Pepper spray or Oleoresin of Capsicum is a great defense against bears if deployed properly. Of course, a .300 Weatherby or .454 Casull is preferential, but not always as practical or legal. For instance, when bowhunting elk with an archery-only permit—even in bear country—could result in legal troubles if you were caught with a sidearm. There is also the factor of accuracy when teeth and claws are coming your way at 30 mph.
One thing bear spray is not is a preventative. I knew an outfitter in Alaska who thought spraying his plane and camp with bear spray would deter the bears from raiding his camp. It turned out the bears liked to eat gear and the floats on planes laced with hot sauce.
Bear spray is effective for stopping a charge and deterring a bear when encountered. Beyond random encounters, there are a few scenarios when you are more likely to face a bear. Hunters, after a successful harvest, are at an increased risk to meet a bear. Unfortunately, when field dressing an animal, the hunter is unlikely to be armed or within reach of a rifle that could be brought into the fight in a hurry.
The second scenario is when you are lounging around or doing camp business. Hunters and campers must store food and all other potential bear attractants, such as garbage and pet and livestock food, in a bear-resistant container. Although it may be a bit of a walk, I would strongly recommend storing these items 100 yards from camp whenever possible. The more distance between your sleeping bag and the bear, the better.
*Remember, bear spray should be readily available in the sleeping, cooking and toilet areas of a camp.
Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC) Bear Spray Recommendations
The IGBC does not endorse, promote or guarantee any commercial product.
The following are only recommendations, but sage advice from experts. The IGBC does recommend the use of bear spray as an effective tool when used in conjunction with proper bear avoidance safety techniques. Bear spray is not a substitute for following proper bear avoidance safety techniques. (Never approach, attempt to follow, interact with or feed a bear.) No deterrent is 100 percent effective, but bear spray has demonstrated success in fending off charging and attacking bears and preventing, or reducing injury to the person and animal involved. The proper use of bear spray may reduce human injuries caused by bears; the number of grizzly bears killed in self-defense, and help promote the recovery and survival of the grizzly bear.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Has Issued the Following Guidelines for Selecting and Buying Bear Spray:
- To purchase the correct product, ask the sales person specifically for Bear Spray.
- All bear sprays MUST be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Purchase products that clearly state: “For deterring attacks by bears.” The EPA registration number is displayed on the front label.
- The active ingredient is clearly shown on the label and is 1% to 2% Capsaicin and related Capsaicinoids. The active ingredient is what affects the bears eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs.
- Personal defense, law enforcement or military sprays, (often referred to as “pepper spray”) may not be formulated, contain the correct ingredients or have the proper delivery system, to divert a charging or attacking bear.
- Suggested spray duration of six seconds to compensate for multiple bears, wind, bears that may zigzag, circle, or charge repeatedly and for the hike out.
- Suggested spray distance of 25+ feet to reach the bear at a distance sufficient for the bear to react to effects of the active ingredients in bear spray in time to divert its charge and retreat.
- Each person working or recreating in bear habitat should carry a can of bear spray in a quickly accessible fashion. Bear spray should also be readily available in the sleeping, cooking and toilet areas of a camp.
- Be sure the expiration date on each can of bear spray is current.
Why Is a Minimum of 25 Feet Important?
- Bears can charge at speeds up to 30+ mph. The bear must have sufficient time to change from a contact charge to a bluff charge.
- If a bear is going to charge more than once, the spray will create a barrier zone the bear will have to reenter.
- A crosswind could reduce the effective distance. If a can is capable of spraying 25 feet, it may be reduced to 15 or 18 feet, but a can that only sprays 18 feet may be reduced to eight or nine feet of coverage.
There Are Many Scenarios Where a Bear Confrontation Is Possible.
The three most common encounter scenarios where the suggested 25-foot spray range will be most beneficial are:
- A sudden, close encounter and defensive charge from 15 to 25 feet
- A full defensive charge from more than 50 feet away
- A gradual continuous approach (curious, predatory or defensive to determine what and who you are)
Why Is a Minimum Spray Time of Six Seconds Important?
- If there is more than one bear, such as mother bear with mature cubs, each one may charge from different directions.
- Wind, rain and cold weather
- More than one charge from a bear
- More than one encounter
- Reserve for hiking out
For the self-defense enthusiasts who might be thinking this would be great for around the house—stop! The active ingredient in bear spray is one to two percent. The active ingredient in a law enforcement grade pepper spray is 10 percent or more. In short, bear spray is for predators not prowlers.