By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Here's the question: Will the hot, dry Kansas weather wither the prospects for a stellar pheasant hatch?

The answer isn't known just yet, but it's a concern.

What's known so far is that Kansas is starting with an ample breeding population of pheasants, but the weather hasn't been cooperating along the way.

While it's still too early to even suggest what pheasant reproduction will do this year, there is concern for some areas of the state for Jim Pitman, small game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

Areas of the most concern are in southwest and south-central Kansas, where drought has been at its most extreme.

He has higher hopes for some parts of northwest Kansas, especially in that area north of Interstate 70 where rainfall has aligned itself a little closer to normal.

He's just now starting to receive some reports from the breeding survey, and the southwest area isn't showing much promise.

"Throughout central Kansas, things are looking pretty good," he said.

The same can be said for north-central Kansas as well.

Even in areas where the hatch has been decent, there's still some concern.

That's because the high heat so soon after hatching is a concern.

"They can't regulate their body heat until they're 2 weeks old," Pitman said of the tiny pheasant chicks.

The breeding survey under way will last through the middle of August. After the data are compiled, results of the survey will be available. That could be early September, however.

Earlier this spring, KDWP&T conducted its spring survey of pheasant populations.

Special routes were followed by surveyors, who would stop frequently and listen for roosters crowing.

This year, 62 established routes were surveyed, and an average of 20.5 crows counted at each station. Although that's an increase of 17 percent, it's not considered statistically different from last year.

But last year's survey showed good numbers, indicating the hope for good reproduction. It's also an indication of how pheasants survive the winter.

In the surveys, it was determined western Kansas has one of the "strongest pheasant breeding populations in its history."

But the drought tempered enthusiasm for that discovery.

"Thus, the 2011 fall pheasant population will likely be down substantially from last fall in those areas," KDWP&T said in a statement. "Conditions appear to have been much more favorable for productivity in other regions of the state, but it is still too early to make accurate predictions about the fall population in those areas."