Bear Spray and Encounters 101

Bear Spray and Encounters 101

Bear Spray 101 

Bear sprays are aerosol bear deterrent sprays loaded with highly concentrated Capsaicin and related Capsaicinoids (Capsaicin and Capsaicinoids is what gives red peppers the heat). Dog pepper spray in Canada typically contains around 0.5% Capsaicin plus 0.44% related Capsaicinoids. Bear spray in Canada has approximately 1.0% to 1.1% Capsaicin plus about 0.84% related Capsaicinoids for a total heat of about 1.84%. In other words, bear spray has approximately double the heat of dog spray.  The higher the concentration of Capsaicin and related Capsaicinoids, the more potent the spray.

When deployed, most bear sprays release a cloud of the Capsaicin plus Capsaicinoids formula as a vapor. This temporarily incapacitates the bear by irritating its mucous membranes, eyes, mouth and ears.

Several studies have shown that bear sprays are highly effective in repelling bear attacks and that bear spray is more effective than firearms, One of the advantages of bear spray is the fog spray pattern, which means you don’t have to be as accurate as a firearm in a high pressure situation, in order to hit your fast moving target. More on firearms vs. bear spray here

When to Use Bear Spray

Bear spray is often used as a last resort.  If you meet a bear in the wild, do not run.  There are two types of bear encounters: defensive encounters and predatory encounters. 
Defensive bear encounter
A defensive bear is a bear that may be defending something such as cubs or food and it may just be surprised by your presence.

In a defensive bear encounter, you should: 
  • Do not run
  • Ready your bear spray
  • Try to appear non-threatening, avoid eye contact  
  • Slowly move away without turning your back while talking to the bear in a calm voice
  • Use your bear spray if the bear comes within a usable range of your bear spray (typically 4-10m or 13-30 feet) depending on wind, weather and what bear spray you have
  • Spray using both hands following manufacturers instructions as seen on your bear spray canister
  • Aim directly in front of the bear’s head and a little downward
  • If the bear makes contact with you, play dead lying on your stomach with your legs spread apart and your hands interlaced behind your neck to protect it
Non-defensive or predatory encounter
A predatory encounter may be when a bear is aware of your presence but still approaches you, or when a bear makes contact at night.  This behaviour could be considered curious, indifferent or predatory.

In a non-defensive bear encounter, you should: 
  • Do not run
  • Ready your bear spray
  • Intimidate the bear - make yourself look as big as possible and shout aggressively at the bear
  • Use your bear spray if the bear comes within a usable range of your bear spray (typically 4-10m or 13-30 feet) depending on wind & weather and what bear spray you have

How to Use Bear Spray

Here are step-by-step instructions on how to use bear spray:
  1. Remove your bear spray from the holster or belt
  2. Hold the spray in front of you with two hands, one on the lower part of the canister and the other on the trigger.  (Bear spray can also be used with one-hand if needed)
  3. Place your forefinger through hole in the handle, with your thumb on the safety clip curl
  4. Pull the safety clip straight back and off using your thumb
  5. Depress actuator tab for burst of spray
  6. Aim at the face and eyes of bear
  7. Press the trigger for 3 seconds in order to create a barrier of spray between you and the bear.  Many bear experts advise using 1 second bursts to conserve bear spray and allow you to adjust for wind etc.
  8. Spray is most effective at short range
  9. Avoid discharging upwind and, after discharging, move away to avoid exposure to spray

How to Store And Carry Bear Spray 

First of all, because bear spray canisters can explode in high temperatures, be sure to store your spray in a cool location and out of direct sunlight.  Do not leave your bear spray in a vehicle on a hot day.  Vehicles will trap heat on a hot day and can cause the temperature inside your car to reach temperatures where your bear spray canister will explode.   

To avoid accidental discharge of your bear spray from moving car seats, backpacks, suitcases etc., it’s a good idea to Store your spray in a secure container. Make sure the safety clip is on to avoid accidental discharge. 

Be sure to check the expiry date before you bring bear spray along on your next adventure, and if you can, bring two cans along, just in case. 

When hiking or camping, keep your spray on you, in an easily accessible place. Bear spray holsters are recommended to carry and access all your wildlife safety tools quickly.  Take your spray inside your tent with you in the evening and store it in a safe place where it can be easily located without using a headlamp.

Video Resources 

How to handle and avoid bear encounters.

Sabre Wild Max bear spray being used on an actual bear encounter. 

Know how to use bear spray. 

Bear safety videos.