By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

OBERLIN -- The welcome mat is out for hunters, but Oberlin Inn manager Jo Ann Lerew wonders if warning signs shouldn't be posted for non-hunting travelers.

That way, she said, they will know in advance all the motel rooms in the region have been booked -- in many cases months in advance.

Although the motels are full, Oberlin will be something of a destination spot this year because it is in the heart of what is expected to be some of the best hunting in the state.

Drought hurt pheasant populations in other parts of the state, but wildlife biologists predict the eight counties in far northwest Kansas will offer some of the best hunting.

Hunters will be arriving tonight in Oberlin, Lerew said, many wanting to arrive in time to make it to the Pheasants Forever banquet at the Gateway.

This is the big weekend for pheasants, the opening start of the season.

All of the rooms at the inn have been spoken for, and Lerew said she continues to turn down requests.

She knows all the rooms in Oberlin are spoken for, some reserved more than a year in advance for hunters who travel to the area each year.

Lerew said she even knows of one resident who recently opened up a rental house he owns, and is booked through late November.

The house sleeps anywhere from four to six people, she said.

Recently remodeled and purchased by a resident of South Dakota, the Oberlin Inn did receive a few last-minutes calls for last year's rooms.

But now that hunters know the motel is up and operating, reservations started pouring in earlier this year and the motel was booked solid by mid-summer.

"Everyone wants to be here for opening weekend," Lerew said.

As the season progresses, the number of hunters staying there starts to dwindle.

"They're really diehards if they're here in January," she said.

Lerew is hoping the season will be good for hunters.

"I've seen a lot of pheasants," she said.