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Backpacker Magazine – September 2000

Bear Spray: Packin' Heat

It's basically pepper in an aerosol can, and it's supposed to stop a charging grizzly. But will it? Here's everything you need to know.

by: Michele Morris

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

An interesting statement appeared on one of our backpacker.com message boards recently. It read: "Even while carrying pepper spray, I've always thought of it as just a bear's condiment."

The joke being (we hope) that hungry bears, like discerning humans, appreciate a little spice in life, and especially at mealtime. Then we saw the film that turned the bear-spray world on its collective ear and wondered if there's more truth than humor to the aforementioned comment. An Alaskan wildlife researcher sprayed a patch of ground with pepper spray--the stuff that's supposed to deter and offend big bears--then videotaped a grizz as it sniffed the peppery earth and proceeded to wallow playfully in the stuff like a big dog that just found a stinky paradise. The bear, by all accounts, liked the "deterrent."

Which got us thinking about bear spray, its (supposed) usefulness, the pros and cons, and generally, whether it's worth its weight on your belt. Here's what we found.


PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

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Anonymous
Jun 11, 2012

Spray will probably work against a curious bear coming to investigate but it sure wont stop a mother protecting her cubs. Your best bet is a 12 guage metal slug, shot in the chest or shoulder. It might not kill it right there but it will knock the bear down and break off the attack. Learn to shoot first or you are kidding yourself on how easy that is.

Hal Greene
May 28, 2012

Really, this is just one of the stupidest things I've ever read. The author would deign to stay his hand before engaging in violence in any situation whatsoever, even to dissuade an aggressive bear. What can one say about such ridiculous nonsense? This is not a cogent argument and there is no meaningful way to respond to it. There MAY BE valid arguments against the use of bear spray--it's ineffective, it's inconvenient, etc.--but excessive Buddhism is not one of them.

Jerry Redmond
Nov 24, 2011

I've read some comments that suggest the use of BOTH pepper spray and a firearm to thwart a bear attack, with the advice usually being to try the pepper spray first and then resort to the gun if it doesn't work. This is unrealistic. That bear will be hauling ass coming straight for you at 35 mph and you can't use the pepper spray effectively until he's within 25 feet of where you're standing. If the pepper spray doesn't stop him you won't have time for a 'Plan B.' When the bear is 25 feet away and coming at 35 mph it is now literally less than one half second away from you! There will be no time to drop the pepper spray and lift your gun and you cannot use both weapons simultaneously (unless you have four hands). Make up your mind before you go into bear country about which method you want to trust your life to. You won't be getting any second chances from an angry bear. If you do have both bear spray and a gun and have sprayed the bear, turned it temporarily but it is now charging again, then by all means use the gun because the bear spray isn't making him desist in his attempts to kill you. But don't make the mistake of thinking you can use both methods on the initial charge because you won't have enough time.

Daniel Montclaire
Nov 23, 2011

My thoughts on the subject are that for most people who are not experts in the use of firearms the pepper spray option is probably safer for the simple reason that they will likely miss their target with a gun anyway and have a better chance of spraying the bear. For those who are really proficient with firearms, I'd suggest using the gun. A dead bear is no longer a threat and no bear has ever yet died from pepper spray. Also, I read something once that always stuck in my mind. "When in bear country always carry pepper spray and attach small jingling bells to your clothing. It is also important to know the difference between black bear scat and grizzly scat. Black bear scat will contain lots of berry seeds and some fur from rabbits and squirrels. Grizzly scat will contain lots of little jingling bells and smell like pepper spray." Get the picture?

blatzrox
May 15, 2009

I have been on the recieving end of a bluff charge,which is very scary. Bear spray works, but I would also carry a gun, also. A humans life is worth more than a bears! That's my opinion. Don't ever use bear spray around your tent at night or spray on your clothes while hiking. This can actually attract the bear to you or your camp. You must have nerves of steel in order for the bear to get close enough to you to spray it square in the face. Make sure the wind doesn't blow it back onto you.

blatzrox1
Apr 30, 2009

Bear spray definately works if you carry the RIGHT kind of bear spray. It will incapacitate the bear for a few minutes to give you time to get away from the area. Hit them square in the face with it. You must be brave to stand up to the charge, but it does work better than a firearm. I would also carry at least a .338 & bear spray into bear country. I have seen time & again where bear spray works if used correctly.

Blatzrox
Apr 22, 2009

I would not go into bear country without both a side arm & bear spray.Have you people heard of this crazy man Charlie Vandergaw in Alaska? He has been feeding wild bears, grizzlies & black bears alike. He is putting himself, other people & the bears in a very dangerous situation. And ADFG chooses to ignore him!! Another Treadwell waiting to die!! A fed bear is a dead bear!!!

The Ridge Runner
Dec 08, 2008

Well here we go again with the bear spray idea. What most people fail to take into account is the sheer momentum of a fully charging bear. The fact is, you can kill a bear with a gun, or shoot him with pepper spray and he will still be moving in the same direction...toward you...now the question you have to ask yourself is: Do I want to be hit full on by a dead bear....or a flailing, agonized, pissed off, pepper covered bear. I have seen large men charge police officers who pepper sprayed them...they still got to the police officer...
Just some food for thought..
and ill continue to carry my gun...
RR
http://www.woodlandsurvival.com

Diverderf
Oct 23, 2008

There are some good and interesting comments here. I think that the author is referring to a 1998 study by Tom S. Smith. There is some excellent information in that article. However, I think many people miss the point about the use of pepper spray. Is it a deterrent? Yes. Is it an attractant? Possibly. Here are a couple of simple, maybe overly simple, scenarios to try to explain my point. At a restaurant, your table has a bottle of Tabasco sauce. If you are like me and love spicy food you give a couple of generous shakes of the sauce on your chili. What's your reaction? Yummy.
Scenario two has some knucklehead taking that same bottle of Tabasco and shaking it in your eyes and nose. I'll safely bet that your reaction will not be a positive one.
It's the same with bear spray. Spraying it on the ground thinking it's a deterrent is completely contrary to all manufacturer instructions and common sense. The smell could possibly attract a bear. Pepper is a food product after all. The results of Smith's testing revealed that 40% of the bears observed displayed no response to spray on the ground while 28% had a high reaction to it.
Now, using the bear spray in the correct manner by directing it at the highly sensitive nose and eyes of a troublesome bear and you've greatly increased your chances of survival.
Will bear spray stop every attack? Of course not but neither will a firearm. I know too many people that carry that can't hit the broad side of a barn let alone a moving bear.
It all comes down to prevention, awareness, availability (of the spray), and keeping your head if you happen to find yourself in a (very rare) negative situation with a bear.
For the record, I do now and will continue to carry bear spray when hiking in bear country.

Phillip Buttolph
Oct 07, 2008

OK..I have read page after page of "data" and "stories"..but has anyone actually been on the receiving end of a full on true Grizzly [or black bear]charge, at what 40+ mph? 54 ft/sec?, used the spray at the max range of 26 ft and had the bear stop in that 1/2 second before impact? The spray may indeed work on a bear not on a true charge but I simply can't see how a bear can be made to break off a full attack from that range, with that momemtum and less than 1 second after hitting the spray.

Not wishing to slight anyone, but a heroic accounts may not be an accurate accounts.

FYI...Most parks now don't recommend bear bells and I just returned through Roger Pass B.C. where I watched a info video at Glacier Park HQ that recommended bear spray, shotgun slugs and rifle rounds as last resort options.

Mark Curtis
Sep 18, 2008

Just a quick follow up. If you do enough research on this topic, you will find another conclusion that is to the benefit of the bears. Humans using pepper spray might contribute to their well being. It is thought they may get to the point where to avoid being "peppered" they avoid confrontations with humans and scamper off more readily. So taking action that some have characterized as "doing harm to the wild things" might actually save the bear from being killed if, in even an instinctive reaction to protect, (or even hunt) it might normally injure or kill a human....this could be avoided by the fending off of that attack by a ultimately harmless product. Is that aruguable? Sure....but it sounds to me like it has some merit.

Mark Curtis
Sep 18, 2008

Quote my Mr. Dorn....

"Would I rather remember that encounter as a nervous, fumbling scramble to flip the safety on a canister? Or for the musky scent in the air, for the single green shoot growing from the black pile of excavated dirt, for the thunderbolt of adrenaline that jump-started my physical and spiritual being?"

I get what he's saying philosophically....but the point being had he actually had an encounter with an AGGRESSIVE bear around that den, and not had some form of self defense (like a bear spray), he may not have had any memory TO recall. And he states that someone would be fumbling and nervous with the cannister....that may have been the case. But hopefully you have....if not actually practiced using the spray (away from bear country and only a small amount of the actual can you'd take....or an older expired can), you've simulated in your mind several times how it might play out. Does that guarantee success? Of course not. The harsh reality of such a confrontation would scare even the heartiest souls and perhaps cause a mistake, regardless of "practice". But at least you would have a better chance, by most accounts, of surviving a POSSIBLE attack. And I think my adrenaline would be pumping just fine, thank you. It's all about the possibility. I don't think it's paranoia to be prepared. And using bear spray is a non-lethal way to at least have the OPPORTUNITY to defend yourself. Seems like a GREAT invention if you ask me.

Annonymous
Aug 26, 2008

I have never had to use Pepper spray but feel much safer when carrying it. The area's in which I go however I encounter Black Bears mostly & have never felt the need to carry a firearm when dealing with Black Bears. In Alaska I may feel differently.

Dennis Tedder
Jul 27, 2008

Timothy Treadwell: "these are my friends!" Famous last words. Guess who's coming to dinner.

Dennis Tedder
Jun 15, 2008

Michelle Morris is lying and obviously knows nothing about bear and pepper spray. I've used it twice on black bear...I would not have wanted to be the bear. I have not studied grizzly bear in detail, but have the strange sensation they're nasal cavity is very much like a black bear.

Like I said, I felt sorry for the bear and didn't even think of pulling my backup weapon. It was a bad day for black bear.

Anonymous
May 23, 2008

One of the stupidest article I have read yet. The author is clearly putting their life in danger and may end up heading the way of Timothy Treadwell. Get a clue in life.

Anonymous
Apr 14, 2008

Bears do not always run away when they know a human is in the area. Sometimes bears stalk and then attack people and everybody needs to decide for themselves what to use for protection. I live in Alaska and know people that refuse to carry a gun but will carry pepper spray. Some will carry a large caliber pistol while others prefer a shotgun. More people are hurt by their guns than actual bear attacks, and it is difficult to hit anything with a pistol unless you are very calm. One of my co-workers tried to shoot wolves that were attacking his dogs and he never hit one of them - he was using a pistol. He is also a good shot at the range, but that is different from protecting yourself on the trail. He has now switched to a shotgun which is what I prefer - unless I am with my kids then I prefer bear spray because I do not want to accidentally shoot one of them when I trip and fall on the trail and the gun goes off accidentally. I respect the person who posted the comment about deciding not to carry any protection, and while I have gone without protection myself in the past, I never felt comfortable about it and was nervous the whole time.

Grizzly Adams
Apr 08, 2008

When you hear the bear crunching your bones
you will wish you had used the bear spray.
And yes, you'll feel very alive for a little while longer till you are extinguished.

Anonymous
Mar 08, 2008

If the whole of mankind thought like you, we wouldn't exist anymore.

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