Outdoors blog

Bear Aware websites offer tips on bear sprays and more

Grizzly bears in early spring often head to green areas along streams. 
 (Chris Servheen)
Grizzly bears in early spring often head to green areas along streams. (Chris Servheen)

BACKPACKING -- The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee stresses the importance of following proper bear avoidance safety techniques and recommends bear spray as an effective tool for personal safety when recreating in bear country.

Bear spray has the potential to reduce human injuries and the number of bears that are killed as a result of conflicts with humans. The active ingredient in bear spray is an extremely strong irritant that turns the tables on an aggressive bear.

IGBC bear spray recommendations and other useful information can be found on the IGBC Website or read on for tips on buying and using bear spray.

TIPS ON SELECTING AND BUYING BEAR SPRAY  (from IBGC):

  • Always ask specifically for "bear spray."
  • All bear sprays must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. Purchase products that clearly state "for deterring attacks by bears." The EPA registration number is displayed on the front label.
  • The active ingredient is clearly shown on the label and is 1-2 percent capsaicin and related capsaicinoids. The active ingredient is what affects the bears eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs.
  • Personal defense, law enforcement or military sprays, (often referred to as “pepper spray”) may not be formulated, contain the correct ingredients or have the proper delivery system, to divert a charging or attacking bear.
  • The suggested spray duration is six seconds to compensate for multiple bears, wind, bears that may zigzag, circle, or charge repeatedly, and to ensure some spray remains in the can for the hike out.
  • The suggested spray distance is at least 25 feet to reach the bear at a distance sufficient for the bear to react to effects of the spray in time to divert its charge and retreat.
  • Each person working or recreating in bear habitat should carry a can of bear spray in a quickly accessible fashion. Bear spray should also be readily available in the sleeping, cooking and toilet areas of a camp.
  • Check the expiration date on each can of bear spray before packing it.

HOW TO USE BEAR SPRAY:

  • Take time to practice with bear spray in advance of recreating or working outdoors. Inert cans of bear spray are available for practice with a similar spray path and range but no active ingredients.
  • When confronting an aggressive bear, remove the safety clip.
  • If the bear approaches within 25 feet, aim slightly down and in front of the approaching bear. If necessary, adjust for cross winds.
  • Spray again if the bear continues to approach.
  • Once the animal has retreated or is busy cleaning itself, leave the area as quickly as possible—don't run—or go to an immediate area of safety, such as a car or building.

For an overview of bear safety, go to the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website at fwp.mt.gov, click Living With Wildlife, then Be Bear Aware.




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Rich Landers
Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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