By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Jeff Prendergast continues to hold out hope hunters in Kansas will kill perhaps as many as 300,000 to 350,000 pheasants this year.

He already thinks the state's pheasant population is up as much as 70 percent, a number based on brood surveys taken this summer. Prendergast is the Hays-based small-game biologist for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

He's seen nothing in the intervening weeks since the survey was completed to alter his outlook.

"I think things are going to be like the last two years and be pretty tough," he said.

That's simply because the state's pheasant population at the outset of this year was so low, it's hard to bounce back quickly.

"Seventy percent of not very much is still not very many," Prendergast said of the boost in reproduction. "We expect to have a better harvest, but still below average."

He has started hearing from some farmers, and the results have been just as mixed as the surveys.

In some fields being harvested, he said, the birds have been found. In others, they haven't.

He's unsure just how many birds might be killed during the season, which opens Saturday.

"That's a tough one," Prendergast said.

That's because it will depend on a number of factors, not the least of which will be how many hunters will venture back out into the field.

Last year, 54,400 hunters were out chasing pheasants in Kansas. That's less than half the number in 2010 and nearly a fourth of hunting's peak in 1982 when more than 1.1 million birds were killed.

The harvest last year was estimated at 190,285 birds.

Weather also could be a big factor, although right now the weekend forecast looks promising, if not a bit on the warm side for hunting.

If the season is relatively normal, Prendergast said the harvest could range from 300,000 to 350,000 birds.

"It all depends on how many people are out there chasing them," he said of hunters after pheasants.

Last year's turnout was the smallest the state's ever seen.

He suspects the number of hunters out in the field this year will be up from last year.

"It's been three years," he said of how long since good conditions existed. "People will take the opportunity to go back out."

But there's a bit of a lag in how quickly hunters return to the field after pheasant numbers rebound.

Weather on opening weekend also is a factor, considering about 60 percent of the season's harvest takes place in the first week.

That's when the diehard hunters come out.

"That's by far when we see the most pressure," Prendergast said.