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Does Bear Spray Actually Work?

Bear spray is carried by thousands of hikers, hunters, and outdoor lovers each year. It’s a cost-effective way to protect yourself against bears that doesn’t require a firearm license or any sharpshooting skills. It also happens to be an extremely effective way to get yourself out of danger in a tense bear encounter. Bear spray, when used properly, is an effective deterrent more than 90% of the time – read more to learn how bear spray can keep you safe on the trail.

What is Bear Spray?

Bear spray is a product used to deter bears; resembling a pressurized aerosol spray, it is filled with high concentrations of capsaicin, the substance that gives spicy food its kick. The capsaicin is extracted from cayenne peppers, which are extremely spicy and inexpensive to use. It’s carried by thousands of hikers, backpackers, and hunters whenever they’re out in bear country. Bear spray is designed to be sprayed directly in a bear’s face if it charges- but only if it charges.

Is Bear Spray Effective?

If you think you’re in danger of a bear attack, bear spray is what you need in your hand. In one study, bear spray was found to repel the bear in more than 92% of bear encounters; 98% of people walked away without injuries. Counter Assault, makers of the leading bear spray, claim that their spray is more than 98% effective at helping people survive bear attacks.

There is no other deterrent that is more effective than bear spray. Of course, another effective thing you can do is follow proper bear safety techniques so that you never need to use bear spray. But, if you’re, like me, someone whose heart starts pumping at the mere thought of a bear attack, the effectiveness of bear spray is a welcome relief.

I should also mention that bear spray is safe for bears, too. Of course, the bear will feel some intense pain and irritation after being sprayed, but it’s not toxic or life-threatening in any way. That means you can safely get yourself out of a bear encounter without actually injuring the bear. Because bear populations are threatened everywhere on earth, this makes bear spray a much better choice than something more harmful, like a gun.

Read Also: Can you use bear spray on humans?

Bear Spray vs Firearms: Which is Better?

Before bear sprays were developed and studied, it was widely accepted that a revolver or rifle was the best way to survive a bear attack. In recent years, though, studies have confirmed that bear spray is actually safer and more effective. Sure, firing a shot into the air might be enough to scare the bear off, but so can a bear horn.

Think about it: with a gun, your chances of missing the bear or striking it in a way that only angers it are much higher than with bear spray. Bear spray releases a continuous stream of capsaicin at a distance of 30 feet, and can spray for up to 12 seconds. This gives you all the time needed to hit that bear in the face- even for the shakiest of hands!

Bear spray has a higher rate of success and results in fewer injuries than firearms. Plus, with a gun, you really have no choice other than to injure or kill the bear if it charges. Saving your own life is one of the only times that might be acceptable, but bear spray remains the better option. If you’re venturing into bear country and you’re not an expert with a gun, stick with bear spray.

Bear Spray FAQ

Is pepper spray the same as bear spray?

Pepper spray and bear spray are not the same, though they are made from the same ingredients. Pepper spray comes in much smaller packages and doesn’t spray nearly as far. Bear spray, on the other hand, comes in 8 or 11-ounce packages and can spray up to 30 feet. That gives you the spraying power and distance you need to stop a charging bear before it becomes a deadly bear attack.

Can pepper spray be used as bear spray?

Because of the reasons just mentioned: inadequate volume and spraying distance, pepper spray is not a substitute for bear spray. Leave your everyday pepper spray at home and get yourself a hefty can of bear spray- doing anything else would be foolish!

When do I need bear spray?

Any time you’re in bear country, you should plan to have bear spray on you. If you’re on a heavily trafficked trail, you likely don’t need to worry; bears know how to keep their distance. But, the further you go into the wilderness, the more likely it is that you could run into a bear that isn’t expecting to see you. When that happens, you may be in danger- but you can safely escape by knowing proper bear safety and using bear spray as a last resort!

Where can I buy bear spray?

Bear Spray is available through Amazon and sold at most outdoor stores. If you’re venturing into bear country, stop by an outfitter or camping store before you hit the trail!

Do bears dislike pepper smells?

Because deterrent sprays are made with cayenne, some people assume that cayenne pepper, when spread around a campsite, works as well. This is the opposite of the case- cayenne pepper does not keep bears away. If anything, it actually attracts them.

Are bear attacks common?

There are less than a dozen bear attacks each year in North America. If you’re hiking or backpacking, you need to be careful, but not fearful. You should be more worried about getting lost out there than you should be about bear attacks!

What bear spray is best?

The most popular and effective brand of bear spray comes from Counter Assault. It’s a bit expensive, but not nearly expensive as paying for hospital bills if you get scratched. Counter Assault is typically what I bring with me on backpacking trips; that said, pretty much any bear spray you find at an outdoors store should do the job. While different brands differ in terms of power, volume, and price, the key ingredients in bear spray are always effective.

Can sound deter bears?

Yes! Loud sounds, air horns, and screaming can all scare off bears before an encounter turns dangerous. If you’re afraid of bears (like I am), noise is your friend. Bears have great hearing and won’t get too close to you if they know you’re around – they simply have other interests.

Final Thoughts

Bear spray is one of the best inventions in modern times in terms of safety while backpacking. It’s more effective than pepper spray and, shockingly, the same is true for firearms. Bear attacks are rare, but you should still be ready with a can of bear deterrent spray at your hip!

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