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Bear Safety

Bear Pepper Spray -- It Works!

What Is Bear Pepper Spray:

Bear pepper spray is a highly effective method of deterring an aggressive bear.  The proper use of bear pepper spray against an attacking bear can reduce the number of black bears and endangered grizzly bears killed in self-defense, as well as human injuries and deaths.  While bear pepper spray promotes safety, it is not “brains in a can.”   


Bear pepper spray is derived from ground cayenne pepper. The active, inflammatory ingredient is Oleoresin Capsicum.  When sprayed into the face of an attacker, it causes choking and coughing; and dilates the capillaries of the eyes, causing temporary blindness.


No deterrent is 100% effective in stopping a bear attack, but compared to other methods including firearms, bear spray has demonstrated by far the most success in fending off angry bears.  In studies of close human-bear encounters conducted by the University of Calgary’s grizzly bear expert Stephen Herrero, bear pepper spray was found to be 94% effective in deterring aggressive grizzly bears.  And, in lab studies by the University of Montana’s Border Grizzly Project, bear pepper spray stopped and turned away every bear tested in 500 tests with 6 grizzlies and 60 black bears.


Selecting a Bear Pepper Spray:

Purchase only products that are clearly labeled “for deterring attacks by bears.” 

Choose spray that meets the following criteria:

  • Concentration of 1.0-2.0% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids

  • Derived from Oleoresin of Capsicum

  • Net weight of at least 225 grams or 7.9 ounces

  • Delivers a minimum range of 25 feet

  • Lasts at least 6 seconds, continuously

  • Sprays in a cloud pattern

  • Registered by the Environmental Protection Agency


This combination of criteria is important, as a bear can approach within 30 feet before deciding to retreat or charge.  Be certain to get a can with the minimum net weight and range advised, so there is enough spray for more than one blast, if necessary.


When and How to Use Bear Pepper Spray:

This spray should only be used as a deterrent in confrontation with an aggressive bear.  Often, an initial pepper spray cloud blast prompts a bear to retreat immediately.  Further spraying directly toward the bear’s face typically deters even the most agitated bears. 


Each person recreating or working in bear country should carry a can of bear pepper spray.  It is important to practice and be familiar with the use of the spray to ensure proper and immediate use in the event of an attacking bear. The spray should be carried in a readily available fashion, such as on the hip. In your tent, keep the spray within reach with your flashlight, and have it near you when cooking. 


The spray should be tested once a year, and be sure to check the spray’s expiration date.  Do not store it in areas of extreme temperature, like your car.  This spray is not a repellent - avoid spraying toward your camp, people or property.


How to use:

  • Remove safety clip

  • Aim slightly down and towards the bear, adjusting for the wind

  • Spray a brief blast when the bear is about 40 feet away

  • Spray again if the bear continues to approach


Once the animal has retreated or is busy cleaning itself, leave the area quickly - but do not run. 

Go immediately to an area of safety, such as a car, tree or building.  Do not chase or pursue the animal!



Although bears rarely attack humans, they can be provoked, especially under the following circumstances:


  • When surprised, which can occur near noisy streams or on windy days

  • When a mother is protecting her young

  • When the bear is protecting a kill or a game gut pile left by a hunter

  • When bears are drawn to human food sources

  • When humans approach too closely


Be alert to these possible situations.  Use proper care with your food stuffs in bear country.  Also, be certain to make noise, as not to startle a bear.


“I caught (the bear) full in the face when it was four feet away. It was like it hit a wall. The grizzly turned and ran so fast toward her cab, she ran over it. Then the cub and sow were gone. This worked exactly the way it was designed to work. The bear didn’t die. All I am out is a can of pepper spray.”
Gary Clutter, Guide & Big Game Hunter

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