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Jessi Padilla (right), Thief River Falls, was selected from among tens of thousands of students completing an online hunter education course to go on this year's Dream Hunt offered through huntercourse.com. Padilla and her instructor, Brian Krantz, Argyle, Minn., received an all-expenses paid trip to meet and hunt with hunting TV celebrity Eva Shockey (left) at Camp Five Outfitters in California. Padilla bagged this turkey on the first morning of her two-day hunt. (Photo credit: huntercourse.com)

TRF teen and her firearms safety instructor win "Dream Hunt"

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But as they soon realized, the call was no hoax.

A senior at Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, Padilla, 18, won the Dream Hunt after being selected from thousands of students who took the classroom portion of their firearms safety training through HUNTERcourse.com, a company that offers online hunter education to thousands of young hunters every year.

She completed the required field training at Two Rivers Sportsmen Club near Halma, Minn., and Krantz was her instructor.

“I don’t think I’ll ever get a student to win that again,” Krantz said. “She could have taken her training with anybody in the state.”

According to Greg Gulliver, product manager for the Ottawa-based online educator, every student who completes one of the online courses is automatically entered into a drawing for the Dream Hunt, which this year was to Camp Five Outfitters in central California.

“Tens of thousands” were entered into the Dream Hunt drawing, Gulliver said.

“It’s pulled from a 12-month period of students that go through our online courses every year,” he said. “The odds (of winning) aren’t super great.

“It’s fully paid for; all they really have to do is get to the airport.”

‘Just a lucky deal’

Krantz, who works for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, says he’ll never forget receiving the news last October that Padilla had won the hunt and that he’d be going along because he was her field instructor. He’d just spent the day taking kids hunting during the youth deer season in northwest Minnesota, and what already had been a good day quickly got even better.

“It was just a lucky deal,” Krantz said. “There are so many guys that are dedicated trainers throughout the country, and for some reason, the girl that I trained was drawn.”

The significance of beating such long odds wasn’t lost on Padilla, either.

“I was super excited to win this once-in-a-lifetime hunting trip, as I was picked out of tens of thousands of people in the nation,” she said.

 Padilla and Krantz flew from Grand Forks to San Francisco on April 11, hunted turkeys April 12 and 13 and returned to Grand Forks on April 14. Even at the airport, Krantz said he was wondering whether the trip was a dream come true or a prank.

In some ways, he said, it was better than winning the lottery.

“Money comes and goes, but something like this is always going to be with you,” he said.

Gulliver, who flew in from Ottawa, met Padilla and Krantz at the airport in San Francisco for the three-hour drive south to Camp Five Outfitters. After a long, cold winter in both Ottawa and northern Minnesota, Gulliver said the California sun was a welcome change, even though temperatures were cool.

“We had great weather — nice, blue-sky days, and the terrain there, everything is green and rolling hills,” Gulliver said “I picked them up, and the sun was shining and everybody was just happy to get some sun on their faces.

“We got off the highway, and we’re driving through vineyards and wineries. Then you pull up to a nice lodge.”

Brush with celebrity

As if winning the trip wasn’t enough, Padilla and Krantz also got to hunt with Eva Shockey, daughter of professional hunter and outdoors TV celebrity Jim Shockey. An up-and-coming outdoors celebrity in her own right, Eva Shockey recently became the first woman in more than 30 years to grace the cover of Field & Stream magazine.

The last was Queen Elizabeth, Gulliver said.

“It just shows the significance of females getting into the sport, and for us to have drawn a female (in Padilla), it couldn’t have worked out any better,” he said.

Padilla and Krantz both shot their first-ever wild turkeys while hunting with Shockey, and footage from the hunts possibly will air during a future episode of “Jim Shockey’s Hunting Adventures.”

“Jessi got her bird the first morning sitting in a blind with Eva and Camp Five Outfitters,” Krantz said. “The next day I got my bird, too. Both birds were pretty nice.”

Gaining popularity

Gulliver said HUNTERcourse.com has been offering online training since 2008 and now works with 28 states and five Canadian provinces. Parent company FreshAirEducators.com also offers online boating, snowmobile and ATV courses.

“It’s a nice alternative,” he said. “We’ve seen some growth since 2008. It just presents another option for students out there to get certified. It really appeals to those that are new. We’ve also seen an increase of females get into it as a result. There’s less intimidation, you can do it on your own time and take as long as you want.

“We live in a busy society with work, school and everything going on, so it’s a great option to learn at your own pace.”

This is the third Dream Hunt the company has offered, he said; the previous two winners were from Michigan and Florida.

“It’s fun for us to do this,” Gulliver said. “We really want to put the focus on both student and instructor and give them appreciation for what they do for the sport.”

Padilla said the trip definitely lived up to its billing as a “Dream Hunt.”

“It was a great experience, and I will definitely go turkey hunting again,” she said. “It was  even better that I got to spend my weekend hunting with Eva Shockey because she gave me great tips, and it was awesome just to get to know her as a person and hear family stories.”

More On the Web:

http://www.huntercourse.com/usa/minnesota/

http://www.freshaireducators.com/

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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 
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