How to Use Bear Spray

It is estimated that there are somewhere in the region of 1 million bears living in North America, which includes all black bear species and polar bears. If you ever get the chance to explore where they live, it is possible you will encounter one, and that can be dangerous, especially if you surprise it.

One way to protect yourself if a bear is approaching you is to use bear spray. In this article, we will explain what bear spray is and how to use bear spray.

What Is Bear Spray

Bear spray normally comes in the form of an aerosol canister and works on the same principle that someone would use a pepper spray as personal protection against being attacked by someone else.

The active ingredient is normally oleoresin of capsicum, which is extracted from peppers. This has a very strong heat level to the extent that when bear sprays are manufactured they can only contain 2% of this substance.

To give you some context of its heat, it measures up to 3.6 million on the Scoville Heat Index which classifies how hot chilies, spices, and peppers are. This compares to a jalapeno which scores 10,000 and habanero which hits 350,000 on the scale.

The other feature of bear spray is that it is waxy, so it tends to stick to whatever it comes into contact with, including bear fur.

What Makes Bears Dangerous

Bears do not instinctively go out of their way to attack people, and if they did have reason to, many of them will make loud noises and make aggressive movements, rather than carry out a physical attack. How aggressive they become will very much depend on the species of bear.

The reasons for bears to attack humans include, being surprised, lack of food or extreme hunger and protecting its young.

A bear has several physical weapons it can use especially its claws and jaws, which can both inflict serious injuries. They also have very strong muscles and can run surprisingly fast, with a top speed of 40 mph, which means it can easily outrun a human.

Where Bear Spray Was First Created

The first bear spray was created at the University of Montana in the 1980s, by a graduate student named Carrie Hunt. Her research and development were heavily influenced by a retailer, Bill Pounds.

Bill Pounds sold outdoor equipment and had been lucky to escape unscathed from a bear attack a few years earlier, so developing protection against bears became a mission for him

The first prototype aerosol canister of bear spray was produced which could spray to a distance of 30 feet and could maintain a spray for 7 seconds. This led to Pounds creating a company called Counter Assault, which was the first to produce a registered bear spray.

Does It Really Work?

Studies into the use of bear spray state that the evidence shows that bear sprays are effective in the vast majority of situations that they are used.  Over 90% of the time it stopped the bear’s aggressive behavior, and 98% of the users were unharmed by the bear.

How to Use Bear Spray Effectively

Here are some tips to help you use bear spray and to stay safe if a bear attacks you.

With aerosol cans liable to explode if the temperature reaches 120° F, do not leave it sitting next to campfires or cooking stoves nor should you leave it out in direct sunlight.

Always keep the aerosol can close to you. The best way to do this is to use a holster of some kind, rather than storing it in a zipped backpack, which doesn’t allow for quick use if a bear suddenly looms large in front of you.

To prepare to use your bear spray remove the safety cap and take note of which way any crosswind is blowing.

When the bear is between 30 and 60 feet away, aim downwards slightly and start spraying towards the bear, adjusting the direction to take account of crosswinds.

The bear spray will start to form a cloud, which the bear will turn away from, and hopefully head off on the opposite direction from you.

Do not stop spraying until the bear has about-turned.

If the bear continues towards you, spray it directly in its face

And finally …

If a bear is charging towards you, instinctively you may feel the urge to run away from it – don’t! Bears can run much faster than you, so it will catch you. Besides if you have your back to it you can’t use your spray.