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Bear Spray vs Air Horn

I've been reading lately that an air horn can be just as effective (if not more) than bear spray because it can be used in any wind conditions and can scare off bears from a further distance than a terrifying 15 feet with bear spray. I'm hoping people can share their real life experiences in using either.

I have used air horns and spot lights to discourage coyotes.  They are very effective for about a month. 

I have used air horns on boats mostly for safety to wake up other boaters. There is no reason you could not use one for bears. The horns are really loud. Bear spray is also a great deterrent. It would be good to have both, a distance device and a close up device.  If you are smart you will probably need neither.

In Maine we dont have a huge bear problem. But we do have a problem. The bears get used to people and want the food and when that is the case a horn really wont bother them as much as it would bears that are not used to people. So if you are hiking somewhere thats highly traveled, I would choose the bear spray. There really is no reason that would not work. A bear cant get used to that by any means. The horn is great but there is the CHANCE that it wouldnt bother them if they were used to people. I have personally heard stories (never seen) of bears parking themselves in someones vestibule and not moving. Even with clanging pots and pans, screaming yelling, and indirect rock throwing they did not budge until they wanted to. Bear spray in this case wouldnt have been efficient as it would have covered their gear however it would have got the bear to leave. So if I could not bring both, i would trade the air horn for a bear bell, and carry the bear spray. 

ppine said: I have used air horns and spot lights to discourage coyotes.  They are very effective for about a month. 

So are you saying after a month the coyotes are'nt scared away anymore or thats how long the horns canister lasts?

Be nosy and just plain loud and they will take off before you ever see them would be my first suggestion. As far as spray or air horn it's a tough call if I were you I'd say go with both it can't hurt. If you do have bear spray already just make sure it's not expired. I've had alot of contact with black bear and had them huff and puff and a rare few mock charge and I've kept on my way. I've never lost food to them and I've always hung my food,I have used a airhorn and a bell to alert me if my food was tampered with but raccoons stole my bell.  They are easy to avoid and black bear usually have no interest in people. I don't carry spray or air horns anymore and never carried spray . I carry a firearm for several reasons and situations  and after talking with another forum member I do not recommend it. Its alot easier to learn the bears habits and avoid them. Also do not spray trees or the ground around your campsite as the spray disapates it smells like food and attracts bears. Carry both and be loud as you go and you will be fine.

This is good stuff! Thanks guys! I should have explained too, my son (22) & daughter (18) are going to be backcountry backpacking in Denali National Park, AK for 4 nights this July by themselves. While they have grown up backpacking, they've never been anywhere this wild or bear prolific. While deaths are rare, encounters are highly likely. Denali has done a great job over the years using bear canisters before the lower 48 parks. The kids will have to take an hour orientation with the rangers on bear safety before they are even issued a backcountry permit. They can't fly with either cans, so they will have to carry either (or both) then leave them behind for the flight home. I suppose I am a bit anxious imagining the worst (wind direction wrong, stuck in a field of wild berries, or something) Everyone has to have a 1st time sometime. I'm sure I am just being a typical worrisome mother, because I won't be with them this time and trust my own instincts/experience over theirs. While my husband & I will be camping at Denali's Tek River campground in a comfy rented RV (husband refuses to do the backcountry & we've never been in an rv) and radios will be out of range. The kids will have their satellite SPOT but I will have no way to see their OK check-ins until we leave the park because there's no cell reception to get the tracking. Not that I could do anything for them if there was a problem- it's just mother peace of mind. I haven't heard of backpackers carrying air horns really, but bear trainers use them, so that's where I got the idea. 


The coyotes seem to forget after a month or so that there was a reason to be afraid the last time they came by.  Air horns last for years when used sparingly.


Denali has a healthy bear population, but it is mostly open country. Make sure the kids make plenty of noise in the thickets around streams.  They will be fine.

Riss, I have spent some time in Denali Park, as well as other places frequented by brown bears(grizzlies).  Your kids will be perfectly safe if they follow the rules and learn about bear behavior and avoidance. Your son and daughter should each have a can of bear spray. The brown bears they are likely to encounter are Toklat Grizzlies which have nice coloring, being sort of blonde on the back. Air horns will work in thickets, and on stream crossings. As others have said, the key is to announce your passage to the bears. Although in your RV, you will be in established camping areas, your kids should avoid established camps that may have habituated bears, if at all possible. I would highly recommend that before they go, they read up on bear behavior. Understanding bears and their behavior, their body language, etc. is important and digesting what the rangers have said in an hour long presentation is not adequate, but certainly helpful. In short, each should have bear spray, and air horns. The latter can be the small fist sized ones that are easily carried.

I have seen 8 grizzlies in one day in Denali and they come in all colors, but especially light brown and blonde.

Erich's comments above are spoken by someone that knows what he is talking about.

Erich, How would you describe the difference in the range of the Toklat and the Barren Grounds grizzly populations?

My son saw 24 black bears last year in the Shenandoah National Park and the Washington and Jefferson National Forests.  I have a bear bell attach to my pack.  In those same environs I've never seen a bear.

ppine, the grizzlies I've encountered near the road in Denali, I would all characterize as Toklats with coloring from a true blonde to a dirty blonde and light brown. I don't know about range as I often think of the color as just a variation within the inland grizzly population. Riss, as ppine has said, it is likely that both you and your husband, as well as your kids, will encounter bears. Despite the good work the rangers do, the ones near to the roads and campgrounds, will probably have some association with humans and food, which is not a good thing. Further off the beaten path, the bears will be less likely to be habituated. Bears are naturally curious. They're an animal that has to consume lots of food in order to successfully hibernate over the winter. The bears in Denali don't have a lot of reliable food sources, the way coastal browns have salmon. They are consequently smaller. The claws on brown bears were developed for digging, rather than killing moose or caribou as I have heard people mention(not on TS). They dig Sik-Sik dens(arctic ground squirrels) and rotten logs for grubs and termites. Later in the season beyond when you will be there, bears tend to get more frantic as winter is approaching and they need to put on weight. Bear bells can work, but don't make enough noise to avoid an encounter in the bush. Also, keep you nose and eyes attuned to smells. Bears eat carrion a lot. One of my creepiest moments in the bush came on a canoe trip in central BC, just as the ice was going out. Earlier in the day, I came upon a moose carcass floating in a lake. Later, on a very bushy portage, I came across fairly fresh deer legs, bits of fur. I made lots of noise and got my gear and boat across as quickly as I could. Unfortunately, the way ahead turned out to not have any good camps, so I had to portage back that same day, just as snow was falling and I was losing light. The kill was likely from a cougar. The greatest danger, IMO, is moose. They are large and unpredictable, and not very smart. 

I agree about moose but they are as smart as any of the deer family.  They just don't fear humans at all.  That makes them dangerous, especially cows with calves and bulls in the fall.  Making noise is your best friend around riparian moose habitat.

You may be right about the intelligence of moose. My experience with them is that they will run through you to get away, whereas a bear runs the other direction. In 2004, I was on the Dease, in northern BC. We pulled into a bar on RR to check out a potential camp. A moose appeared down stream on our side of the river, and waded across. As she was nearly to the opposite bank, I yelled so she would stop and I could get a photo. She looked right at us. Then she turned and waded back over to our side of the river to escape into the bush. A bear would have vaulted up the opposite bank, possibly stood up to look and sniff and then into the bush on the other side. Regardless, moose make me nervous and more people are killed by moose each year than bears.

They throw their weight around. They are not afraid and they want you to be.  That makes them seem not so smart.

I didn't see many moose in Alaska because it was too wet and the forest cover didn't grow much riparian habitat.  I ran into moose mostly in Wyoming.  The Shiras moose are not as big, but just an obstinate.  They will walk through your camp without a care at all.

safe behavior first, air horns and spray (i personally think spray is the better choice for grizzly) as emergency measures.  a couple of starting points: National Park Bear Safety

as these resources say, black and grizzly bear behave differently in some important ways.  most significant to me is that black tend to back away from people who make noise, aggressive motions, make themselves bigger; grizzly can be the opposite, you're better off being small, quiet, and ultimately playing dead with a backpack on your back if emergency measures don't work.  

long time ago in maine, i was going down a river in a canoe, the Androscoggin i think, when we rounded a corner and came across a moose standing near the bank.  i don't know what the right behavior was, but it's hard to replicate that level of fear in a non-stress situation.  we passed within maybe 20 feet of this towering animal, and our only reaction was to stop talking and freeze. it worked; i wouldn't want to do it again.  


leadbelly2550 said:

long time ago in maine, i was going down a river in a canoe, the Androscoggin i think, when we rounded a corner and came across a moose standing near the bank.  i don't know what the right behavior was, but it's hard to replicate that level of fear in a non-stress situation.  we passed within maybe 20 feet of this towering animal, and our only reaction was to stop talking and freeze. it worked; i wouldn't want to do it again.  

Had a female come around the corner of the Davis Pond LT without warning.  We're just sitting there one minute and the next she walks to about three feet from us. Amazing to see them up close though if it had been a bull I'd have probably crapped myself. She was too close to see us I think, at least when we were still, but sniffed at us a few times before munching some grass right in front of us and wandering down to the pond for a drink.

Got a call last night from my friend in Florida.  He worked in Yellowstone one summer.  The last question was "what are the chances of seeing bears on the Klamath River?"  Well we had one in camp on the last trip at dinner time and then at about 0300.  Two bears showed up at dark on the Trinity River.  The country gets wetter going west and the density of bears goes up near the coast.  We try not to camp any place we see tracks on the beach.  We are headed back to the Klamath in July.  I will be passing out bear spray and an air horn.'s hard not to worry when your a parent,but think of it this way if they were in a major city they could be mugged,shot,ect. I'm sure those statistics are much higher than bear attacks. I'm sure they will be fine with education,being noisy,and having spray and a air horn. Dont worry momma bear your cubs will be fine.

Bill that sign is 

tracker clayton 2 said:'s hard not to worry when your a parent,but think of it this way if they were in a major city they could be mugged,shot,ect. I'm sure those statistics are much higher than bear attacks. I'm sure they will be fine with education,being noisy,and having spray and a air horn. Dont worry momma bear your cubs will be fine.

 Thanks Clayton!

ppine, when I paddled the Rogue in 2010, electric fences for our food were required. We saw a few bears. One morning, paddling a stretch that ran east/west, with a hard right turn ahead. we saw a large black bear about fifty feet up the bank at the turn. Sitting, with its forelegs by its side and its back legs spread apart, getting some morning sun on its belly. It watched the dozen canoes pass like it was the usual morning show. Hardly a move except for a turn of its head, inspecting each boat as it passed.

Andrew, I think the key in differentiating the behavior, is to understand that black bears and brown bears are on distinctly different levels. Black bears tend to be smaller than most brown bears, and so are not at the top of the food chain. Brown bears are at the top of the food chain. They are very powerful. And a human is not as big as they are, so have less fear of getting injured in an encounter. A couple of things the article didn't mention, is that if you are in a  group in a bear encounter, stay in that group. As a group, you present a bigger human. The other thing I found strange, is that the article mentioned, while holding the bear spray in a bear encounter, check out out to remove the safety. What idiot wrote this? You should already know how to remove the safety. As well, I would encourage, no, I very strongly encourage anyone who is going to carry bear spray, to buy two cans before they head into the bush. Practice removing the safety and firing the bear spray, in the safety of your back yard or motel, and then shower thoroughly and wash your clothes. The latter two things because the smell of bear spray will actually attract bears. I take my old bear spray cans and fire them off in my back yard. As well, before any trip, I wipe the cans down with alcohol. They do leak a little sometimes and wiping your eye after touching a can that has some residue on it is very distressing. A final note, brown bears can be chased. While working with wildlife photographer Art Wolfe, I watch Art, who is not very tall or hefty, chase a three year old coastal brown bear down a beach after it had wandered too close to camp. Yelling like a crazy person, that bear was very frightened.


You said "Brown bears can be chased."
I suppose so. Given a wide open beach, you might be able to frighten one; but that would depend on the bear and the day. If the bear is feeding on a kill, he is likely to attack in response. In tight cover or any situation where the bear might feel trapped, you have just invited disaster. Even a raccoon will attack a human when it feels flight is impossible. Suggesting that hikers chase brown bears is, IMO, irresponsible, at best.

Just one opinion, YMMV.

Waders, grizzlies(brown bears) don't want a confrontation any more than you do. I don't know how many brown bears you have encountered. All, it is important to understand the situation. In the situation I described above, the bear in question was getting to close to an established camp in McNeil River, a brown bear sanctuary in Alaska. There has NEVER been a negative human bear encounter there. It is important in such places to keep the bears(which are curious) away from the established camp. Letting the young bear come into camp, is actually more harmful than chasing it away, because the bear will lose its fear of humans. In the same location, my sound man and I were going to fill the water jugs one evening. As we made noise a sow with two spring cubs stood up behind some buck brush on the trail, perhaps 10 or 20 meters away from us. We stopped, as she had let us know her presence and waited for her to hustle her cubs off the trail, and then we went down the trail past her to get the water. While Art did not chase the three year old for sport, it is important to understand that the danger with bears, especially where there is likely to be human/bear encounters, is for the bears to lose their fear of humans. Every bear encounter is different. But a human who drops his/her backpack and runs away, is teaching the bear that humans are not to be feared, and doubly, that they can provide food. Around the same time that I was filming at McNeil River, a fisherman was frightened by a bear(it could have been the same three year old) and dropped his catch and ran away. He was later fined and I recall, banned from visiting McNeil River again. While the phrase, "A fed bear is a dead bear" is accurate, so to is that any bear that loses its fear of humans is a danger to both itself and humans.

Again grizzlies(brown bears) as with black bears need to respect humans and know that while humans do not represent competition, we are also not something to mess with. I am not at all suggesting hikers should chase brown bears for sport, but it is important for everyone's safety to make it clear to the bear that it is unwelcome in the camp. As well, on my canoe trips, if I catch a bear unaware by the shore, I might take a few photos first, but then do my best to frighten the bear back into the forest.

In my 60 plus years I have had a lot of bear encounters, usually from a  distance, but a few, close enough to see the flies buzzing. The only two unfortunate encounters, were with habituated bears. One a sow black bear with spring cubs in Yosemite, the other a Toklat grizzly in Denali that was cruising a campground.

Erich - i tend to assume most articles like this are written for people who are visitors who don't have any frame of reference for bear encounters - people who want to go for a hike, carry a can of spray, and feel OK about that but who don't really think they're going to have to use the spray on an aggressive bear.  My frame of reference is mostly black bear in the Northeast or Adirondacks scavenging for food; most of the bear precautions tend to revolve around keeping your food away from them, in boxes or barrels.  bear spray isn't commonly used because even habituated bear we see on the right coast don't like to confront noisy displays from people, they almost always take off.  

ps - the NPS take on bear encounters:

finally, wow, don't get that stuff in your eyes.  we use hot sauce made with moruga scorpion peppers at home, almost as irritating as capsicum spray (the peppers are generally in the 1-2 million scoville range, and pepper spray is about 3 million scoville).  one stray move wiping your eyes guarantees an unforgettable and miserable experience.  

All good points in the article. One thing I allude to is not to be food. Food runs. You can also hold your pack over your head. That makes you look bigger. You don't want to be threatening to the bear, but you also don't want to pretend like prey. The rather vague things in the article are what to do if attacked. How do you really know if the bear attacked and is defensive and play dead, or if the bear is seeing you as prey and wants to eat you. By the time you are covered in brush, it is too late. The more bears you see, the more you become accustomed to their behavior. Read as much as you can. The article didn't mention the clacking of the teeth. This is threat posturing and often comes before an attack.  Think of how dogs attack. Barking is a threat. Not barking can be the early sign of an attack.

i haven't been in the situation, but i would have the most trouble distinguishing a bluff from an actual charge - and by the time anyone does that, a big bear moving fast, too late.  goal would be to avoid that encounter, i'm sure.

only grizzly i ever saw in the wild, in Yellowstone, was far, needed binoculars to see it well, messing with an elk carcass.  Did some hiking in the Tetons, carried a can of spray, but never encountered a bear.  


You said "Brown bears can be chased." That was your suggestion. You didn't add any caveats. You did give a description of one such chase. But what is the hiker who reads your statement before his trip to Yellowstone going to remember.
"I'll just chase this grizzly and her cubs from the campsite, Madge, No problem!"

I don't care how many encounters you have had with bears. It is irresponsible to make a blanket statement about wild animals, period. Each bear is different and each environment is different. Your chest-beating about your prowess and experience is no different in scope than Treadwell's, only the emphasis is different. Go canny, man, please.

This is a sensitive topic for many people.  It is one of their greatest fears, and the discussion can get a little twisted. 

Although McNeil River is a special case, it is possible to learn a lot in a place like that because of the density of bears, and  the frequency of the encounters. Those bears are habituated in a way to humans, but they have a huge food source and are not so territorial about their salmon streams.  For the most part the coastal browns I encountered in Alaska were the same way.  They are large, but well fed and not that defensive about their space. I actually had more problems with black bears.

You never want to show your fear, and need to stand your ground to show that.  Erich was alluding to the fact, that a lot of the time it is good to be on the offensive.  I like to swear at bears after they are fully aware of my presence. 

One thing about bear spray I don't know if I or anyone else mentioned is it does have a shelf life. So it will expire and get weaker over time just like the pepper spray you carry around town or the police carry. Just something to be aware of.

Waders, you are correct that every experience with a bear is different. That said, I didn't advocate chasing a sow with cubs, only making your presence known and not running, the latter is definitely not the thing to do with any bear. I don't know how many brown bears you have encountered. I have perhaps a dozen inland brown bear encounters and probably about 40 coastal brown bear encounters. Some were close enough to see the flies, as I said. I do not appreciate being compared to Timothy Treadwell, who was a risk taker. That said, the encounters I have had, as well as information from responsible biologists, is to not show fear. And if a bear, brown bear or black is investigating your camp, your safety will be determined by how you react. Running away or letting the bear chomp on your food and investigate your camp is definitely the wrong reaction and will likely contribute to creating a habituated bear. The consensus is that you should scare the bear out of camp, and if that means standing in a group and perhaps walking toward the bear to frighten it away, that's what you need to do. I said, that brown bears can be chased, as well as black bears, that is a fact. I would appreciate hearing your perspective on your grizzly bear encounters. And yes, if that brown bear in Yellowstone wanders into your camp, you had better frighten it away. You don't want to indicate to the bear that you are an easy meal. In my descriptions, I was illustrating encounters I have had with bears that should serve to illustrate that the are neither the cuddly animals Treadwell described, nor the fearsome monsters that Lewis and Clark described. They are a top predator. And it is your job with a curious bear to demonstrate that you have nothing the bear wants and an encounter will not go well for either. If you show fear, the bear will sense this.

Further, let's examine the scenario that Waders describes in Yellowstone in which a sow with cubs wanders into a couple's camp. Bears are naturally curious. She is looking for food. What time of the year is this? Waders has not elaborated. If it is fall, the situation is likely to be more tense, as the sow, as any bear is interested in putting on weight for the winter. The fact that she is already not avoiding humans, makes to situation even worse. She is apparently also teaching the cubs that these creatures(humans) are not a threat and possibly/probably a good source of food, meaning that they frequently leave food scraps or bags of food accessible. Let's assume it is nighttime. Although it is hard to determine without actually being in this situation, it is of prime importance for the couple to make it clear to the sow that while they are not a threat to her cubs, they will not be pushed either. Bear spray should be at the ready and packs on. Both should be close together to present a bigger "animal". If the bear appears to be stalking the situation is very bad. If the bear is merely curious and appears flighty and can be spooked that should be tried. When I described causing a bear, it was similar to this. Art was keeping the bear from being habituated. It was young and so had less food, being chased by sows out of the marsh, and the boars from the prime fishing spots at the falls. Art did not chase more than about fifty feet, but caused the bear to turn and run in fright. This type of action keeps bear encounters to a minimum. While in Wader's scenario, the bear in camp is already an issue, not trying all tactics to make the bear leave with her cubs, by whatever means available, including, as I did once with a black bear sow, picking my free standing tent up over my had and waving it around.


My sincere apologies. It was totally unnecessary for me to use the words and tone I did. I should simply have requested expansion and elucidation of your remark regarding chasing bears.

Again, I am sorry for my intemperate behavior.

On another note, has anyone used any of the bear scare products as on this site -- I am thinking of the blanks, shell crackers, etc.

There are also some interesting items on this page --

I love to see civility on forums. Nice response by overmywaders.  We have a lot more of it here than most places.

Waders, apology graciously accepted. I have not used bear bangers, though I know people who have. The issue is that they can and have started fires. Any noise maker that frightens a bear is a good thing. But one also has to be careful. I have heard people advocate throwing rocks, which can not only injure a bear, but also indicate that this is an aggressive situation. With bears, one wants to de escalate the situation. On a couple of canoe trips I've guided, I've been criticized by the clients for not lingering longer before frightening the bear(s). I linger just long enough for people to get a look and then yell like a crazy person and pound the gunnels with my paddle. The bears always head back into the bush and then peak out to see what it was, and then back into the bush. Keeping bears afraid of us is the best way to reduce encounters. As always, be bear aware. We all make mistakes. One I nearly made was a number of years ago at the confluence of the Big Salmon and Yukon Rivers at the abandoned village of Big Salmon. there is a very nice cemetery of spirit houses some distance away. In a few places in the village were ski ski dens that had been dug up. I was curious, but thought that it was just the sik siks digging, until my son and I ventured down the trail and found sik sik fur in bear scat. Old, but still identifiable. We went back to camp and rounded up a couple of other people to hike to the cemetery. We never saw a bear, and it had probably been some time since the grizzly was there, but always be aware that just because you can't see them doesn't mean they aren't there somewhere.

I have also used electric fences, and in some places they are required. I've never had a bear try to get in one, so I don't know their effectiveness. A good paddling friend used one on a trip in Alaska, not for the food, but the tent.

Wearing bells on your shoes/boots when I hiking in bear country has always been a good way to let 'em know you are there!

Overmywaders I didn't go to the sites you had listed but I've used blanks,rubber bullets,rubber shotgun rounds including the rubber baton loads. 1st they still are dangerous to you and the animal. 2nd blanks don't really bother them and I've actually seen blanks catch bears interst and they come to see what's going on. 3rd rubber bullets ect can be effective but can also just make a bear mad especially if they have encountered them before  (DNR uses all the above and dogs when they relocate a troubled bear to teach it to stay away from people) Now you can get pepper spray with cs gas in grenade form that is a airisol so no fire can be started and those would work. Most of the stuff I'm referring to is not for sale to civilians but some is.

It's all over kill companies want to make money and us as humans love to create a boogie man and in the woods what better than the bear? It's big ,powerful,has attacked and eaten tada..your boogie man. Snakes,coyotes,wolves, Moose probably hurt more people even year than bears do. 

Eric your recommendation is to be aware of your surroundings and bear aware...Make yourself bigger if it even means using your pack, trekking poles and make noise and also have a bear spray..Pretty much the same for black bears...

They're just bears and I think we have all come to the conclusion that they are easy to avoid and chase off if you make noise as you go. It's not a war them against us. I've used the things I listed against city bears with DNR's permission and suggestions and still the bear would come back so they don't work in the long run. Also it's not even the bears fault as we move closer and closer to their natural habitat and put up houses we feel it should give us more rights to be there than the bears and to a certain extent I think people go hiking and camping under the same belief. I've said I carry a gun I also carry it in the city it's a edc item for me, I've also had alot of black bear encounters and never even put my hand on my firearm, it's not there for bear it's there for numerous reasons. At one point I would have advocated a firearm now my answer is no! Unless you are very skilled and can draw and fire kill or atleast stopping shots on a charging bear (which is gonna be just seconds) don't try it spray them. Your putting yourself and others in danger, you miss and hit a kid or another person and you could face charges plus you have to live with that guilt and that's a heavy burden. Also the bear may just be doing a mock charge and you got no reason to shoot but you do so now you have killed an animal for no reason and will probably be fined and lose your firearm and who knows what else. I thank Erich for having an intelligent and insightful conversations with me and helping me change my views.

An honest post Tracker.

I like having a firearm to be a able to fire a warning shot.  It can be aimed in the vicinity of the target without hitting it.  Animals seem to react strongly to the noise, muzzle flash at night and especially the sound of a bullet ricocheting around a long way from where you are.

I have had the safety off only a handful of times in bear encounters with the rifle pointed in the direction I expected a charge.  It was very reassuring to be able to have a firearm in those circumstances. It was before bear spray was invented.  I fully expect to go to my grave never firing a shot even near a bear.

You are welcome Clayton, well said, it isn't a war. And yes, Denis, black and brown are in many ways the same. It is important to remember to both not be a threat, and to not also represent food or access to food. I like seeing bears from a distance, occasionally, but am happy to not see them at all most of the time.

ppine said:

...I fully expect to go to my grave never firing a shot even near a bear.

 You have shared with us, here on the TS Forum, your extensive wisdom, gleaned from a life time spent in the BC.  Certainly if you can go without having fired a shot at a bear, given your stomping grounds, then ALMOST ANYONE (those roaming among polar bears excepted) should realize guns aren't necessary, nor  the most effective defense against bears.


Kind words by whomeworry.  There is some strong truth in your post above. Some of the reluctance to give up firearms is related to old habits.  Before bear spray was invented I was out seeing bears every day and carrying a rifle.

It helps me sleep better at night.

I think if you look at a firearm as a tool that has more uses than just bear defense then a firearm is a perfectly fine item to have with you. They can be a signaling device if your lost or injured, the ammo can be taken apart and powder used to help start fires,also to gather food if needed,protection from animals or people (you never know),ect. It's all on how you view it ,it's only a weapon if you make it one, it's a tool if you make it one. Firearms will always be a touchy subject and it takes intelligent people on both sides to discuss them. You need to know your firearm and ammo and it's limitations and your own, if your not honest about your abilities it will show and you may hurt or kill yourself or someone else and just because you don't see anyone around doesnt mean that bullet won't travel a great distance and find someone. If you put a gun on a table and no1 ever touches it nothing will happen but add a person then it will do something so it's not the gun it's the person that needs to be responsible. I honestly don't think half the people who have firearms should have them. I have very high expectations of firearm owners.

what tracker said.

I have used just a bear bell and a whistle and it scared the bear away. the bear waited a few minutes looking at me but finally took off in opposite direction. I make noise when hiking through bear country because it works. I hike alone a lot and I have to admit I was really scared the first time I saw a bear on the trail in Mt Rainier. I freaked out blew the whistle on my pack about 5 times shook the bear bell and when the bear didn't move I proceeded to take off my pack and pull out the bear spray, took the zip tie off, put the handle on and even sprayed it once to test it, lol I was literally acting on adrenaline. Maybe because I was alone and saw no other hikers in sight, I don't know why I was so startled. I can remember going to the Smokey Mountains a few times and seeing lots of bears and cubs and I was never scared. Maybe because there were a lot of other people around it didnt seem to bother me. Anyway, the bear left and I never had to use the spray. When I finally reached camp that night I started to unpack my gear from my pack and started to choke and my eyes were painfully watering so much I stood up and walked away from pack. I then realized that "testing out" the bear spray earlier in the day had left residue on my pack. This stuff is no joke! It hurts, it burns, and it sticks to everything around you. I had a bandana hanging from my pack too and even after rinsing it out several times it was still on there, I couldn't use it the rest of my hike. 

Needless to say, I still carry the spray on every trip and I pray I never have to use it. 

I though about bringing a small handgun with me because I am alone, but that thought left quicker than it came. It's just more weight to carry and I'm not big on guns to begin with.  I don't even think they are allowed in any National Park either. Actually I don't think bear spray is allowed either. can get wipes to nutralize the effects of the spray I recommend the wipes used for vexor, dawn dish soap and water will work in a pinch. Handguns are allowed in some parks here in VA they are allowed even in the national parks I'm not gonna say all just because some may depend on if you have a VA permit ect.(It's upto you to find out local and state firearms law for your own protection never belive what someone tells you on the Internet). If you just have to carry one hollow points do not penetrate as well as a full metal jacket on a bear out of a handgun especially on head shots this is especially so for grizzlies with their thick skulls and hide.Yes I carry but not for bear I'm in black bear country so I don't worry about bears. Also a handgun is a poor choice for most people against a bear. Stick with a spray and what your used too. Shenandoah does allow firearms though and I believe on their website they say they follow VA states law on carrying of handguns it's been awhile since I looked I'm a permit holder so I know I'm okay. 

Elizabeth, the instance you describe was not an instance where a firearm would have likely been necessary. Bear spray is your best defense against bears, black or brown. You should not carry it in your pack, but in a holster so it is at the ready. Bears are normally curious, but are not easily deterred. Your bear was not acting in a predatory or defensive way. Regarding a firearm for bear defense. While it is true that bears have been killed with a handgun, the relevant scenario makes this weapon a poor defense. The most likely scenario is a surprised bear, likely a sow with cubs or a bear(boar or sow) defending a food source. In this instance the bear will charge and you will likely have less than two seconds to pull you piece and put a kill shot into a bear that is capable of 30 MPH. If you wound it, it will likely become even more aggressive. Most often, bears will exhibit with a bluff charge. Learn to recognize the difference. If you must carry a firearm for bear defense, the preferred weapon is a shotgun, with 00 buck for the first round and deer slugs thereafter. However, the weight and trouble in most areas, render carrying a shotgun unnecessary. I know of no place where carrying bear spray is not permitted. Learn bear behavior...that is your best defense.

Erich is right. A really bad close up encounter happens in seconds.  Bear spray is perfect, but you will have no time to retrieve it, if it is not on your belt and available.

i find if there are any wild animals around while i am hiking abroad ( as there arnt any in England!) i find that i automatically go into extreme bad language mode  and utter as many offensive swear words as possible at the top of my voice ,on hearing such  colourful utterings  the animals in a state of shock and suprise run off !

bad language has also saved my from freezing to death  in my tent in a freak cold front came in snowdonia in wales uk.

You are so funny

Back to you john261

I have certainly muttered a few obscenities in the backcountry. Mostly on close calls with imminent death. LOL I have fallen 3 times with my backpack on and tumbled may way down very steep hillsides on all three occasions.  Something about going downhill with a pack on. I think on all 3 occasions I was exhausted and physically tired along with legs feeling like jello. One time I got the wind knocked out of me and my first thought was, "If something is broken I'm done" but I always made it up from the ground and got back on my feet to get the heck out of there. It's quite comical rolling down a hill with a backpack on, and then trying to get up as if you didn't have 45 pounds on your back LOL 

i was being serious about almost freezing to death in a wild country goretex bivi  in snowdon it was only my bad language that helped me make it  till sunrise

There is nothing worse than being freezing without the ability to get warm.

I found a copper bear bell yesterday, near the PCT, and clipped it on my pack. I kind of liked it. It is still on there today,.

August 12, 2020
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