have even been known to eat the old unburnt stick heather which on all other occasions they reject as unfit for food; but this is probably the last resource of the famine-stricken stock, and hardly justifies the practice of leaving a large amount of this unwholesome old heather as a food reserve in time of snow, for such a practice must greatly reduce the available supply of food at the critical period of early spring. A better practice is undoubtedly to burn all the more exposed ridges and knolls with careful discrimination, so that in whichever direction the snow may drift there is a good chance that some good feeding heather will be left bare.
It might be thought that where a heavy snowstorm occurs during the night there would be a risk of whole packs of Grouse being covered up and smothered by the drifts as the birds were jugging in a sheltered hollow. Sheep are often lost in large numbers by such misadventure, but Grouse never, for as they jug in the lee of a peat-hag or a moorland dyke they tread the snow under them as it falls, and are found next morning safely collected on the surface, though their fresh droppings several feet below show the level at which they began their night's repose.
It has been said that Grouse often avail themselves of the shelter of woods and plantations in time of snow; but the evidence on the subject is most contradictory. In some districts it has been found beneficial to plant trees as a shelter for Grouse; in other districts, especially in the north of Scotland, they never use woods for shelter.
It is generally believed that a hard winter with much snow is beneficial to the health of the stock in the following spring, and the reason commonly given is that the hard weather kills off the weaklings. There is no evidence to support this theory. Grouse are seldom found dead during the winter months, and when they are the cause can never be ascribed directly to the effects of weather. If the belief that snow is beneficial is well founded, some other reason must be sought; perhaps the fact that the weather has caused the stock to shift, and so introduced new blood where required, may have something to do with the improvement: more likely, however, the solution is found to be connected with the question of food supply. Ground which has been covered by snow for a period of several months provides better and more wholesome food than ground which has been heavily stocked, for when birds return in the spring they find the food supply still untouched by Grouse or Sheep, and the fact that it has been out of reach for so long has prevented it from being so heavily infected by the larvæ