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Pepper Spray

How to use Bear or Pepper Spray?


Yes, pepper spray has saved many peoples (and bears) lives.  But prepare yourself well before entering bear country so that hopefully you won’t need to use it.  The best defense against an incident with a bear is prevention through education!  Consider pepper spray as a last resort. 


Over the past more than 35 years, I have had more then 20’000 encounters with brown and grizzly bears. I can count on one hand how many times I ended up using a pepper spray. In not one of those cases it was a real emergency but rather a way to turn a certain unwanted behavior (such as continuously approaching people too close) around, which could easily lead to the bears’ demise down the road if he or she encounters the “wrong” (and armed) crowd.


Here are some tips for how and when to use pepper spray.      

  1. Always be aware that a bear spray is a “powerful weapon” and can harm you too.  Be careful with its use.

  2. Carry your bear spray where you can easily access it at all times.  It’s of no use buried deep inside your backpack.  

  3. Identifying fresh bear signs such as tracks or a scat and potential food sources, is key to being more aware and prepared for an encounter. 

  4. Always consider the use of your bear spray as a very last resort.

  5. If you find an animal carcass, leave the area as quickly as you can (do not panic and run) and have your bear spray ready. Grizzly bears could aggressively try to defend such an important pile of protein.

  6. If you encounter a bear suddenly and at close range, 9 out of 10 bears will flee as soon as they’re detected (avoiding such a close encounter is easily done by simply making noise while you hike…to achieve this, your voice is the best tool. Find more under “Human Behavior”)

  7. If you encounter a bear suddenly and at close range but the bear is not leaving, then he or she may be habituated to trails, humans and/or the foods growing along side them. Speak with the animal, while you slowly retreat to create more distance between yourself and the animal.

  8. If you encounter a bear suddenly and at close range and the bear is threatening you (huffs, growls or jaw popping, etc.) and is not leaving, speak with the bear in a calm voice while you slowly retreat and at the same time have your pepper spray ready. Do not use it unless the animal is within at least 15 feet of you, likely even closer and is showing an obvious interest and/or aggression. One quick blast of pepper may deter the bear simply from the loud noise of the spray itself.

  9. Try to avoid using the spray unless you can hit the bear’s sensitive nasal area.  Any other area sprayed on a bear’s body will be of little effect. 

  10. Always be aware that a regular size pepper spray canister only holds 6-7 seconds worth of spray.  Spray it in bursts and use its contents wisely.

  11. Bear spray must be sprayed on the bear itself.  It is rendered useless if sprayed on a tent, trail, etc.

  12. Once the bear is blinded by a blast of your spray (if that ever happens!) react and try to get away but do not run, instead back up slowly. Make the local authorities aware of the incident.

  13. Keep an eye on the expiry date of your spray. I have used sprays that were 5 years past the date and were still fine. It’s however wiser to carry up-to-date sprays. Older sprays can always be used for demonstrations.

  14. It is not a bad idea to practice grabbing your spray, to see how quickly you can take off the safety and generally handling it.

  15. And once more because it’s so important: educate yourself, which is the single best prevention! Don’t forget, this isn’t only about you, but about respect towards the bears and all things wild! 

Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, one will not find peace himself.

Albert Schweizer

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