How Animals Die

This bald eagle likely injured his wing by whacking it against a tree while dive-bombing a squirrel or other prey animal. Whether or not he survived is unknown.

Contributing Writer
Steve Sorensen

Take a walk in the woods and it won’t be long before you discover a mystery. You’ll find a dead animal, and you’ll wonder how it died. Some people will go further and wonder who killed it. After all, animals will be fine if we just let them alone. Right?

The truth is there are lots of ways animals die, and often it isn’t at the hands of a hunter or any other human. And when animals die it isn’t pleasant, especially when a hunter isn’t involved. Nature isn’t as kind as people are, and wild animals never die under the palliative care of a physician while family and friends hold vigil.

Everyone who drives or rides in an automobile knows one way animals die. Deer don’t obey those deer crossing signs, and the aftermath needs no description. Everyone knows it’s never a pretty sight. Tens of thousands of deer are killed along the roads each year. No one really knows the totals because many are not reported and some hobble off to die, out of sight and out of mind.

Cars don’t kill just deer. They kill every animal, domestic or wild, that ventures across a paved surface. You’ve probably killed a few yourself, and you accept untold millions of road kills as a gruesome fact of modern life.

Predators kill animals. The odds are good that you have a predator living with you. The most popular pet today, the common house cat, is also the most widespread predator. Even if your furry buddy has been declawed, he still has fangs. The lack of claws doesn’t turn him into a non-killer. It just makes him less efficient. He and his feline friends kill millions of small animals and songbirds each year. Some estimates are in the billions.

Domestic dogs are predators too. Wild canines including wolves, foxes and coyotes, inflict deaths far less humane than deaths delivered by hunters or trappers. When a pack of coyotes catch a deer, they begin eating the deer while it’s still alive. And they don’t necessarily choose a weak deer. Pictures prove it.

We might think snakes swallowing animals whole happens only rarely and only in tropical jungles on National Geographic TV, but every day in North America average sized garter snakes swallow whole the frogs and other animals they catch. The frog is alert the whole time it suffers, with virtually no chance of escape.

Animals also die from disease and malnutrition. When certain animal populations get too high disease can, and does, wipe them out by the hundreds. When food sources are scarce, it can mean difficult weeks during which animals are more vulnerable to disease, to predators, and even to starvation. Avian flu, chronic wasting disease, blue tongue, and more all take a toll.

Animals die by accidents, even apart from collisions with tons of high speed steel. They impale themselves on sticks. They dislocate joints. They drown. They fall. They kill one another in fights over food or for sexual dominance. Birds of prey break wings in pursuit of fresh meat, and then suffer while some other predator makes fresh meat of them. Animals of the same species even kill each other. It’s a tough world out in the woods, and most animals that aren’t killed by hunters die horrible death compared to hunters’ standards.

I don’t relate these facts for shock value, but to make one simple point: only one predator seeks to minimize suffering. Only one predator cares enough for his prey to kill it quickly. That predator is man. Whatever means man uses to capture his prey – bullet, arrow, trap, or something else – he judges his success in part by how quick and humane the kill is. No other predator does that. Man has a unique place in God’s creation. He’s the one predator who cares about suffering, seeks to minimize suffering in his prey, and finds satisfaction in a quick, clean kill.

When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.