By MIKE CORN
The state's pheasant season was a struggle last year for hunters, and so far there's little to suggest any sort of improvement.
This year's season opens Nov. 9, continuing through Jan. 31.
Kansas hunters killed just shy of 234,000 pheasants last year, the smallest harvest since 1957 -- the first year of the annual pheasant survey.
"Last year was the worst we've had since back in the '50s," said Jim Pitman, the state's small game coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
Two years ago, Kansas hunters killed nearly 900,000 birds.
"So it changes in a hurry," Pitman said.
Given better weather conditions -- more rain -- it could change the other way, he said, and the pheasant population could rebound nearly as fast as it crashed.
So far, conditions are not ripe for that rebound to occur yet this year, given a continuing lack of rain in prime pheasant country and dismal results during the annual crow count.
Pitman said crow count results were bad, "the lowest year we've ever had."
The crow count is much as the name suggests, with observers driving 20-mile transects, stopping at least 2 miles between each of the 11 stops. At each stop, the observer listens for two minutes and counts all the audible crows from male pheasants.
This year, 66 routes were run.
The average count per station was 6.23 crows, a drop of 37 percent from last year.
Across northwest Kansas, the survey results were dismal, with the notable exception of the route surveyed in Sheridan County. Everywhere else had declines, in some cases massive declines.
Southwest Gove County, for example, had an 89 percent drop. Thomas County had a 72 percent drop.
Ellis County saw a decline of 53 percent, while Trego, Rush and Ness counties dropped by 60 to 80 percent. Even Smith and Osborne counties had sharp drops in the number of crowing pheasants heard.
While the spring counts are an indicator of winter survival by pheasants, it's not enough to tell what the fall population might be.
That's because pheasants are dependent on the annual hatch.
Pheasants have high reproductive output, so they can rebound relatively rapidly, given good reproductive conditions.
In the case of low breeding populations, the rebound likely won't be dramatic this fall, even if summer conditions had improved.
Brood surveys just now are getting started, and that information will determine what the hatch this spring might have been.
"I'm not looking for it to be real good," Pitman said of conditions this fall. "I think the best will be northwest Kansas, which wasn't very good."
The 15-county northern high plains region of the northwest part of the state had the second highest harvest last year, following close behind the huge, 22-county Smoky Hills region of north-central Kansas.
Pitman isn't too optimistic about quail either.
"I'm not expecting it to be so good," he said. "There's so few quail out in the western part of the state."
There has, however, been some rebound in quail numbers in the eastern part of the state.
Nearly 200,000 quail were killed last year, with most of those from the Smoky Hills region.