Is bear spray effective?
by Dennie Hammer, Cody Region Information & Education Specialist, Wyoming Game & Fish
August 20, 2009
The effectiveness of bear spray as a defense in an aggressive bear encounter has long been questioned by hunters. Many hunters feel much more comfortable knowing that their firearm is a weapon that they know is capable of stopping an aggressive bear-if it is hit in a vital area.
Tom Smith, Bear Researcher, Brigham Young University, has studied human-bear conflicts for seventeen years. He recently reviewed over 300 incidents in Alaska where people carried and used firearms against aggressive bears. An analysis of those incidents showed that 40 percent were injured or killed, including 23 fatalities and 16 severely injured people. Another 48 people suffered lesser injuries.
In an article written by Smith called Firearms, Bears and Bear Spray, Smith states that "In my research, hunters were generally unable to fire a shot before the bear slammed into them. Some hunters couldn’t get the safety off, others short-stroked the bolt and jammed the cartridge, yet others, out of habit, tried to ‘scope’ the bear, losing critical seconds while failing to zero in."
According to his article, Smith states that "With a can of bear spray on one’s hip or pack strap, it is simply a matter of pointing and shooting. In areas of poor visibility I always have a can of spray in my hand. It is easily carried over a finger and isn’t as clumsy as a firearm is in the field-ready position. All that is required is pointing the nozzle in the general direction and pushing a button. Accuracy is not nearly as critical as it is with a firearm. You can’t ‘wound’ a bear with bear spray. It also eliminates problems with sticking bolt actions, jamming shells, and hard-to-find safety mechanisms."
In another study conducted by bear researchers in Alaska and Canada, 83 bear incidents where bear spray was used were analyzed. Of all persons carrying sprays, 98 percent were uninjured by bears in close range encounters. The results of this peer reviewed research was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management (Journal of Wildlife Management 72(3):640-645; 2008) the article is titled Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska.