This summer, millions from all over the world will travel to America’s amazing national and state parks. While most nature lovers long for an up-close encounter with wildlife, a close encounter with a bear should not be on anyone’s wish list.
While bear attacks are very rare, caution still needs to be exercised in bear country. If you are planning to hike, bike or camp in areas where bears rule, packing a canister of bear spray is a good idea. However, not any old spray will do. Personal defence pepper spray will not work on a bear, you need bear spray. Bear deterrent is made specifically to deter bears, and contains different active ingredients than ordinary pepper spray.
Scientific evidence that bear spray works
While nothing is 100% effective in deterring a bear, scientific research affirms that bear spray is highly effective. The Journal of Wildlife Management published a 20-year study on the use of bear spray in Alaska. The study found that bear spray stopped a bear in more than 90% of the incidents. The few incidents when someone using bear spray was injured, the injury was minor. Even when the wind threw off the spray’s accuracy, it still managed to reach the bear and scare it off.
The same researchers also conducted a study on using firearms as a bear deterrent; they found guns to be less useful. While firearms might seem to be an effective means of deterring a bear, the data showed that bear spray was more effective. The studies showed that bear spray is 90% effective versus 84% for handguns and 76% for rifles. The study found that even if you managed to shoot the bear, you likely would just wound it and make it very angry at you.
Also, grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the Lower 48 States. Therefore, you would be violating the Endangered Species Act to fire a gun at a grizzly bear, except in the case of an imminent attack. Penalties for shooting a grizzly bear include a $100,000 fine and 6 months in prison. On the other hand, while bear spray severely irritates the bear’s nose and eyes, no real harm will befall the unfortunate bear. When the bear can’t see or smell and is in pain wondering what just happened, all it wants to do is get away fast. The spray will wear off in an hour or two, and life will go on for Mr. Bear.
Things to Consider When Buying Bear Spray
Concentration: You need a minimum capsaicin concentration of 0.857% and a maximum of 2% capsaicinoids.
Size: The canister should have around 8 ounces of spray.
Range: It should spray at least 16 feet.
Duration: A blast of the trigger should last at least 8 seconds.
Components: Make sure it’s made for bears and not people.
Shelf life: Look at the expiration date before you buy it. It should be good for at least 4 years from the date of purchase.
There are a few rules for outdoor enthusiasts armed with bear spray.
First of all, it won’t do you any good if it’s stashed in your backpack, or anywhere else out of reach. If the spray is not within a few seconds reach, it’s not much use. The best place to keep it is on your belt or backpack strap. Some brands of bear spray come with a carrier with a belt clip. You could also keep it in an easily accessible pocket.
Another thing, bear spray is only effective when sprayed right into the bear’s face. You need to be within a maximum of twenty to thirty feet to hit your target. Spraying bear spray on your backpack or tent won’t work to keep them away.
Dry Fire Bear Spray Drills
It’s also important to know how to use it. Get familiar with your can of bear spray, which includes a trigger and safety mechanism. While it’s easy to use, trying to efficiently execute all the motions when a huge bear is lumbering at you may not be easy. Think about all the motions you need to perform if a bear was coming at you. In fact, you can even put yourself through a few dry fire drills to get the hang of it. Pointing the can down towards the ground as you spray because a bear is likely to have its head low, close to the ground. You need to hit the bear in its face. However, don’t let the bear spray give you a false sense of security. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to bears.
Important Tips for Hiking in Bear Country
Using bear spray should be used as a last resort. The best way to prevent human-bear interactions is to practice common-sense safety precautions while in bear country.
Most bear encounters occur when a human surprises a bear at close range. This is especially true in summer, when hiking trails may be thick with brush. It’s also true of heavily forested areas, where it’s possible to accidentally come upon a bear without them seeing or hearing you. The same is true of hiking near a stream, river or creek, where the noise of rushing water may conceal your approach.
It’s important to make noise as you go, like singing, talking or clapping whenever you’re hiking in bear country. This is especially true if you’re hiking through thick brush, into the wind, or somewhere a bear might not hear, see, or smell you.
Also, hike in groups, and never get closer than 100 yards to a bear, especially a mama bear and her cubs.
When hiking, be alert for signs of bears, such as paw prints, poop or scratch marks on trees.
If you surprise a bear, it may respond aggressively, out of self-defence. The best way to avoid bear trouble is to avoid any bear encounters in the first place.
Educate yourself on the ways of bears, to reduce your chance of having an unfortunate interaction with a bear. While your safety is first and foremost, it’s also important for the safety of the bears. Stupid people doing stupid things have unfortunately gotten a lot of bears euthanized for being aggressive.
Tips for Camping in Bear Country
The number one tip for setting up camp in bear country is, don’t leave food or trash laying around outside. While everyone loves an outdoor BBQ when camping, proceed with caution. Bears love the smell of roasting burgers and hot dogs as much as you do. If you do decide to cook outside, keep an eye out for bears, and don’t leave it unattended. If you are at a cabin or camping in an RV, it’s better to prepare food inside.
Never leave your trash outside. Bears love garbage, and trash bags full of yummy smelling waste is a sure bear magnet. Either dispose of your trash in the campground dumpster as soon as you can, or, keep it secured inside. You might get rid of paper trash, such as paper plates and food wrappers, in the campfire.
Do not leave your pets unattended outside! Even a big, aggressive dog is no match for a bear. Always keep your pet on a leash when in bear country, and never leave them alone.
Armed not only with bear spray but with a little basic knowledge concerning coexisting with bears, you can have a safe summer hiking and camping in bear country.