If you plan on doing some hiking, camping, exploring, or any other outdoor activity where exists the possibility of a bear encounter, then carrying bear spray is a must! Bear spray is a nonlethal and proven effective deterrent against bears or other wild animals that may attack you.
Bear spray should always be easily accessible, whether on your hip, secured to your chest strap, or in your hands. Should a bear attack, you’ll need be able to quickly release the canister from its securement, remove the plastic bracing clip device, appropriately point the canister, and spray the bear with the highly irritating formula. Bear repellant is a pepper-based spray that causes temporary blindness, irritation to the nose and respiratory function, which will make the bear think twice before continuing its attack.
Below I have outlined some of the key elements to be aware of, and best practices for proper execution, to ensure maximum effectiveness in deterring the attacking bear.
Proper Carrying Guidelines
Bear spray should always be easily accessible. Too many hikers have their bear spray packed away in their backpack and are unable to effectively and in a timely manner, remove the canister for deployment. There are two main techniques with which to carry your bear spray; your hands or in a quick release apparatus.
- Hands: When I am out hiking, I always have my bear spray right in my hand. This may seem uncomfortable for some, but if a bear attacks, it is usually from a close range because it was startled or feels threatened. I would also add that bears can run more than twice as fast as the fastest human. Having your bear spray ready at a moment’s notice can make the difference between being able to effectively deploy the spray, or the potentially terrible consequences of a very effective tool providing no assistance because it was not used.
- Holster or Chest Strap: If holding the bear spray in your hands is too uncomfortable, or you are hiking with trekking poles in your hands, or as is often the case with me, carrying a fly rod in my hand, then having a hip holster or chest strap that holds the bear spray canister in readily accessible position is recommended. There are a variety of options on the market today to help you carry your bear spray.
a- Hip Holster: Most bear sprays come with a fabric holster secured to your side by running your belt through the holster loop. Of course, you will want to place the holster on the side of your dominant hand for the most coordinated and quick grasp that doesn’t have your reaching across your body to do so.Yeah, you should practice your “John Wayne Quick Draw” technique so your draw response is smooth and effective should the real need be encountered.
b- Chest Strap: A bear spray holster accessory that I recommend is the chest strap holster. I like how it is quickly accessible regardless of the activity you are doing. Have you ever noticed when people get scared, their first reaction is to bring their hands up and in front of their chest in a defensive manner? This seemingly innate reflex may save valuable seconds or split-seconds when it really matters. I must declare that I can’t reference any studies that prove this theory other than my own experience and observations. In a tongue-in-cheek fashion I can reference this video of Andy, producer on the TV talk show Ellen, and Ariana Grande going through a haunted house.
Regardless of which holster you chose, practice how to quickly and effectively remove the bear spray. You should practice removing the bear spray canister more than a few times to ensure you are comfortable with the process. Don’t let your first practice be during game time when a bear is charging you.
Deployment of Bear Spray
Should you find yourself in a bear encounter, follow these simple steps to properly remove the canister from the holster and deploy the bear spray in protection of an incoming bear, and to minimize the chances of a self-inflicted spray that at minimum could leave you somewhat incapacitated for a time, and possibly end in tragedy.
1- Remove the safety strap. This is a loop strap over the top of the canister to secure it in place. Simply undo the snap securement.
2- Remove safety guard clip. This is a plastic safety device that fits around the spray trigger (called a actuator tab). It is removed by pulling straight backward and off.
3- Position the canister for discharge. This is performed using two hands for best discharge effectiveness.
- The non-dominant hand securely grasping the canister to hold it steady and upright. When a bear spray canister is discharged there is a tendency for the canister to tip backward if not properly stabilized with a counterforce. This could result in a spray in the general direction of your face.
- The dominant hand’s index finger is placed in the loop opening of the head and nozzle component. The thumb is then placed on top of the trigger (actuator tab) ready to press down if determined to discharge the spray at the oncoming bear. You should point and aim roughly 8 to ten feet in front of you, in the direction of the oncoming bear. Bears charge with their head lower to the ground.
4- Deployment of the repellant. While there are disagreements as to the optimal distance at which bear spray repellant is most effectively discharged, it is important to follow the directions on the canister. Bear spray canisters (volume) come in different sizes, have varying discharge distances, and contain different concentrations of the active ingredient, all of which influence the effective discharge distance. There are recommendations for a spray that reaches at least 25 feet (7.6 meters) and lasts for at least six seconds of continuous spray (minimum of 8 oz equivalent at this distance/force). However, do not discharge all the contents unless needed, or only until the bear deviates and retreats. You may need to spray the bear again if it returns to resume attack.
5- Slowly retreat. While keeping an eye on the bear that has initially and hopefully for good fled the area, back away from where you deployed the bear spray to avoid getting any residue on you or in your eyes. Be careful to never turn your back on the bear and never run. This is an invite to the instinct of the bear to take chase.
6- Regroup. Once you are away from danger, carefully put the safety clip back on the bear spray and return to holster. Then, wash your hands thoroughly with cool soap and water to eliminate any residue that may have settled on you or your clothes.
Read our other article titled, “What to do if you get Bear Spray on your Skin or in your Eyes” Should you get some of the pepper spray on your skin or in your eyes.
Hiking, fishing, exploring in the great outdoors are fun and relaxing activities that many Americans enjoy. When venturing outdoors in bear country, go properly prepared with bear spray and a working knowledge and skill set of how to use it. Be safe and happy exploring the great outdoors.