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Does bear spray really work?

8:25 p.m. on July 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Does bear spray really work? 

In a study of 72 brown and black bear encounters where bear spray was used, it was found that:

  • 98% of people were uninjured by the bear
  • 2% of people were injured, but with minor injuries that did not require hospitalization
  • 14% reported suffering some type of negative side effect
  • 24% had to spray the bear more than once to deter it
  • 18% of both brown and black bears resumed threatening behaviours, but were deterred with repeated spraying.


Bears-Spray-1.jpg
Bear-Spray-2.jpg
Baer-Spray-3.jpg

*Note spray on snow in background of shot. Range 10-15 metres. 

In similar encounters in the U.S. and Canada where bear spray wasn't used where people were mauled or killed they did not have bear spray on their body to have the option to use it.

  • A group of 7 National Outdoor Leadership teens were trained on bear spray and had it in their packs, but forgot they had it and were mauled.
  • Last summer in B.C. a student doing geological surveys was mauled by a mother grizzly and her bear spray was in her pack.

The key is to have the bear spray accessible.

 

Source: Wildsmart Bow Valley

 

4:43 p.m. on July 18, 2013 (EDT)
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+1.  for most people, i think the spray is a much more safe and effective solution than, say, carrying a glock 10 and attempting to use it on a bear.  (people who hunt and shoot game a lot will disagree and may be right, for them; i think it would be difficult to for most people to stop a bear with a handgun). 

i have run into bear on occasion, usually young adults.   i have been fine by treading lightly and steering clear, never felt threatened enough to use the spray.  when i'm in a place know to have bear issues, the can of spray is in a water bottle pocket i can reach easily.  i also think it's worth reading the instructions on this one and handling the can so you understand how to trigger it properly.  getting mauled would be awful; accidentally spraying yourself or a hiking partner would be pretty bad.

 

6:12 p.m. on July 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Good to know.. plus.. the use of firearms are illegal in U.S. National Parks right?  Are the sprays recommended in mostly Grizzly/Brown Bear country or would you recommend carrying the spray in black bear country as well?  I think Yosemite actually bans bear spray within its park grounds.

8:01 p.m. on July 21, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter,

Good numbers. I just bought a new can and it came with a holster to go on the belt.

11:50 p.m. on July 21, 2013 (EDT)
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macchiolives said:

Good to know.. plus.. the use of firearms are illegal in U.S. National Parks right?  Are the sprays recommended in mostly Grizzly/Brown Bear country or would you recommend carrying the spray in black bear country as well?  I think Yosemite actually bans bear spray within its park grounds.

 I don't know about the US Parks, but carrying firearms is illegal in Canada. Since it's non-lethal I would wonder about it being banned in Yosemite. Sounds like a good place to have some.

Carrying bear spray is legal and recommended in the Canadian National parks. It works equally well  on black or brown bears. 

2:53 a.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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You old timers familiar with Dana Designs probably remember their very popular "wet rib" accessory - I kept mine all these years, and since most packs these days have hydration bladders, that water-bottle pocket on the wet-rib is perfect for a big can of pepper-spray.   It's even easier than reaching for a holster on your belt/waist.

Mystery Ranch is making them again.

7:48 a.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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If its anything like a frightened young soldier trying to draw their sidearm and dropping it... You might want to put a lanyard on that bearspray.

8:27 a.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Bear spray can also be fired from the hip, when still inside its holster. 

11:16 a.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Takes some practice to fire anything effectively from the hip. when you need it I wouldn't want to take that chance unless its the only option for some reason.

3:31 p.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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I always wonder when I see these studies & numbers, how many of these "situations" might have turned out to be bluff charge if nothing was done. Half the people out there, just seeing a bear 50 yards away, simply walking through the woods, would come back with a harrowing story about "The Bear Attack!"

 

leadbelly2550 said:

+1.  for most people, i think the spray is a much more safe and effective solution than, say, carrying a glock 10 and attempting to use it on a bear.  (people who hunt and shoot game a lot will disagree and may be right, for them; i think it would be difficult to for most people to stop a bear with a handgun). 

 

 "For most people" I agree 100%. That even goes for most gun owners that have only a few years experience with them or buy them and don't dedicate the range time.

Personally I'd prefer the spray as a first option regardless, rather than harming an animal that is more than likely just being defensive because it's scared. But if you have the rare occasion when they are bound & determined, I prefer a plan B.


IMG_0947.jpg


Good point worth repeating about keeping the spray at the ready instead of in the pack. If you can't get to it within (oh $hit! - Bear Spray!), your going to have a problem. Regular, mental practice can be a huge help too in not fumbling when the time actually comes.

3:43 p.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Jersey,

You make some good points. I wish people would make more noise in bear country.  There is no doubt that spray only works if it is on your belt and easy to get at.

Firearms seem to generate lots of controversy. They can be very effective in detering bluff charges with warning shots. I have used them successfully in that way. Shooting a bear should be an absolute last resort.

Anyone can safely use bear spray and it is only good for 20 feet so it has to be used for emergencies, not panic attacks.

7:09 p.m. on July 22, 2013 (EDT)
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Here's the link noting the ban of bear spray in Yosemite:

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/weapons.htm

They are also banned in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks:

http://www.nps.gov/seki/parkmgmt/lawsandpolicies.htm

I guess the actual cases of documented attacks in California are quite rare:

http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/bear/bear_incidents.html

That is not to say that proper bear safety techniques, such as the use of bear canisters, shouting and making loud noises, etc., should not be practiced and utilized.  But, it does seem that location, as well as the local wildlife (e.g. presence of grizzlies/brown bears) would more so dictate the use of bear spray.  We in California do not have this problem with grizzly bears, since the last California Golden Bear was unfortunately killed in 1922. 

3:37 a.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter, firearms in Canada are not illegal. Handguns are. I have carried shotguns on Arctic trips, though I have never had to use one. I still feel that the most effective weapon to defend against potential negative bear encounters, is knowledge. Understand bear behavior...polar, grizzly, black...and you are less likely to have a negative bear experience.I feel safer in grizzly country than on the New York subway at midnight.

9:27 a.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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I'm sorry if I wasn't clear, Erich. If you read the comment in context, we were talking about national parks, and it is illegal to carry any kind of gun in places like Jasper or Banff, including rifles. Everyone can carry bear spray, though, and it works better anyway. 

Oh. And I didn't say it is recommended to fire from the hip, I just said it's possible. The wide spray pattern compensates for the clumsiness of the firing position. The way to get used to drawing it is to practice, but it's still faster than trying to unsling a rifle, chamber a round and shoulder the weapon. 

10:33 a.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter, you must get up early to write these posts.

Fire arms are legal to carry in northern Canadian National Parks as stated in the article,  

"PROPOSED NATIONAL PARKS OF CANADA WILD ANIMALS REGULATIONS

USE OF FIREARMS FOR PROTECTION"

Also, Aboriginal people are allowed to hunt and trap in some of our National Parks in the Northwest Territory.

That aside, I would have to concur with Erich in that the best safety measure in bear country is always knowledge of bear habit and habitat. Pepper spray is next on my list.

Even in the Territories we lose too many bears and other wildlife because of human fear and misunderstanding.

11:30 a.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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macchiolives said:

Here's the link noting the ban of bear spray in Yosemite:

http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/weapons.htm

They are also banned in Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Parks:

http://www.nps.gov/seki/parkmgmt/lawsandpolicies.htm

I guess the actual cases of documented attacks in California are quite rare:

http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/bear/bear_incidents.html

That is not to say that proper bear safety techniques, such as the use of bear canisters, shouting and making loud noises, etc., should not be practiced and utilized.  But, it does seem that location, as well as the local wildlife (e.g. presence of grizzlies/brown bears) would more so dictate the use of bear spray.  We in California do not have this problem with grizzly bears, since the last California Golden Bear was unfortunately killed in 1922. 

 This is pretty strange. Anyone know why bear spray is prohibited in these areas? The first thing that jumps to mind is too many people harassing bears with it, but I'm curious as to the actual reason.

For the record, firearms are now permitted in all US National Parks, where possessed by persons legally able to possess them in any other situation. Of course the law states it is illegal to discharge them for any reason, as it should, but I can't imagine anyone getting in trouble or caring that they would get in trouble when it was truly in defense of life.

I agree with others, knowledge of how to behave in bear country and in a situation with bears is paramount above all else.

11:58 a.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Hi, North. The document you're talking about is a proposal only, and if implemented it would cover only certain park visitors in certain specified areas. As the proposal mentions, in the far north for example, the danger from polar bears is much higher, and native hunters have rights that are grandfathered in federal parks. As with any law, there are all kinds of qualifications and exceptions to pretty much every clause.

The current regulations let only people such as hunting guides and local natives to apply for a firearms permit for use in 'Polar Bear Parks', and do not refer to other jurisdictions. 

That being said, I wouldn't want Trailspace members to think they can walk around the streets of Jasper, or the trails in the park, carrying a firearm, any more than they can walk down the streets of Toronto carrying one.

12:34 p.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Hi Peter, yes the danger of allowing anyone to walk around Jasper or Toronto with a firearm, far outweighs the danger of encountering a bear. Sorry I missed the reference to Canada's National Parks and firearms in the earlier post.

5:04 p.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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In terms of the use of Bear Spray in Yosemite, I found this response written by the Parks Service to a proponent of the use of Bear Spray on a blog I had found:

"In Yosemite National Park, the American black bear is the only bear species that calls this region home. Though still a wild animal that demands respect, we have no record of fatalities or maulings related to black bears in Yosemite. Bear spray is a weapon that has the tendency to be more of a safety and health risk for those carrying it than it is a useful tool in Yosemite. However, this is a tool that may be necessary and a recommendation for other National Parks that have other bear species in addition to the American black bear. With proper food storage and maintaining a safe distance from Yosemite bears, many negative issues are mitigated and our visitors remain relatively safe. We hope you find this helpful " 
Kirsten Randolph
National Park Service
Yosemite National Park

In regards of the use of firearms, the recent Backpacker Magazine article on the use of bear spray over guns somewhat quells the notion of the use of firearms against bears:

http://www.backpacker.com/february-march-2013the-truth-about-bears-the-skills/survival/17302

Once again... it boils down to knowing your region and knowing the wildlife habits in your region.  Yellowstone comes to mind as a place where bear spray is absolutely essential.  But on the other end of the spectrum, echoing some of the other above posts, I hope people aren't packing Glocks on their way to the Sierras.

6:03 p.m. on July 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Hi Peter, as of June 2012 interim guidlines (pretty much identicle to the proposal mentioned) have been in place allowing the use of firearms for bear protection within Northern National Parks having polar bear populations. This information comes from staff at Ivvavik and Tuktut Nogait Parks. Many of our National Parks up here see fewer than 100 visiters in a year so I think the bears are relatively safe.

Polar bears have quite a bit different eating habits though, from black and grizzly bears. I have encountered a few up close and personal. Definitely not your average bear. I don't know of any studies done on the efficacy of pepper spray as a deterrent for polar bears. It would be nice to find out, though.

 

 

7:26 a.m. on July 25, 2013 (EDT)
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According to the regulations for permits you've provided, it would be accurate to say that in every jurisdiction in the National Parks, the only people who are allowed to carry a firearm are Parks staff and licensed guides, and that there are other limited exceptions such as bear monitors, researchers and aboriginal hunters. Civilians cannot carry one. 

The same rules apply in the Rocky Mountain Parks. Pardon my lack of specificity. 

In regard to polar bears, I am not aware of any studies done that included them. The one the would have seemed most relevant was the University of Alaska study, or perhaps Herrero's, but both specifically exclude them.

One point to remember though, is that the propellant in bear spray degrades when cold, and is worthless when frozen. In cold weather, I've fired a can only to have it dribble out like a dog peeing. Not much good at -40C unless you want to carry it inside your coat. 

Theoretically, because of the openness of the country in much of the far north, I would think that during daylight you'd be able to see polar bears coming across the tundra a lot sooner than with bears in dense bush. I've had that experience with grizzlies in the alpine, and because of the visibility, you can make noise to let them know you're there way before there's any threat. In the case of a polar bear, I'd guess that a shot in the air at 1/4 mile would be a lot more effective than waiting for them to come into your camp. Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the dogs a good deterrent, too?

8:01 a.m. on July 25, 2013 (EDT)
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macchiolives said:

In regards of the use of firearms, the recent Backpacker Magazine article on the use of bear spray over guns somewhat quells the notion of the use of firearms against bears:

http://www.backpacker.com/february-march-2013the-truth-about-bears-the-skills/survival/17302

 

GREAT link! I was particularly interested to see figures showing the high number of deaths of people who relied on firearms, versus the minor injuries suffered by the very few people injured when using bears spray. 

9:44 a.m. on July 25, 2013 (EDT)
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For defense against a large bear the only firearm I would consider would be a 12 gauge and I would personally still rather take my chances with spray than rely on a firearm for 2 very substantial reasons:

  • I want to deter the animal not kill it
  • I have a better chance of actually hitting the animal due to the wide spread of the spray 

The only firearm that I think would offer a guarantee of survival(while being somewhat easy to carry) would be the AA12 w/grenade round :) 

Good luck on getting your hands on one though. 

In all seriousness. 

Bear spray is the way to go. 

11:14 a.m. on July 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter said,

Not much good at -40C unless you want to carry it inside your coat.

Good point to raise. The bear spray we are issued has a disclaimer for use below freezing. Around here, grizzlies start appearing as early as April when there is still snow on the ground and temperatures are far below freezing. I have seen some bear tracks in the snow while camping in the Rocky Mountains in early spring, too.

In the western arctic the land is undulating to hilly and there is still a fair bit of alder and willow brush along the rivers; places you would expect barren ground grizzlies to frequent. The grizzlies here are more blonde and can be very hard to see at times. My wife is doing a study on them write now.

As for polar bears, they too can hide quite efficiently in alder bushes on the mainland. Canada has the most southerly polar bear habitat in the world, with bears denning in northern Ontario within the tree line.

This picture was taken of a young healthy male spotted outside Fort McPherson in 2007.

IMG_2380.jpg

As for me, the use of dogs is a contentious issue. I have seen some polar bear hunts in Greenland and found it disturbing for reasons I am not sure about. Bears can be attracted to dogs as a food source.

11:47 a.m. on July 26, 2013 (EDT)
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The spray we used to use on protesters was just re-labeled bear spray.  It seemed to work pretty well on them.  I peeled the label back and found the bear spray label underneath. 

I have taken two full-on face shots with the stuff and I lost all of my urges to fight.  I have also seen guys wipe it off and proceed to fight like no tomorrow.  Bears, and people are individuals.

9:07 p.m. on July 26, 2013 (EDT)
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Does bear spray expire? I have an unused can that I purchased about 10 years ago. There is no date, I don't want to re-purchase for an upcoming trip if not necessary.

11:33 p.m. on July 26, 2013 (EDT)
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The propellant in bear spray expires. Typical life is 2-3 years max. If the can is 10 years old, then buy a new one and use the old one as a test.

4:52 p.m. on July 29, 2013 (EDT)
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As Peter advises, you should buy a new can. It is cheap insurance. However, bear  spray can remain effective beyond the expiration date. I recently fired off two cans of Bear Pause with expiry dates of February 2006 and they both performed well with an effective range of 30 feet. I will note that in some cases, the spray can leak small amounts around the gasket. While not usually noticeable, it is worthwhile to wash your hands after handling a can. As well, I would suspect that the odor of a leaking can could act as a bear attractant.

3:47 p.m. on July 30, 2013 (EDT)
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BNL, The only risk is that it has leaked off all of its pressure.  Buy a new one but DO use the one you have for a tester.  A simple test will tell you if its any good.  Spray it on a tree or wall (or door-to-door peddler or pesky neighbor) and walk towards it. You'll know if its still good.  Its harmless, just irritating.

Testing a can will also give you an idea of how it functions; the pressure and hiss the can makes can startle people sometimes.  Plus its good to get an idea of the range. 

WASH YOUR HANDS WELL AFTER PLAYING WITH THIS STUFF. Trust me.

1:20 p.m. on July 31, 2013 (EDT)
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Thanks for the tips! I will get a new can and test the old one. Keep you posted...

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