Each summer I, along with my three brothers and my dad, spend countless hours in Yellowstone National Park fishing, hiking, and camping. During these trips we have had our fair share of “run-in’s” with the bears. While we have never had to deploy the use of bear spray, we have had them drawn and pointed at the bears when they have forced us off the path we were walking or out of our fishing holes from time to time.
After my wife showed me this hilarious video of a former hiking/fishing guide in Alaska recounting his experience of getting bear spray in his eyes, (video at the bottom) I thought it would be wise to do some research on what to do if you get bear spray in your eyes. After calling the major manufactures of bear spray, here is what I found out.
What to do if you get bear spray in your EYES:
- Remove yourself away from the site of deployment. The reason for this is because the active ingredients can still be in the air and may affect others who are trying to help.
- Wash your face with a cool wet wash cloth and remove any contact lenses. NOTE: ensure your hands are free of any bear spray residue to prevent further eye irritation. (See how to remove bear spray from skin below)
- Flush your eyes with cool water for a minimum of 15 minutes or until pain/irritation goes away.
- Seek medical help for further treatment.
What to do if you get bear spray on your SKIN:
- Remove yourself away from the site of deployment.
- Remove any clothing that has residue from bear spray. (Cloths will need to be washed or dry cleaned before used again).
- Wash Skin with cool soapy water for at least 15 minutes. Use Pepper Spray Reliever made by UDAP. Otherwise, Dawn Dishwasher soap or Powdered Tide Soap will work just as well.
- Seek medical help for further treatment.
How Bear Spray Works
There are several different brands of bear pepper spray on the market today. The three most popular are UDAP, Sabre Frontierman, and Guard Alaska. Each brand has a different irritating formula that is contained inside a pressurized container. When the bear spray is deployed, the pressure within the canister forces the pepper formula out in the form of a mist or cloud.
As the attacking bear comes in contact with the highly concentrated pepper filled mist it will burn their nose, respiratory system and temporally blind the attacking bear causing it to run away.
Depending on the manufacture brand, canister size, and weather conditions, the canister can spray between 18 to 35 feet and last 6-10 seconds. However, for maximum effectiveness, the spray should be deployed at half the distance of its maximum spray distance.
For example: If the canister has a maximum spray distance of 30 feet, the spray should be deployed toward the attacking bear at a distance of 15 feet for maximum effectiveness. As you can see, this is extremely close!
How Effective is Bear Spray?
The effectiveness of bear spray depends on several factors, they are:
1- Deployment Range: As stated above, bear spray has a maximum range and a maximum effective range. If you deploy the bear spray too early in the bear attack it may have little to no effect on the bear.
2- Weather: This is a major factor in how effective the bear spray will be. Rain, wind, and other environmental factors can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the spray. If there is a cross wind or rain then you’ll need to deploy the bear spray within a range closer than normal.
3- Active Ingredient Concentration: Not all bear spray formulas are made the same. Depending on the manufactures formula and design, each bear spray has between 1-2% capsaicin and other related capsaicinoids as the active ingredient. The more capsaicin the bear spray has the stronger and more effective the bear spray is. I always buy bear spray that has the highest (2%) amount.
4- Proper handling and deployment: It takes more than simply pointing your bear spray at the attacking bear and pulling the clip to disperse the agent. When deploying the bear spray, you need to point it down and away from you so that the mist or fog cloud will create a wall that the bear will need to go through to get to you. The last thing you want to do is spray over the bear which will result in the the bear getting to you which could cause injury or even death.
If you deploy the bear spray properly within the correct range with minimal wind or other environmental factors then the bear spray is very effective!
in 2008, there was a study that was published in “The Journal of Wildlife Management” that reviewed the effectiveness of bear spray. It found that bear attacks between 1985 to 2006, in which bear spray was used, was 92% effective in stopping “undesirable behavior”. Additionally, it found that “98% of those who used bear spray in close-range encounters escaped uninjured”
You can read more about this study by HERE.
Bear spray works and is highly effective. However, if you do get it in your eyes or on your skin then you need to immediately remove your clothing, was out your eyes with cool running water for a minimum of 15 minutes as well as wash your skin and hair with either Dawn Dishwasher soap or Powdered Tide Soap to remove the irritating formula and prevent injury to your eyes or skin.