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Saturday, October 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Stuntman invents backpack to prevent bear maulings

Brett French Billings Gazette

It may sound contradictory, but the people taking the biggest risks are usually the most safety conscious.

Take Billy Lucas. For 30 years, the 57-year-old former Marine has been a Hollywood stuntman – part of that acting as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stunt double in films like “True Lies” and “The Terminator” series of films. He is aware of ways to mitigate danger. So the fact that Lucas brainstormed a design for a new way to deploy bear spray from a backpack actually makes sense.

“There are no bragging rights in getting hurt,” Lucas said. “Safety is a primary concern, especially in my business.”

Lucas applied his professional training to backpackers and hunters after reading a newspaper story about a man being mauled to death by a bear. He wondered if there isn’t a better way to deter attacks.

Lucas had recently made the move to Livingston from Los Angeles when the incident occurred. Then he had his own encounter with a bear while fishing with friends and admitted to being spooked.

So Lucas read up on other bear attacks and noticed when people dropped into defensive positions – lying face-down and covering their necks – they were still vulnerable.

Lucas said the idea of a reserve parachute gave him the idea of a backpack-based bear spray canister that could be discharged much like pulling the ripcord on a parachute.

“I had a brain storm and put my money where my mouth was,” he said, paying an engineer to design the first prototype out of aluminum before deciding that was too heavy and going to plastic.

“I like working with my hands and problem solving,” he said.

After three years in research and development, Lucas approached Butte-based bear spray makers UDAP Industries with his invention.

Tim Lynch, general manager for UDAP, said it was a concept other inventors had presented to the company, but UDAP never made the jump to do research and development. Lucas was different.

“When he showed up he had a working prototype, which the other inventors didn’t,” Lynch said.

He was so impressed that he shot a video of the backpack to show to the company’s founder, Mark Matheny. After being attacked by a grizzly, Matheny launched his bear spray business with photos of him after the attack. Many call him the bloody face of the bear spray business.

After reaching a licensing and distribution deal, last April UDAP unveiled its Bear Attack Pack ($149) that can accommodate spray canisters of different sizes and be lashed on to a variety of backpacks.

“It’s exciting to go into a store and see something hanging on the shelf that you’ve built,” Lucas said. “That’s pretty cool.”

The backpacks are made to be a secondary or last defense – used in addition to a handheld bear spray.

Lynch said he sees the device as a valuable backup for hunters – who while dressing game can be blindsided from behind by a territorial bear looking to claim a big game kill. He said an Alaskan study showed that in the majority of bear-human encounters, the person had only 1.8 seconds to react. That’s barely enough time to pull the trigger on a bear spray canister in your hand, so a backup seems like a good idea.

“This is designed to get that bear off your back,” Lynch said. “It’s not to replace spray, but in addition to it. This is sort of a backup, like a reserve parachute.”

Chuck Bartlebaugh, of the educational group Be Bear Aware, criticized the backpack bear spray as “overkill.” He said rather than a last defense, people need to be better educated about acting responsibly in bear country to avoid an encounter.

“I think we’re scaring the public too much,” he said.

Although no one wearing the Bear Attack Pack has tested the product in an actual mauling, Lucas compared it to the person who made the first reserve parachute.

“Hopefully, it will work, but you won’t know until you need it,” he said. “And I hope I will never need it.”

Lucas added that developing the product was never about making money.

“I’d rather see it save someone’s life, or a bear’s life.”

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