard about Alex's story and had asked about him. Some have offered to cook for him.

"He's going to be like a celebrity," Underwood said before Alex arrived. "We're going to have to sneak him away so we can go hunting."

On Monday, the South Carolina sheriff bought the boy camouflage gear and fishing equipment. and took him out on his first hunting trip.

Welsh said she was glad she was able to work with her "brother sheriff" in South Carolina.

"It's a wonderful story of something that started out as a mistake," Welsh said. "But it's going to end up being a dream come true for this beautiful little boy."

mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond