How Effective is Bear Spray?
Bear spray is a very common and highly effective answer to the risk of attack in natural bear habitats. It is a variety of pepper spray that uses capsaicin, which is the chemical that creates spice in a peer, as an irritant to deter and repel bears in case of attack.
Bear spray is a relatively recent invention, only coming to market in the late 80s. Its popularity is a testament to its utility, but the research backs it up – every study to date has found an incredible success rate for the product when put to the test against real bears. A study done in 2008 titled, “Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska” found that the spray was totally effective 90 percent of the time against black bears, 92 percent of the time against brown bears, and 100 percent of the time against polar bears. It was also found that 98 percent of people carrying bear spray were uninjured by the bears in close-range encounters.
Chris Servheen, coordinator for the Grizzly Bear Recovery Program says, “I’d rate the effectiveness of bear spray at a 10 out of 10. I carry it myself.” While he doesn’t state his bear spray of choice, there are lots of options available for anyone looking to carry bear repellent. There are a few things worth looking into when choosing a spray. It is important to have a strong enough spray with at least a 0.857 percent concentration of the chemical capsaicin, and should have a label designating it a bear repellent spray and not a personal defense spray like ordinary pepper spray. It should spray in a cone shape and form a cloud, and should have enough to spray for at least 8 straight seconds. It should also have a range of at least 16 feet, or 5 meters.
This product works by spraying capsaicin into the air, where it spreads into a cloud that a bear would then need to make its way through before reaching you. The capsaicin irritates the mucus membrane of the animal, causing them to swell and leaving the bear temporarily without sight and with irritation as it breathes. This makes it highly effective as the response of nearly all bears upon encountering this is to retreat and wait for relief, giving you time to get away as while it is preoccupied.
If you are travelling in a bear’s habitat it is imprint to be aware since most bears don’t attack unless you interfere with their young, find yourself around their food supply, or startle them. However, always make sure to have your bear spray on you and easily accessible, just in case. It is preferable to carry in in a holster on your belt or backpack, like the spray found here.
If you do need to use the spray, merely remove the safely clip, aim it toward the bear, and press the trigger in short 2 to 3 second bursts. It is best to begin while the bear is still a good distance from you (around 30 feet) allowing the spray to disperse and form a cloud. If the bear is close by, simply aim for its face. Once the bear has been effected leave as quickly as possible without running. If you are about to travel to any area where bears are common be sure to look over the information outlined by the National Park Service. They can be found on the Yellowstone Park website at https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/bearspray.htm. It includes general tips for use and step-by-step directions for using the spray.
The main protection alternative to bear repellent spray is a firearm, but they are significantly less reliable and more dangerous – for both the human and the bear. It may seem intuitively like guns would provide much better protection, but in reality they are much less effective and a much higher risk. People who raise a gun to a bear have a 56 percent chance of injury, while the bear has a 61 percent chance of being killed. So while using a bear spray will nearly guarantee the life of yourself and the bear, reliance on a gun gives you over a 50 percent chance of injury, and used successfully ensures the death of the bear. Additionally, once a bear has actually attacked a human the park must slate the bear for “destruction,” even if it originally survives.
For all of its benefits, there are not a lot of downsides to carrying bear repellent spray. It is small, light, and easily portable. It is inexpensive and easy to use. And, most importantly, it is effective.
You do, however, need to be aware of your surroundings and the weather conditions when you are in an area you may suspect the need to use bear spray. It is possible for the wind to interfere with the spray’s accuracy and blow the irritant back into your face. If this happens the proper procedure (once you are safe) is to wash yourself and any contaminated clothing or items with cold water, and be sure to remove any contact lenses. Also make sure to only use the spray in case of an actual bear attack. It does not work as a preventative manner like an insect repellent would. In fact, the lingering scent of the spray can actually attract bears. The spray is also highly pressurized and flammable, so be sure to never let it become punctured and keep it away from intense heat or flame.
While bear attack is not overly common, the health risk is substantial enough that it is important to be aware and protected in bear habitats. There are a variety of bear repellents available on the market but by and far the most-studied and most effective solution found is bear repellent spray. Its effectiveness and convenience makes it a logical choice for any outdoorsman.