Bear Spray – Facts and Myths – How This Can Save Your Life in a Bear Attack

This post was last updated on July 16th, 2021 at 11:36 am

I used to live in an area with a large grizzly bear population. I have more than one friend in my area that has used bear spray successfully to prevent a mauling by a bear. Within 10 miles of my old house, there have been several bear attacks in recent years. So needless to say, I have used several varieties of bear sprays and have a good knowledge of which types are best and how to properly put them to use. If there is one almost sure fire way to survive a bear attack, bear spray is certainly it.

Before I get into the details of any bear sprays and how to use them I will tell you a story that happened a couple years ago.

Real Bear Attack Story

 

Grizzly-Bear
Learning the facts and proper use of bear spray can save your life
Bear spray made by counter assault - This is a good brand made in Montana Grizzly Country
Check the current price on Amazon here

It was late summer and my buddy was out for a stroll in the Tetons with his dog. This mountain range goes from Teton pass through Grand Teton National Park all the way up into Yellowstone area, where most of these bears stroll out of in search of territory. On this fall day his dog had run ahead into some brush, suddenly I began hearing a lot of crashing around and noise. The dog came running out of the brush- and not 2 seconds later, a grizzly bear appeared in full attack mode chasing the dog. Naturally the dog ran to the owner for safety, bringing the charging bear right at my friend. The first instinct was to reach onto his hip, grab the .45 cal, but right next to that was a bottle of counter assault bear spray. He simply reached down and grabbed the first thing his hand touched. Fortunately for him, he grabbed the spray and dumped some pepper in the air ASAP!

As the charging bear reached the mist from the spray, it turned and began running away at top speed. At the sight of the bear making a getaway, it triggered the natural instinct of the dog to chase the bear (the same instinct that the bear had when it decided to chase the dog.) Sure enough, once the dog reached the thick brush, the bear turned back and began chasing it again. Yet again, that crazy dog sought the safety of her owner, so she ran and hid behind him, leaving that poor guy to once again to deal with the situation. At this point he still had the shakes from the first go round, but he also had not taken the bear spray out of his hand. This charge was much different than the first one however, because the wind had shifted; so as he sprayed it, the pepper mist came right back towards him giving his eyes “a taste of his own medicine” as they say..  The bear turned around and left, and fortunately the dog was also wiping it’s face in pain; so it didn’t chase the bear again.

The spray on the last grizzly bear charge had effectively immobilized everyone involved, and I can tell you from personal experience that it hurts REALLY bad. Imagine the feeling of cutting really potent onions, now take the onion pieces and put them underneath your eyelids, close your eyes and get punched in the eyes a few times by an M.M.A fighter.

On that fun note, lets get into exactly why carrying bear spray is a good idea; and why it is so much better than carrying a gun.

Statistics Show that Bear Spray is Much Better than A Firearm in a Bear Attack

Bear spray attached to my backpackYes you read that title right! Bear attacks where a gun is not used, are much more likely to end up without any injury to people and the bears. When you pull out a gun while a bear is charging, you are very unlikely to hit it within the first couple shots. As a matter of fact you probably won’t hit it at all. Bears come at you incredibly fast and the calm demeanor it takes to hit a fast moving target in a vital area is not easy to achieve without a large amount of training. If you read the story above, you would have noticed that during my bear attack I actually had bear spray and a 9mm pistol on my hip. Had I managed to grab the pistol before the can of pepper spray I would likely not be here typing this. I only carry a gun on hikes in case the bear spray fails, or if I manage to lose it. I always like to have a backup plan.

Facts:

“Based on investigations by the US Fish and Wildlife Service of human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50% of the time. During the same period, persons defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries. Canadian bear biologist Dr. Stephen Herrero reached similar conclusions based on his own research — a person’s chance of incurring serious injury from a charging grizzly doubles when bullets are fired versus when bear spray is used.

An Example of a Gun Deterring an Attack

Now that you are all charged up and ready to admit that carrying bear spray in the wilderness is in fact a good idea, you can check out this video below that shows a grizzly bear attack in Alaska where a firearm was used to deter an attack. (Neither the bear or people are injured in this video).
This stunning clip was taken during a big game hunt in the Alaskan backcountry. The hunters are floating down the river when they see a set of small bear cubs on the edge of the stream. Within seconds of noticing the cubs, a mother bear pops out of the brush and seemingly runs on the top of the water in pursuit of the hunters who she perceived as a threat to her cubs. One of the hunters pulls out a large revolver and takes a shot at the bear missing it by only a couple feet.
During the video the guy says he was taking a warning shot, but personally I doubt the hunter was looking to give the bear a warning. Either way, at the muzzle blast of the shot; or the spray of water in the bears face, it causes the bear to turn around and leave. There is no doubt that in some cases eve though a firearm will help to avoid an attack, there is significant evidence that bear spray is much more effective.

A Few Bear Spray Options For Your Consideration:

The Proper Use Of Bear Spray

Counter assault bear sprayBe sure to check the expiration date of your bear spray. Although even an expired bear spray is better than none at all, you should make sure that you have the best chance possible to deter an attack. It is likely that an expired can will have a weakened effect, but probably still work OK. I cannot in good conscience tell you that expired bear spray is a good thing to take with you into grizzly country. Check the expiration before going on that hike!

A Few More Helpful Tips:

  • Be sure you are not facing directly into a heavy wind. If you are facing a strong wind you might be able to slowly move into another position before the bear arrives to prevent the wind from blowing the spray into your face.
  • Use Short Bursts. Spraying an entire can will not do you much good if the bear is not in range. You should spray in one second or so bursts so that you can maintain accuracy and save some spray for a second attack. One short spray before the bear arrives will put a nice mist in the air, this might be enough to stop the bear. If it isn’t, you can continue spraying the bear in the face until it retreats.
  • Keep your spray in a handy location. Keeping bear spray in your backpack will not do you much good. You need to keep it attached to your belt where you will be able to access it quickly.
  • After spraying a bear, leave the area slowly and quietly. Sneaking out of the area is the best way to avoid another attack by an aggravated bear.
  • Make sure you are familiar with how the safety on your spray works. The same way a soldier is familiar with his gun, you should be familiar and confident with your bear spray. When the moment arrives that you need to use it, you need to make sure you know how to discharge your load without thinking about it. All types of bear spray have a safety mechanism on the top, during an attack is not the time to try and figure out how it works.
  • Convince your hiking buddies to buy bear pepper spray. If you are hiking in a group, it is always advisable for more than one person to carry this protection.