What Is Bear Spray?

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Bear spray is an aerosol spray used as a deterrent. Hikers, climbers, and campers buy it to stay safe in bear country. If you’re caught on the trail with a grizzly bearing down on you, it could be the thing that saves your life.

What is Bear Spray Made From?

Bear spray is made from oleoresin capsicum (OC), the active ingredient in chili peppers. This constitutes just 1 or 2% of the total ingredients, with the rest consisting of oil to dilute the OC and an aerosol propellant to eject it out of the can.

Bear spray canisters feature a trigger and a safety clip to prevent unwanted sprays.

When Was Bear Spray Invented?

Bear deterrent spray was invented during the 1980s. It was determined that commercial pepper sprays were an effective deterrent, but only when used at close range.

Carrie Hunt conducted the initial research and wrote a thesis outlining her findings. Hunt’s thesis was published in 1984 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the University of Montana graduate eventually worked with Bill Pounds to develop the first bear spray.

Pounds later founded Counter Assault and produced the very first bear spray registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

How Do Bears React to Bear Spray?

The active ingredients in bear spray cause an inflammatory response, irritating and disrupting the bear. The spray gets into its nose, throat, eyes, and lungs, constricting its throat, swelling its passages, and making it cough and choke.

As you can imagine, there’s nothing more off-putting than feeling like your head is on fire, so the bear will usually halt its charge and its attack.

What Are the Best Bear Sprays?

When looking for a bear spray, consider the following:

What is the Spray Duration and Reach?

The spray duration determines the length of the spray, which is usually between 4 and 12 seconds. As for the reach, it all comes down to the power of the aerosol, with bear sprays typically reaching anywhere up to 40 feet.

The shorter the reach, the closer you need to be, and the closer you are, the more chance you have of being mauled or getting some spray back.

Is it Registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)?

The EPA regulates the bear spray market and places its stamp on products that are deemed to be both effective and humane.

How Much Does the Bear Spray Cost?

Cost is key, as you don’t want to blow your budget but you also want something that will serve as an effective deterrent and won’t leave you short in an emergency.

How Much Does it Weigh?

You’ll need to carry bear spray with you whenever you’re hiking, camping, climbing, or just taking the dog for a walk near to bear country. If it’s too heavy and cumbersome, it’ll get in the way, so look for something that is mobile.

How to Use Bear Spray

Bear sprays should only be used as a deterrent for bears that are aggressive or charging. You should never approach a bear just for the purpose of spraying it.

Don’t get cocky just because you have bear spray on you. It doesn’t make you invincible.

Here’s how to use bear spray properly:

1.    Practice Using It

We all feel a little safer when there is a fire extinguisher around, but how many of us actually know how to use it? When there’s a fire, the last thing you want is to be scrambling for the instructions or desperately looking for a how-to video as your house burns down.

It’s the same story with bear spray, only you have even less time to learn. The bear won’t halt its charge and rest while you browse Wikipedia. As soon as you buy bear spray, learn how to use it responsibly.

2.    Keep it Somewhere Accessible

The bear spray should be stored in an accessible location. You must be able to grab it and use it in a split second, so store it on your hip, in a waistband, or in a large winter coat pocket.

Don’t place it in your backpack. By the time you set your pack on the floor and dig through all the spare underwear, water bottles, and fishing equipment, a grizzly could be looming over you and preparing to strike.

3.    Learn How to Act Around Bears

What should you do when you see a black bear? What about a brown bear with cubs or a large grizzly standing over a carcass?

Both black bears and brown bears are strong, fast, and deadly. But how you should act differs depending on the type of bear and the situation.

For instance, if a black bear is in your yard or minding its own business on the trail, you can scare it away by making yourself big and making a lot of noise.

If you see a grizzly bear, make it clear that you’re not prey and are not a threat.

A bear deterrent spray will help you in an emergency but packing a little spray doesn’t mean you can afford to be ignorant.

4.    Spray If the Bear Charges

Bear spray should be used on an aggressive bear that is charging for you. Not only does a charging bear mean you’re in trouble, but the spray will also create a cloud of capsaicin that the bear will inhale deeply.

Spray when the bear is around 60 feet in front of you and aim low. The spray won’t reach that far, but it will disperse and create a cloud that the bear must pass through.

If the bear veers off to one side, change the trajectory. You may also need to make an adjustment for the wind direction.

You don’t need to aim for the face or the eyes. In fact, waiting for the right moment and aiming for such a small target may cause you to miss.

If the bear keeps coming and it’s a grizzly, drop to the floor, protect yourself, and play dead. The spray will take effect and the bear should flee. If it’s a black bear, either get to safety (if you can, and it’s near) or prepare to fight. Playing dead doesn’t work with black bears.

What if the Bear Attacks My Friend?

If a charging bear is near your friend, spray them both. Your friend is going to be hit with the capsaicin cloud, and it won’t be pleasant, but it’s better than being hit by a giant mammal with razor-sharp claws.

Is Bear Spray the Same as Pepper Spray?

Although bear spray and pepper spray both use the same active ingredients, they differ in size, reach, and intensity. Bear sprays come in bigger cans and are designed to spray up to 40 feet away so that you don’t need to get too close to the animal.

Can You Legally Use Bear Spray on a Human?

Bear spray is classed as a pesticide by the EPA and is only approved for use on bears. There have been reports of bear spray being used by protesters, but it’s not advised.

Whether it’s legal or not will depend on your jurisdiction.

What Does Bear Spray Do to A Human?

Bear sprays have around 3 million Scoville heat units (SHUs) while pepper sprays have 1 million.

Bear spray is more potent and it’s also ejected with more force. The effects are very similar though and include severe and rapid inflammation of the mouth, throat, and lungs, as well as temporary blindness.