RENO, Nev. (AP) — The hunting season for Nevada's most popular game bird began Saturday with hunters facing poor to fair prospects.

Nevada Department of Wildlife officials said hunters probably will find fewer coveys and smaller covey sizes in many traditional chukar hunting areas after a cold, dry winter.

But they said the 2013-14 chukar season will feature a few bright spots and hunters may experience better success in adjacent mountain ranges.

One reason for a bit of optimism is that some young birds were observed during aerial surveys conducted by NDOW, said Shawn Espinosa, upland game biologist for the agency.

"Last year, there were almost no young birds observed," he said. "A covey consisting completely of vigilant adult birds is very difficult to get within gun range of. At least the young birds may provide for a better chance for bagging some birds."

NDOW bases its forecast on aerial surveys that found an overall average of 41 chukars per square mile, down 35 percent from the 2012 average and down 18 percent from the long-term average of 49 birds per square mile.

About 8,700 hunters are expected to take part in the hunt for the non-native bird through Feb. 2.

The first chukar hunt in Nevada took place in 1947 — 12 years after the species was introduced in the state. The birds were first introduced in nine counties and became established in all 17 counties by 1979. The bird in the pheasant family is native to the Middle East's rugged uplands.

Wildlife officials are hoping for a wet winter so the birds will have sufficient forbs and grasses.

"The problem with dry conditions is that they have led to poor reproduction," NDOW spokesman Chris Healy told The Associated Press. "We're in a down cycle and if we have another dry year we'll continue to go down."

Not only does chukar taste good, Healy said, but it helps fill a void for hunters unable to draw big-game tags.