What is Bear Spray? How to Use it SAFELY

What is Bear Spray?

Bear spray is highly effective in preventing aggressive behavior in bears. But first things first, what is bear spray? It is a non-lethal deterrent used to stop aggressive bear behavior. Its use can reduce human injuries caused by bears and the number of bears killed in self-defense. In this case, we can say it is among the self-defense sprays.

What to do if you See a Bear

Bear safety is of utmost importance when you visit a park or hiking. Suppose you see a bear, stand directly in front of it. Never try to flee or approach him. Instead, spread your arms or, better yet, wear a coat to make yourself appear as large as possible. 

Make as much noise as you can by yelling, banging pots and pans, or using other noisemakers. In the article, you will learn what to do using self-defense sprays.

Brown Bear Outdoors

Bear Spray Vs. Pepper Spray-The Difference

Pepper spray is NOT bear spray, and the two should never be used as a deterrent to bears. Bear spray is a non-lethal bear deterrent. So, what is the active ingredient in a bear spray? It contains capsaicin and related capsaicinoids that irritate and inflame the bear’s mouth, nose, throat, eyes, nasal passage, and lungs. 

This prevents the bear from inhaling and exhaling deeply enough to support its charge.

Bear spray is regulated, and its ingredients must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You cannot change the formulation and ingredients unless re-registered with the EPA. In addition, the EPA does not endorse, test, or verify bear spray’s effectiveness on bears.

The EPA monitors bear spray advertising, labeling, and marketing for accuracy and proper terminology. However, the EPA is not permitted to monitor the internet, websites, YouTube, or social media platforms for false or inaccurate claims or information.

When Congress granted the EPA authority under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, these social media networks did not exist (FIRFA). Therefore, to avoid further consumer confusion, always refer to it as Bear Spray.

You cannot sell pepper spray for use on bears. They are not required to register their ingredients with any agency. Manufacturers can change their formulation at any time without notifying anyone. Some pepper sprays are extremely weak, while others are excessively potent and may cause harm to humans and bears.

Because the EPA lacks the authority to monitor websites and social media, some pepper spray manufacturers mix bear spray and pepper spray, resulting in false information that appears to apply to bear spray but only to pepper spray. For example, claims being the hottest, “hitting a brick wall,” or a shotgun blast is permitted on pepper spray but not on bear spray.

Unfortunately, many people are given wrong instructions for using a bear spray based on using pepper spray on humans. This erroneous information has tainted information found on the internet and in the media, resulting in people being mauled and the false belief that bear spray does not work. On the contrary, quality bear sprays are effective.

How and When to Use Bear Spray

You need to know how to use bear spray. Never approach a bear on purpose or allow one to come to you because you believe your bear spray will keep you safe. Avoid spraying a passive bear to get it to leave the area as this may cause it to charge. If the bear is at a known food source, such as a fruit tree or garden, it will usually return after about an hour.

Only use bear spray against charging or attacking bears. You must prepare to react quickly if you need to use bear spray on a charging bear. This takes practice before you become nervous in the face of a charging bear. Place your thumb in front of the curled lip when removing the safety clip and pull back.

While doing so, keep the canister firmly in place so that it doesn’t tilt up when you deploy the spray. Remember that you don’t need to aim your bear spray; direct it slightly downward in front of the charging bear. 

Please practice removing your bear spray and removing the safety clip until it becomes second nature to you. Charging bears can reach speeds of up to 30 miles (48.3 kilometers) per hour when agitated.

It’s also important to consider where you’ll keep your bear spray. You should wear it in an easily accessible location, such as in a chest, on your hip, or waistband holster, or in an outer winter coat pocket. Never store the bear spray in your backpack or in a location where it will be difficult to access.

What to do When You See a Bear Within 60 Feet (18.3 Meters)

Once an agitated charging bear is within 60 feet (18.3 meters), begin spraying. At about 30 feet (9.2 meters), the charging bear and the bear repellant cloud will collide. When deployed at this distance, bear spray has a high success rate of stopping charging bears before contact. Spray downward to a point about 30 feet (9.2 meters) ahead of you. 

The spray will billow up and form a wall of mist that the bear must pass through before it can reach you. If the bear’s charge veers to the right or left, redirect your bear spray in the bear’s new direction. At this distance, the bear has enough time to feel the full effects of the bear spray and divert its charge before resuming its mission.

What to Do When You See a Black Bear Within 30 Feet (9.2 Meters)

If a bear approaches 30 feet (9.2 meters) of you, begin spraying immediately. Ideally, the charging bear will collide with the bear spray cloud at a distance of 15 feet (4.6 meters). Most charges are initiated by the bear charging from a distance of about 30 feet (9.2 meters). 

This frequently occurs when a bear is in a berry patch or adjacent to a trail and is startled by hikers.

Immediately deploy your bear spray downward, directly toward the bear’s face. Continue spraying until the bear either re-directs its charge or appears to be about to make contact before feeling the full effects of the bear spray.

If you believe the bear is about to make contact, pivot around and drop face down, clasping your fingers together while still holding the bear spray in one hand. Then, continue to spray upward, enveloping yourself and the attacking bear in a cloud of bear spray.

The bear will not want to stay in that cloud and stop attacking before fleeing. In this situation, the bear frequently slaps or bites the person on the ground. When you wear a backpack, the pack often bears the brunt of the attack. If the bear rolls you over, roll until you’re back on your stomach.

What to Do If You Encounter a Bear From Less than 15 Feet (4.6 Meters) Away

Bears in thick brush or concealed in a day bed will sometimes charge without warning and often make contact before you have a chance to remove the bear spray from the holster. In these cases, get your bear spray quickly and begin spraying the area you and the bear are in. If possible, aim the bear spray at the bear’s mouth, nose, eyes, and ears.

The bear could be shaky or dragging you. Try to get face down if you can to protect your neck, face, and other vital organs. Clasp your hands behind your head, holding the bear spray can, and spray, engulfing both the bear and yourself in a cloud of bear spray. 

Big brown bear

What Effect Does Bear Spray Have On Bears?

As they run, charging bears inhale and exhale deeply. When a charging bear comes into contact with a cloud of bear spray, it breathes in the capsaicin and related capsaicinoids (the active ingredients in bear spray), causing an inflammatory response that irritates and distracts the bear from its charge.

Bear spray immediately affects the bear’s mouth, throat, nose, lungs, eyes, and ears. In response, the bear’s mouth will salivate, and its throat will become narrow and irritated, causing the bear to cough and choke.

The nasal passages of the bear swell and narrow, impairing its sense of smell and limiting airflow to the lungs. The bear’s eyes become watery and blurry, and its ears start to ring, damaging both sight and hearing. All of the effects of the bear spray are temporary, and they are intended to cause the bear to divert its charge or stop making contact.

9 Common Myths On Bears and Bear Spray

There is a lot of misinformation out there about bear sprays. Here are some of the myths:

Before Spraying, Measure the Wind Direction

A charging bear can reach you in less than 2 seconds in most situations. So there isn’t time to take wind measurements. Instead, spray spontaneously, directly in front of the bear, and watch how the wind affects the spray.

Spray in a Zigzag Pattern or a Short Burst

A short burst of fire may not be enough to stop an agitated, charging bear. A quick shot or zigzag pattern will only be a fraction of the 30+ feet (9.2+ meters) required for the bear to feel the full effects of the spray. You want a spray wall between you and a charging bear. Spray directly in front of the bear until it changes its mind.

You Should Direct Your Attack to the Bear’s Face

Aiming takes too long because you have to wait until the bear is close enough to aim directly at the bear’s mouth, nose, and eyes. This is dangerous and unnecessary. Instead, the goal of bear spray is for the expanding cloud to reach the bear at a distance, giving it time to feel the effects and divert its charge before it comes to you.

Bear Spray Acts Immediately, “Like Hitting a Brick Wall”

Every bear encounter is unique. The speed with which the bear reacts to the bear spray may determine how fast it moves or how agitated it is. It may also depend on whether the bear is startled or defending a cub or food source. Even if you spray a bear when it charges from close range, its momentum may carry it into the person.

Pepper Spray and Bear Spray are Similar

No, pepper spray does not work as a bear repellent. The Environmental Protection Agency requires bear spray to be registered. It is not pepper spray. Bear spray active ingredients must contain 1% to 2% capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, a derivative of oleoresin capsicum, also found in pepper sprays.

The EPA requires bear spray labels to clearly state whether it is intended to deter or repel bears or to be used on attacking bears. In addition, all bear sprays must have an EPA registration number and a manufacturer number on the can. 

Bear sprays produce a powerful, expanding cloud, whereas pepper spray produces a short, narrow stream that you must direct at the face.

Hotter is Better

The Environmental Protection Agency prohibits this untrustworthy promotional claim from appearing on bear spray labels, store displays, or promotional materials. The EPA mandates that the active ingredients in bear spray be capsaicin and related capsaicinoids, with a concentration range of 1% to 2%.

The More Oleoresin Capsicum, the Better

The oil containing capsaicin and related capsaicinoids is called oleoresin capsicum (OC). More oleoresin capsicum (oil) necessitates more solvent to produce a fine, atomized cloud. This takes up less propellant space in the can and may reduce spray duration and distance. 

More OC may result in a thicker spray that separates the active ingredients from the propellant and causes them to fall to the ground. It also can clog the spray nozzle, resulting in erratic spraying.

Faster-Emptying Bear Spray Cans are Better 

A bear spray dispersed too quickly is a waste of vital spray. Spray cans that deploy quickly do not increase the effectiveness of the bear spray or its active ingredients. Bear spray is already designed to be powerfully discharged and promptly reach 30 feet (9.2 meters) or more. 

You cannot compensate for multiple charges or charges by numerous bears with a fast dispersing spray. Spray time is also required to account for weather variables such as wind, rain, extreme cold, and other unforeseen factors. Hopefully, you’ll also have bug spray on hand for your hike out.

You Can Approach Bears if You Have Bear Spray

You should not interact with or approach bears. Regulations prohibit the harassment of wildlife, particularly bears, and you must still abide by all wildlife regulations.


Does Bear Spray Work?

Yes, bear spray works, but you shouldn’t bet your life on it. That is, don’t think you can get away with just strapping on a canister of Bear Mace. So before you consider what to do if you have an unpleasant bear encounter, learn how to avoid the situation in the first place. 

Learn the best ways to transport and store food, how to spot recent bear activity, how to make enough noise to alert bears of your presence, and how to avoid areas where you might be surprised by a bear. Therefore, we can say that bear spray is amongst the self-defense sprays that you should always have during your hikes and park trips.

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