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Frequently Asked Questions about Bear Spray

WHAT IS BEAR SPRAY?

Bear spray is a powerful deterrent made of capsaicin (the "hot" in hot peppers), which, when used correctly, can deter bear attacks. Bear spray inflames the bear's eyes and upper respiratory system, causing intense burning and giving you and your loved ones time to escape. Bear spray emerges from the canister at over 70 mph, so it is likely be effective even under windy conditions.

Bear spray is a deterrent, not a repellent; use it only during an encounter with an aggressive bear. Pre-sprayed objects may actually attract bears and other wildlife.

DOES BEAR SPRAY REALLY WORK?

Yes! In a study of bear spray incidents in Alaska, spray effectively deterred undesirable behavior more than 90% of the time. In 72 incidents involving 175 people, only three people were harmed, none seriously.

You must carry the spray on your person, know how to use it, and be ready on a moment's notice.

HOW DO I BUY BEAR SPRAY?

Bear spray is available in many outdoor, hunting and sporting goods stores. You can also order it online. Canisters labeled "pepper spray," may not have the correct concentration of ingredients. Instead, look for canisters marked "Bear Spray" or "Bear Deterrent," with a minimum of 7.9 ounces (225 gr) of product, an EPA registration, a concentration of 1-2% capsaicin and capsaicinoids, a 25-foot (8 m) or more range, and a spray capacity of at least 6 seconds. Check the expiration date to be sure the ingredients have a reasonable shelf life.

IS BEAR SPRAY JUST FOR GRIZZLIES?

No. Any species of bear can become pushy or assertive, especially when cubs are involved or if the bear has become accustomed to human food or garbage. Bear spray may also successfully deter other wildlife such as moose and mountain lions during encounters.

IS BEAR SPRAY DANGEROUS?

Treat bear spray exactly as you would a loaded handgun. Bear spray in your face causes involuntary eye closure and pain for up to 45 minutes. At very close range, the pressure can cause permanent eye damage.

I ALREADY CARRY A GUN WHEN I HUNT. DO I STILL NEED BEAR SPRAY?

When a bear attacks, bear spray offers several advantages over a firearm:

  • Bear spray requires less accuracy than bullets fired at a moving target, especially when you're under stress.
  • Accidental discharges or badly aimed firearms can kill people, while bear spray has never caused a fatality. Bear spray leaves the bear alive, and less likely to approach humans in the future.

Firing a warning shot from a gun may not scare a bear away, but a sprayed bear is likely to leave.

Bottom line: hunters who carry bear spray are prepared for anything.

 

For Bear Spray to be Effective, You Must be Prepared

BEFORE YOU GO OUTDOORS IN GRIZZLY COUNTRY...

  • Every person in your party should carry his or her own canister. Surprise encounters are just that, and the person with the spray may or may not be the first on the scene.
  • Bear spray is a powerful weapon; treat it like a firearm. Handle it carefully and point it away from humans.
  • Accidental discharge of bear spray can ruin gear and vehicles. Store carefully, away from heat (120°F) and cold (-70°F). Never leave a canister of bear spray in a hot vehicle!
  • When flying, keep in mind that airline regulations do not allow transportation of bear spray—even in checked baggage—in the amounts that canisters typically contain. Plan to purchase bear spray at your destination. Alternatively, some online retailers may be able to ship to your destination.

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Bear Encounters

Avoid unwanted bear encounters by recognizing bear sign, understanding bear behavior, and staying "bear aware" at all times. Usually, bears are shy creatures that act aggressively only as a last resort, typically when they sense a threat to themselves, their young or a food source. To avoid encounters with defensive bears:

  • Make noise while hiking, especially when visibility is limited (such as in dense brush), or hearing is limited (near running water, or when the wind is in your face).
  • If you do surprise a bear, remain calm and do not run. There is no need to spray a bear peacefully going about its business. If the bear sees you and is not approaching you, watch the bear and back away slowly. Speak in a calm voice and wave your arms so the bear can identify you as human. Take your bear spray out of its holster and have it ready in your hand ("When a Bear Charges: How to Use Bear Spray").
  • If the bear charges, stand your ground until it breaks off its charge. Most charges are bluffs, meant only to discourage you from approaching further. However, if the bear gets closer than 20-30 feet, use your bear spray.
  • Contrary to widespread misunderstanding, do not play dead unless a surprised and agitated bear knocks you down. However, if a calm bear deliberately approaches, talks you, or breaks into a tent, fight back.

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When a Bear Charges: How to Use Bear Spray

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

Though you should have the spray in your hand when you first see a bear, be ready to use it only if the bear approaches closer than 50 ft (15 m). Remember the canister may contain as little as six seconds' worth of spray, and you may need to spray the bear twice or more. Follow these guidelines:

  • Stand your ground. Running away may trigger the bear's instinct to chase.
  • Remove the safety cap or clip. Hold the can up and ready. Many bears will move away at this point, and you will not have to use the spray.
  • At 20-30 ft (6-10 m), spray for 2-3 seconds. Use both hands. Aim directly in front of the bear's head and a little downward. A cloud of ingredients will billow up from the ground, creating a wall of spray. When the bear reaches the cloud, it will feel it.
  • If the bear continues to approach you, spray it again.
  • Stay out of the spray! If possible, try to shoot downwind.
  • Monitor the bear's activities, and do not turn your back on the bear for any reason.
  • When the bear retreats, continue to watch it and move away slowly.

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EPA’s List of Bear Spray Manufacturers

The EPA's List of  Acceptable registered bear deterrent products in the United States*

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