Does bear spray really work?

I have heard mixed things. If it does work, how?

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Does bear spray really work? I have heard mixed things. If it does work, how?

Submitted by – Tom, LA


Bear spray is made of very hot peppers ground up and forced from a pressurized container. It burns the eyes and noses of bears that walk into the mist sprayed from the container. The effective range varies from 18 to 30 feet, depending on the product you choose. Manufacturers say their sprays work best at about half the maximum distance. Wind and/or rain shorten the effective distance. In all cases, the bear is pretty darn close.

Does it work? In laboratory conditions, every time. Out in the wild, sprays vary in their effectiveness. In 20 well-documented cases of spray being used on grizzlies, the bears were stopped by the spray. But three of the bears came back later and attacked. In 26 cases of spray vs. black bears, six of the bears returned, but none attacked. There are probably no more than about 70 known times spray was used against bears in the field. That’s not many to base a sure answer on. But it looks like bear spray probably works most of the time when used according to the manufacturers’ instructions.

The spray, of course, needs to be kept very handy. And most experts suggest practicing with a container before actually using it against a bear. Keep in mind, though, that practice is expensive, since bear sprays will not be the cheapest item in your pack.


Fend Off a Bear: Learn how to survive a bear attack in our instructional video. 

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