TENTH LEGION, By Tom Kelly, published by Spur Enterprises, 33 Northgate Drive, Monroe Louisiana 71201.

A wild turkey visited the White House lawn this spring and everybody went ho-ho-ho.

If you think it was an indignity to the president, who's suffering hard enough times as it is, think of the disgrace it visited upon the hapless little band of eternal optimists who hunt wild turkeys in the spring and almost always come home without one.

Wives waited at the doors for their men to return. The women wore curious smirks as the gents dragged in with faces smeared in camouflage greasepaint.

"Well, dear, did you get one?" they snickered.

"Nope."

"So what's new? Did you at least see one?"

"Nope,"

"Well, I did."

Tired and footsore after half a day in the woods, burned out from the 4 a.m. start and the miles of hiking along ridgetops in the mountains, you could choose to ignore them or disbelieve them entirely.

But on the six-o'clock news the hammer struck home: The White Hourse hen strutted to a chorus of taxi horns on Pennsylvania Avenue and the tourists gaped. The women folded their hands in their laps, sat back and wallowed in glory.

"See, honey, isn't it easy?"

It is mostly no fun at all to be a turkey hunter.

"He will operate primarily in a climate not of desire but of compulsion," writes Tom Kelly in his wonderful turkey-hunting book Tenth Legion. "Crops have been lost hunting turkeys and wives estranged. Fairly close relatives have gone into the grave at unattended funerals, except on extremely rainy days, and businesses have gone to wrack and ruin. . ."

"This business just seems to grow in concentric circles of difficulty," Ruff Fant said last week after he'd been buffaloed the second straight day by a West Virginia gobbler.

"First you have to find them, and that's hard enough. Then you have to call them in, which I have yet to do successfully. If you're lucky enough to get that far you still have to figure out a way to shoot the s.o.b."

Fant's and my host for our two-day hunt was a fellow who asked that his name not be used, apparently in an effort to keep the web of ridicule at home and at work from expanding.

But I have hunted turkeys through several seasons with Fant, and it's accurate to say that until two weeks ago, through all our misadventures, neither of us had fired a shot at a turkey.

He fired that day on a steep hillside overlooking a river in Virginia. Fired at a pair of gobblers that had done, for the first time in my experience, what they were supposed to do:

They had answered our impeachable imitation of the cry of a lovesick hen with thunderous gobble-gobble-gobbles.

They scratched and clawed their way up the steep hillside to where we sat, hidden and disguised among blown-down trees. They made drumming sounds deep in their chest, as if they were consumed by lust in this mating season.

They walked up the hill toward us, but 50 yards away in the thick brush. They walked and kept walking right on by, just five yards beyond gun range, and finally in frustration my mentor shot and missed. The turkeys looked up in alarm and flapped giant wings, took off, smashed through tree branches down the hill, never to be seen again.

Kelly has been there, too: "Turkeys have an absolute genius for walking up to you on the wrong side and at the wrong time," he writes. "If there's a single briar patch of blowdown on 80 acres that you cannot see through, they will walk up to you behind it just as surely as if there were no other path through the woods."

Come to think of it, in the 119 pages of Tenth Legion, Kelly mentions a number of instances that he has killed wild turkeys over his years in the woods. But if you look closely, you'll see that every single incident he describes in detail winds up with Kelly getting bamboozled, one way or another.

And that, beyond all the good writing and cheerful tone, is probably what makes me like the book most. The damned turkeys keep winning.

Just like in real life.

Spring turkey season is drawing to a close this weekend in Virginia; There are a couple of weeks to go in West Virginia. I'm just about resigned to the notion that this will be another "experience year" for me.

But that miserable hen better not show up downtown next fall or I'll dust her sure enough.

Kelly's book ought to be required reading for anyone who has ever harbored a notion to pursue wild turkeys. It makes you feel better to know the experts get skunked, too.

It also should be mandatory for wives and friends of turkey hunters, who ought to be more "supportive," as the saying goes.

Read it: It beats going out there and learning it all the hard way.