By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

OBERLIN -- Ryan Diener has the good fortune to be sitting in one of the top pheasant hunting spots in the state.

Still, he's not shouting from the mountaintops.

"I think things are looking pretty good," Diener said of the outlook in the Decatur County area. "But everything is down from last year."

Diener is what's called a farm bill biologist, stationed in Oberlin as part of a cooperative venture between Pheasants Forever and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Diener isn't singing the blues just yet.

"The numbers aren't going to be as high as last winter going in, but I think they'll be around the long-term average," he said.

His territory happens to coincide with the eight counties that are considered to be among the best in the state.

"Basically, northwest and north-central Kansas is going to be the best places to go to find birds this year," Diener said.

Pushed to locate his favorite spot, he said the area where Decatur, Norton, Sheridan and Graham counties connect.

"Those four counties were good last year and they'll be good this year," he aid.

While the season isn't expected to be a bust, given the carry-over from last year's population, he's expecting a lower turnout from hunters because of talk of adverse conditions from the drought.

"They thought Kansas in general," he said. "They're going to head up to the Dakotas rather than western Kansas this year."

There had been high hopes for an even better year this year, given the sheer number of birds that made it through the winter.

"It's not as good as it could be," he said.

But he's not counting the pheasant out.

"Like other grassland birds, they're cyclic," Diener said. "They go up and down with the weather."