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Q: Would wasp spray, with increased range and a narrow stream for accuracy, be a good bear deterrent as opposed to the regular pepper spray?—Steve Ridings, via email
A: Jeez, sometimes I think people just loooove coming up with new ways to make me have a bad day.
Luckily (for me) this probably isn’t the best way to do it. Some wasp sprays have better accuracy and range than bear sprays, but nailing me in a sensitive area—eyes, mouth, etc.—would require excellent shooting, especially if I’m charging you at high speed. Bear sprays fire in a wide fog on purpose: so that you don’t have to shoot like Wyatt Earp to make sure you get me.
Even if you manage to sharp-shoot me in the eyes, it’s not clear that it would do very much. The few reports of humans who’ve been sprayed in the eyes confess to some irritation, but at much milder levels than even pepper spray (which is weaker than bear spray). To cause extreme toxicity, a large amount of spray needs to enter the lungs, and that’s a very difficult prospect. No extended toxicity studies have been done in bears or humans, but Cornell researchers experimenting with rats and rabbits found immediate symptoms to include numbness, nausea, and diarrhea—nothing that’s likely to stop me. Prolonged exposure even brought about sparring and aggression in rats.
Long story short, stick with the spray that has “bear” on the bottle—save the one that says “wasps” for wasps.