By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Dave Dahlgren's only been on the ground since August as the go-to man when it comes to pheasants and quail in Kansas.

But he slipped into the state at just the right time, able to help with surveys and help produce the state forecast for Saturday's opening day of pheasant and quail season.

It's a good one, that much is for certain.

"We're expecting one of the highest harvests of pheasants that we've ever had," Dalhgren said of the upcoming pheasant season.

That would mean the season -- at least in northwest Kansas -- would be on par with hunting success in the '80s, when Kansas was perhaps at its peak in terms of pheasant populations.

Pheasants Forever, in fact, said pheasant populations in Kansas cement the state as "South Dakota South" -- direct homage to the outstanding opportunities that will exist this season.

Top spots in Kansas will be in the western third of the state. Lincoln County, Dahlgren said, is flush with pheasants, as is most everything west of there.

To the east, however, heavy rains and hail didn't do the pheasant or quail populations any favors.

While Dahlgren comes to Kansas from Utah State University, he's no stranger to the area.

"I grew up in North Dakota," he said. "It's like coming home, only warmer."

Dahlgren started working for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks in August, and has started settling in to the position, one that had been held by Randy Rodgers, a familiar face and voice for many who wanted to learn about the pheasant outlook.

In addition to his duties as a small game biologist, Dahlgren also has absorbed responsibilities for serving as Region 1 liaison with NRCS -- Natural Resource and Conservation Service -- a post that was opened when Wilson Lake's Matt Smith moved up as the state farm bill coordinator.

It's a natural conclusion, he said, as Rodgers was spending much of his time with NRCS, dealing with a myriad of issues, not the least of which was habitat for the lesser prairie chicken.

Dahlgren is arriving in Kansas just as the pheasants are reaching a peak not seen since the 1980s, when tales of bag limits were the rule rather than the exception.

While he's not about to suggest that everyone will get their limit this weekend, there should be plenty of opportunity.

Weather is always an uncertainty, but the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and highs near 50.

Chick production was tops this spring, enough so that northwest counties are expected to be on par with the always-good counties, such as Graham and Norton.

The same should be true in much of the area.

"I've been over by Lincoln and I've seen a good number," Dahlgren said.

That would be the eastern boundary of good versus fair to relatively poor.

"It gets better and better the farther west you go," he said.

To be sure, there are spots where the birds are lacking, the Red Hills in southern Kansas, for instance.

But Dalhgren said he's talked to the KDWP biologist in Morton County and the numbers of pheasants are good there.

Northeast Kansas -- from Jewell County east -- will be the only disappointment, due to hail.

Weather is a critical issue for upland game birds, not only in terms of hail or the ability to roust them from cover within range.

Kansas is coming off a string of ideal weather conditions, at least as far as pheasant production is concerned.

Good to adequate rains have fallen in timely fashion, boosting the growth of cover and wheat, necessary for hens to produce young chicks.

Conditions in prime pheasant territory are starting to dry up, just as wheat is getting ready to head into the winter.

"You definitely need to be doing some rain dances," Dahlgren said of the need for moisture.

* The state's pheasant season runs through Jan. 31.

Possession limit is four roosters.

Pheasants in possession for transportation must retain intact a foot, plumage, or some part that will determine sex.

* The state's quail season also runs through Jan. 31, with a daily bag limit of eight.

* The state's prairie chicken season -- in the east and northwest zones -- opens Nov. 20 and runs through Jan. 31. Daily bag limit is 2.

The southwest zone runs from Nov. 20 to Dec. 31. Daily bag limit is one bird.