Bear Safety Tips

How & When to Use Bear Spray

“Whether hunting or hiking, keeping my bear spray close at hand lets me focus on a great day afield-and keeps me and my family safe.”

Craig Boddington, Hunting Journalist

Bear Spray IS Effective

Bear spray stopped black bears’ undesirable behavior 90% of the time, according to “Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska” (Smith et al., 2010).

Bear Spray

Using bear spray when a bear charges

Practice removing the safety cap before you have to use bear spray

When you first see a bear, go ahead and get the bear spray into your hands. Be ready to use it only if the bear approaches closer than 50 feet (15 m). You may need to spray the bear twice or more.

Follow these steps:

  1. Stand your ground. Running away may trigger the bear’s instinct to chase.
  2. Remove the safety cap or clip. Hold the can up and ready. Many bears will move away at this point, and you will not have to use the spray.
  3. If the bear approaches within 20-30 feet (6-10 m), spray using both hands following manufacturer’s directions. Aim directly in front of the bear’s head and a little downward. A cloud of ingredients will billow up from the ground, creating a wall of spray. When the bear reaches the cloud, it will feel it.
  4. If the bear continues to approach you, spray it again.
  5. Stay out of the spray! If possible, try to shoot downwind.
  6. Monitor the bear’s activities, and do not turn your back on the bear for any reason.
  7. When the bear retreats, continue to watch it and move away slowly.

Does bear spray really work?
And other FAQs

bear spray when hiking
(Photo: Linda Masterson)
What is bear spray?

Bear spray is a powerful deterrent made of capsaicin (the “hot” in hot peppers), which, when used correctly, can deter bear attacks. Bear spray inflames the bear’s eyes and upper respiratory system, causing intense burning and giving you and your loved ones time to escape. Bear spray emerges from the canister at over 70 mph, so it is likely be effective even under windy conditions.

Bear spray is a deterrent, not a repellent; use it only during an encounter with an aggressive bear. Pre-sprayed objects may actually attract bears and other wildlife.

Does bear spray really work?

Yes! In a study of bear spray incidents in Alaska, spray effectively deterred undesirable behavior more than 90% of the time. In 72 incidents involving 175 people, only three people were harmed, none seriously.

You must carry the spray on your person, know how to use it, and be ready on a moment’s notice.

How do I buy bear spray?

Bear spray is available in many outdoor, hunting and sporting goods stores. You can also order it online. Canisters labeled “pepper spray,” may not have the correct concentration of ingredients. Instead, look for canisters marked “Bear Spray” or “Bear Deterrent,” with a minimum of 7.9 ounces (225 gr) of product, an EPA registration, and a concentration of 1-2% capsaicin and capsaicinoids. Check the expiration date to be sure the ingredients have a reasonable shelf life. For more information, download the 2017 IGBC Bear Spray Guidelines.

Is bear spray just for grizzlies?

No. Any species of bear can become pushy or assertive, especially when cubs are involved or if the bear has become accustomed to human food or garbage. Bear spray may also successfully deter other wildlife such as moose and mountain lions during encounters.

Is bear spray dangerous?

Treat bear spray exactly as you would a loaded handgun. Bear spray in your face causes involuntary eye closure and pain for up to 45 minutes. At very close range, the pressure can cause permanent eye damage.

I already carry a gun when I hunt. Do I still need to carry bear spray?

When a bear attacks, bear spray offers several advantages over a firearm:

  • Bear spray requires less accuracy than bullets fired at a moving target, especially when you’re under stress.
  • Accidental discharges or badly aimed firearms can kill people, while bear spray has never caused a fatality. Bear spray leaves the bear alive, and less likely to approach humans in the future.
  • Firing a warning shot from a gun may not scare a bear away, but a sprayed bear is likely to leave.

Bottom line: hunters who carry bear spray are prepared for anything.

What’s the difference between bear spray and pepper spray?

There are several differences between bear spray and pepper spray:

  • You can expect bear spray to shoot farther than regular pepper spray and cover a wider area. Most bear sprays shoot 20 to 30 feet in range.
  • Bear spray is more highly regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure it is effective and humane.
  • The EPA measures the amount of capsaicin and related capsaicinoids of bear spray and pepper spray. The capsaicinoid percentage in bear deterrent is typically 2% while in pepper spray it’s only 1.33%