In the circles Mr. W.E. Williams travels, it's an honor to be called "Turkey," and that's what those who have known him a good part of his 82 years call him.

Williams bagged his limit of wild turkeys this year, just as he's done for the last 54. Many years he took more than his share, back before "the law" came in.

And he didn't need any help getting them. "I don't hunt with nobody any more. Those that's my age, why they can't keep up with me, and those that's younger I can't keep up with them. So it's just me and my dog anymore."

Time has been kind to Williams. He complains of cataracts ("had one taken out"), arthritis, bad hearing and says he gets too short of breath to climb the mountains like he used to.

But he's a far cry from a doddering old man. His wit is as sharp as a filet knife and he can hoist a 100-pound sack of grain into the back of his Jeep without a wince.

Last week, he was on a mercy mission from his peach orchards near Warrenton, Va., to his son's huge spread of virgin mountain land in Highland County.

"This ice is just too crusty and deep for old gobbler. If the old man don't get him something to eat, he ain't agonna be there come spring."

So Williams loaded the 100 pounds of chicken feed in that Jeep and off we went for a 150-mile jaunt over the mountains to Monterey. It's a trip he'd made several times before this winter and one he'll make several times more.

His wife doesn't like him traveling all that way by himself and she likes it even less that he hikes into the snowy mountains alone. "She figures I'm agonna drop dead some day and the bears and foxes will eat me up before anybody knows I'm gone. Well, I say fine. I'll be doing what I like."

It's a long trip the way Williams goes. He knows every back road and wagon rut through the countryside from the days he drove a team and later a "T model" to his hunting grounds.

And all along the way Williams talks turkey. The beast fascinates him. "I figure I've shot more turkeys than any man, alive or dead." He guesses 190, but stopped counting at 150 many years ago. And he's got the photographs to back it up.

Turkey hunting has a lore all its own. A lot of folks think the turkey is the dumbest, most unpredictable bird in the world. Williams thinks it's the smartest.

"Old turkey can see you blink your eye 100 yards away. He can see your breath through a blind on a cold day. You can't fool a turkey.

"If your kids are outside and your wife calls 'em to dinner, they know her voice. Its the same with a hen turkey. You can't fool those gobblers with a turkey call.

"The way I do it is I'll listen for that hen. When I find her, I'll make a run for her, shoot the gun through the trees, send my dog after her and get her the hell out of there, away from the gobblers.

"The only weakness old turkey has is they like to stick together. So when she's gone, then I'll start calling in the gobblers, making just like old lonely mama hen. Then I can have my picnic."

"And I'll tell you this. After a day tracking and calling old gobbler in the cold, you'll go to sleep without no rockin'."

Our mercy mission ended with a hair-raising, 1 1/2-mile uphill Jeep blast through two feet of snow on an old farm road across the land of Williams' son.

There were two feeding spots. The first we managed to get to and Williams filled up two pails of chicken feed and we tumbled down the mountain. Turkey tracks were everywhere. The snow was dug up clear down to the oak leaves below.

As we spread the seed, Williams kept up his chatter. "Come on up, old boy, the oldman's back to feed you again. Old turkey havin' a hard time in all this snow. We gonna make you dudes nice and fat for springtime."

We never made the second spot. The Jeep bogged down and kept slidding sideways. So I shouldered 50 pounds of grain (Williams thought we ought to split the load, but I've got 51 years on him) and we scrambled up a half-mile of snow-crusted mountain and found more scratches.

"Man, we're good Samaritans, ain't we," said Williams.

Some folks might say Williams was doing a little baiting, which is frowned upon in sportsmanlike circles.

"Oh, hell no. That baiting is where you drop a bunch of seed and then hide out, waiting for them to come in and then shoot 'em off. We're just helping 'em through. I don't care if I ever see one of these dudes. I just like to know they're here."

We stayed that night in the Monterey Hotel, a huge, ramshackle old place in the biggest town in Highland County, which isn't saying much. Williams headed up to bed early with a book on checkers strategy - he was the Class B champion in last year's state checkers tournemant in Buena Vista.

We slept like babies as the wind howled past Soundy Knob and Bull Pasture Mountain in the hardscrabble Appalachian chain. We didn't need no rockin'.

Next day we tumbled out early to find more snow on the ground but clear warmer skies. At 2,700 feet, a breath of warm air comes scarce and is welcome.

On the way back, Williams had one more piece of wisdom - don't fool with spring gobblers.

There's a spring season and you can shoot them if you want, but the one time Williams tried to eat one, it was one too many.

"It just wasn't right. You opened up the breast and it was all full of corruption. You couldn't wash all that greasy stuff off. We did everything we could to it but when I took the first bite I knew it wasn't right. The longer I chewed, the bigger it got."