We are all familiar with pepper spray as a self-defense tool against human attackers, but you can use it to defend yourself against a bear attack, too. Many people who are hiking, camping, rafting or working in areas where bears live carry a canister of bear spray just in case of a dangerous encounter with a bear.
Bear sprays use the same active ingredients as pepper spray: 2 percent hot pepper extracts such as capsaicin and oleoresin capsicum. The big difference between regular pepper spray and bear spray is the reach of the spray; one popular bear spray promises a spraying distance of 30 to 35 feet (9.1 to 10.7 meters), while conventional pepper spray canisters have a reach less than half that long [sources: UDAP, Self Defense Products]. The longer reach of bear sprays allows people to use the spray against a charging bear from a safer distance.
While bear experts recommend doing things to avoid a close encounter with a bear, such as storing food and garbage the right way and making noise to keep from surprising a bear, sometimes a person will still come in close contact with a bear in the wild. If this happens to you, experts have advice on how to handle yourself in order to avoid an attack.
If you see a bear in the wild, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommends that you give the bear plenty of space, and avoid getting between a sow and her cubs. If the bear gets close to you, speak in a calm voice and wave your arms to let the bear know that you are human. Back away slowly and diagonally. If the bear stands on its hind legs, it is probably just trying to see and smell you better. Never run from a bear: Bears can run up to 35 mph (56 kph), and they have a predator's instinct to chase anything that runs from them. If you back away from a bear and it follows you, stop and stand your ground. If the bear gets too close to you, you should wave your arms, shout, and bang pans or make other loud noises. This will usually frighten the bear away [source: Alaska Department of Fish and Game].
If these behaviors do not work and you need to protect yourself, bear spray is a good choice. Researchers in Minnesota and Michigan found that most black bears will run away if a person uses bear spray on them, although one large, aggressive male returned and had to be sprayed three more times [source: Rogers]. Researchers in Alaska found that, among people who reported using bear spray to protect themselves, the bears stopped the unwanted behavior 90 percent of the time with black bears, 100 percent of the time with polar bears and 92 percent of the time with grizzlies [source: Smith]. While bear behavior is unpredictable, bear spray seems to be a reliable tool for defending yourself.
Bear spray can help during a conflict with a bear, but what can you use to avoid the conflict in the first place? Read on to learn about bear bells and bear electric fences.