Sprayed in the face of a charging bear at close range, an EPA-approved oil-based bear spray containing one to two percent capsaicin (a red pepper derivative) and related capsaicinoids can be a very effective deterrent in a direct bear encounter. Bear spray works by forming a protective cloud barrier between you and a bear and causes the membranes of the eyes, nose and lungs of a bear to swell and the result is a nearly total, yet temporary, loss of sight and severe restriction of breathing, allowing you time to remove yourself from the situation.
Two separate studies published in the Journal of Wildlife Management examined incidents of people using both firearms and bear spray to defend themselves from brown, black and polar bears. People using firearms were injured in 56% of the encounters while 98% of people using bear spray walked away uninjured.
Bear spray is not a substitute for common sense safety measures and vigilance and should never be used as a preventative measure, such as spraying on a tent, where it would actually become a bear attractant. Always first allow for bears to leave the area and use bear spray only in the event of an attack by an aggressive bear. Spray toward the bear, aiming slightly downward. The spray should shoot a minimum of 25 feet and last at least six seconds.
Studies have concluded that bear spray is more effective than firearms in close bear encounters (read the studies below). Be sure to buy EPA-registered bear spray, and not mace or pepper spray – designed for personal defense and inadequate for use on bears. Local vendors for bear spray.
BEAR SPRAY STUDIES
- Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska (pdf)
- Efficacy of Firearms For Bear Deterrence in Alaska (pdf)
- Bear Spray Vs. Bullets: Which offers better protection? (pdf)
Video on the proper use of bear spray, courtesy: Your Alberta
It would not be a bad idea if you live in an area that has a degree of bear activity to have a can of bear spray handy – on a porch, deck, near front and back doors or in the garage.
Banner photo courtesy: Rebekah Tudor Rafferty