June 15, 2016

How To Use Bear Spray

While the substantial scientific research and wilderness expert recommendations may have convinced you to carry bear spray with you on the trail each time you go hiking / trekking / camping, it takes a lot more than packing some bear mace cans to successfully survive a sudden bear charge in the wild. You’ll need to know exactly how to use bear spray effectively in a real life situation beforehand, so you can defend yourself adequately if you are misfortunate enough to cross paths with an angry bear one day!

There’s loads of information available on the proper usage of bear spray – in fact, you’ll find several decent video demonstrations as well. As a beginner though, you may get intimidated by the vast knowledge in front of you. That’s why I’ve put together a coherent step-by-step guide that, if you learn and mock-implement a few times, can make you reasonably adept in the use of bear spray in the field, ensuring your safety in the wild, and also that of your loved ones.

Things You’ll Need

  • Steady nerves
  • [easyazon_link identifier="B00DT5L01Q" locale="US" tag="bushpro-20"]Bear spray holster[/easyazon_link]
  • Bear spray canister

The first requirement is one that simply can’t be stressed enough: you could be holding the most potent bear mace when faced with a bear, and you would still fail at deterring the bear if you can’t handle the situation in a calm and composed manner.

There are multiple examples of hikers getting mauled because they didn’t react to a sudden bear attack the way they had been trained. Newbies who haven’t faced off with a bear before are liable to losing their nerves and shouting and running in panic - something that can set the bear off even more – even when they’re packing bear repellent. The only remedy – practice again and again until the whole spraying maneuver is ingrained in muscle memory.

Having a convenient holster in which to place you bear spray can is recommended by many seasoned hikers; it leaves you free to use both hands, and makes the spray easily accessible in the event of a bear charge.

Remember, sometimes you won’t have time to get the can out of the holster, so you’ll have to spray from the holster directly – make sure you get one that allows this.​

Pro Tip #1 – Practice without a Holster at First


It can be a challenge to aim the spray can properly from the holster initially, so I’d recommend practicing the spraying steps using the can directly. Once you’re comfortable with aiming this way, you can move on to spraying from the holster.

Pro Tip #2 – Don’t Substitute the Holster with Something Else


Never put the spray can in your pockets / backpack or any place other than a holster – holsters are specially designed to provide easy access to the can – it could be dangerous trying to extricate the repellent from your pockets or backpack if a bear is close by.

Busting Some Myths...

  • You’ve got to wait until the bear is super close: Bear spray does not work instantaneously, so it is, in fact, designed to be sprayed while the animal is still some distance away from you – this gives it due time to act on the bear’s faculties.
  • You have to aim at the eyes, nose and mouth: Aiming with this degree of accuracy takes time – and in a bear encounter, time is a highly valuable commodity – if you expend it on perfecting your aim, you may find the bear has gotten too close for comfort already!

Step by Step Instructions

When you’re threatened by a bear while on the trail, here’s what you need to do:

  • Position yourself
  • Ready your spray canister
  • Steady your aim

Get a sense of which way the wind is flowing, and if possible, try to position yourself in a manner such that the wind takes the spray stream away from you and towards the charging bear. This will ensure that the wind won’t carry some of the spray into your face.

Remove the canister from the holster (or keep it there in case the bear is already uncomfortably close) – in either case, take off the safety clip

Make sure that the can is pointing in the general direction of the bear, and if the wind is blowing at an angle, compensate your aim so that the fog cloud lands where it is supposed to.

Pro Tip #3 – Wind Compensation


Compensating for wind direction isn’t easy – you’ll need to practice for this scenario several times before you get the hang of it. Try [easyazon_link identifier="B00JFG61UI" locale="US" tag="bushpro-20"]spraying inert training canisters[/easyazon_link] at an angle to the wind and see if you can get them to land on target – repeat until you’re confident.

Obviously, when you’re ‘spraying and praying’ in a sudden and unexpected encounter, you’re first few bursts might land off target until you get a feel for the environmental conditions around you.

  • Fire from a distance​

When the bear is 30 or more feet away from you, spray in a side-to-side motion while directing the can downwards, so that a foggy cloud barrier is formed between you and the bear. A spray duration of at least 6 seconds is recommended to account for most environmental factors. Conserve the contents of the spray, as multiple applications may be needed to successfully deter the beast.

Pro Tip #4 – Deterring a Bear that’s Attacking Someone Else


If you find another hiker in the process of being attacked by a bear, you may not have time to aim precisely enough to get just the animal. You’ll need to act quickly in this scenario to save the person’s life – getting OC derivatives sprayed on them will be a small price to pay.

Be prepared for the bear to turn and charge towards you – defend yourself as described in the following step:

What if the Bear Gets Close?

If the bear continues to charge, spray continuously at its front until it responds to the peppery fog cloud – and if you feel like it the beast is going to hit you regardless, it’s time to drop to the ground with your hands behind your neck and play dead. Eventually, the bear will succumb to the effects of the spray and retreat.

Pro Tip #4 – Deterring a Bear that’s Attacking Someone Else


If you find another hiker in the process of being attacked by a bear, you may not have time to aim precisely enough to get just the animal. You’ll need to act quickly in this scenario to save the person’s life – getting OC derivatives sprayed on them will be a small price to pay.

Pro Tip #5 – Extreme Close Quarters Defense


In some cases, the bear could get really up close and personal with you i.e. come at you from an unexpected corner – or poke its head in your tent. At such close ranges, there really is no other choice but to spray the animal smack in the face. Be prepared to experience some of the effects yourself!

Be Intimidating

Bears respond to your body language, so when you’ve decided to take a stand against a charging bear, be loud and make sure that your demeanor is intimidating and domineering – indicating to the bear that you’re in charge and are not willing to back down.

Replace the Safety Clip and Re-holster the Can

Once you’ve successfully deterred the attack, remember to put the safety clip back in its place, and holster the canister once again. Of course, you shouldn’t do this until you are absolutely certain that the beast won’t make a reappearance.

Retreat in a Calm Manner

Leave the area of incident quickly but calmly. Be mindful not to run, since this could injure you, or, in case the bear hasn’t really left the area, incite a predatory chase response from the temporarily deterred animal.

Pro Tip #6 – Dealing with Curious Bears


Some bears may not be aggressive (at least at first) – you or one of your party members may have agitated or surprised them in some manner. Such a bear may run from side to side; advance, retreat and advance again (aka bluff charges); or encircle your party.

While it may eventually leave the area without posing a threat, the other outcome is also a distinct possibility. To dissuade the bear from any threatening behavior, fire a single burst of spray towards it and assess its response. In most cases, the beast will retreat.

Conclusion

Having read this tutorial, you will hopefully have a clearer picture of how you’re supposed to use bear spray to defend yourself in an encounter. Remember though that these steps aren’t rules set in stone: ultimately, bears – and their natural habitat – are both highly unpredictable; you can’t know the mood the bear is in (whether it’s hunting for food or protecting its cubs, for instance), nor the exact environmental conditions (wind speed, wind direction, ambient temperature etc.).

Both play a major role in determining the success of a bear spray based defense. It is the mark of a seasoned outdoor enthusiast that they’ll be able to make reasonable assessments pertaining to both, and adjust their defense strategy to match them.​

Do leave your queries and feedback in the comments section, and I’ll be happy to respond.


About the author

Gus Clark

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