Prolonged warm spells in parts of the western U.S. might cause hibernating bears to wake earlier than usual this spring, leading to possible bear-human encounters.
Wildlife agencies, therefore, are already cautioning hikers and campers planning to venture into the wilderness–especially into grizzly country–to arm themselves with the appropriate weapon: bear spray.
Whereas many feel more comfortable toting pistols and rifles, experts maintain that specifically formulated bear spray–essentially pepper spray in larger canisters–is safer and more effective.
The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks department explained this week that the sudden burst of a bright-orange cloud at close range is much more likely to stop an advancing bear than a bullet or shotgun blast. Additionally, the use of spray spares animals and eliminates the chance of a person accidentally shooting himself or another person.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, citing 18 years of research, maintains that people who defend themselves with firearms against aggressive bears are injured about 50% of the time. Those who use bear spray usually escape uninjured, and those who are injured are generally not as severely injured.
The Montana agency, hoping bear spray will replace the use of firearms during confrontations, shares the following tips on using spray:
–Bear spray should only be used as a deterrent in a confrontation with an aggressive bear. Sightings and encounters with bears do not generally result in conflicts or bear aggression.
–Bear spray is only effective when used as an airborne deterrent sprayed toward an animal at close range. It should not be applied to people, tents, packs or other equipment as it is not a repellent when used in that manner.
–Each person should have a can of bear spray readily accessible, either in tents at night or in a hip or chest holder on trails during the day.
–Practice using spray in advance of your trip, and if you’re approached by a bear, remove the safety clip. If the bear appears aggressive and advances within 30 feet, aim and spray slightly down and in front of the approaching animal. Adjust for a crosswind if needed and spray twice if necessary.
–Once the animal stops or retreats, leave the area quickly but do not run. Running might trigger an attack.
Lastly, ordinary pepper spray used by law enforcement personnel or by citizens against human predators might not be strong enough against bears. People should ask specifically for bear spray brands registered with the Environmental Protection Agency. (Bear spray is sold in most outfitter shops.)
The active ingredient on the label should include 1% to 2% Capsaicin and related Capsaicinoids. That’s what what affects the bears eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs.