The boys down at Omp's general store weren't any too encouraging when out-of-staters came around to try their magic on the local wild turkey population.

"Ain't no turkeys gobbling around here, and there hasn't been," said one. "Folks hereabouts don't care much for spring turkey hunting, anyway. Disturbs the hens on their nests, and once they're flushed they won't come back. We want to have some around for next year, too."

Thed news about turkey silence on the high ridges around West Virginia's Cacapon River was disheartening.The hint that we were about to do something immoral was downright disturbing.

"You believe what those fellows were saying?" hunting patner Luther Carter asked as we pulled away from the little market. "Don't you know that a country store like that is the best place in the world to pick up false information?"

The Omp's crowd ended up with a 50 percent on th e spring turkey quiz. They were dead right about the gobbling. Carter spent four days tooting his turkey call from here to high water and never got a response, though he did hear a few unsolicited gobbles and caught sight of one big bird.

But on the issue of nest disturbing, experts say hogwash.

"I've been hunting gobblers 20 years," said Kit Shaffer, who oversees turkey populations for the Virginia Game Commission. "That's 400 days of hunting, because I'm out every day of the season.

"In all those years I've flushed one hen off the nest. That's the only one (nesting hen) I've ever seen. And she came back to her nest.

"Sure, a hunter will occasionally flush a hen. But so do timber operators, farmers, hikers, campers and anybody else who uses the woods."

The truth is that turkey populations are thriving in mid-Atlantic states and the spring gobbler season is designed to keep that tred intact.

Turkeys are busy birds in the spring. The gobbler is hard at work servicing his harem of a half-dozen or so hens, and the hens have their minds on laying eggs and incubating their clutches of up to a dozen.

The reproduction sequence runs about six weeks. once the weather warms up the gobbler sats up his stomping grounds, and in the morning he calls his harem in with a thunderous gobble. The hens arrive one by one, then repair to their nests to lay their eggs, in about two weeks all the eggs are fertilized and laid and the gobbler becomes expendable. That's when the hunter steps in, if all goes according to schedule.

The crack of dawn and tries with a variety of horns, box calls and other gizmos to imitate the yelp of a lovesick hen. If his hens have already deserted him, the gobbler can be enticed. Hens, except for the rare bearded one, are strictly off limits to the gunner.

The problem this year is that spring is running late and the hens gobblers are still busy with each other. A hunter has to be pretty good to lure a gobbler away from the real thing.

Carter and I added a new fillip, starting our day with a cruise upriver, covering a half-mile of tough territory in the silent comfort of his canoe, ou ears perked for a gobble from either side of the stream.

Failing that, we beached the canoe and started trekking. We stalked ridges and we stalked marshy bottom-land, stopping often to try our yelp imitator. It wasn't until late in the morning that we came upon fresh signs, scatchings and droppings where a gobbler had recently foraged for acorns.

By now it was 10:30, only a half-hour until closing time for the short, mornings-only spring hunt. We sat down and Carter squeezed out an hour's worth of yelps in 30 minutes time.

Halfway through, a huge bird came soaring over the high oaks and lit on a branch 50 yards from me. My heart began thumping at an alarming rate.

The bird was behind the tree truck and only the edges of its giant wings were visible. I knew I had my turkey, if I could just keep my chest from exploding.

Then it moved, ever so gracefully, flapped its wings and cut straight across my line of sight. My hand went for the trigger, but before I raised the gun I saw what I wished I hadn't. The bird's broad tail fanned out into the unmistakable red patch of a hawk, the reddest red I've seen.

A great bird, but the wrong kind. A thrill nonetheless.