Why Requiring Hunters to Carry Bear Spray is a Bad Idea

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear

U.S.A. -(Ammoland.com)- When various far-left ecology and animal rights groups such as the Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, submitted a petition, calling for the mandatory carry of bear spray by hunters, it made national news. The petition was submitted to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission and others. The petition claimed that “Studies show that bear spray is far more effective than firearms.”

That claim is not correct.

The petition was written about in several Idaho outlets, and nationally.

The Commission turned down the request that the carry of bear spray by hunters be mandatory.  From lmtribune.com:

The commission turned down a request from environmental groups that it create a rule that would require hunters in grizzly bear habitat near Yellowstone National Park to carry bear spray. Commissioners said the rule would be overbearing and difficult to enforce, and agreed with agency officials who said education about recreating in grizzly bear country would be more effective.

The coverage of the Commission turned down the petition was far less extensive.

Dave Smith, author of  Backcountry Bear Basics: The Definitive Guide to Avoiding Unpleasant Encounters, has done significant work explaining how the carry of bear spray by hunters is not effective and can be counterproductive. Dave wrote a letter to the Idaho Fish and Game Department, IFGD, to educate them about the problems involved.

Dave's letter deserves a wider audience. Dave graciously gave permission for me to use it in this article.  Dave explains the problems with hunters relying on bear spray for protection from grizzly bears.  He carefully explains why the bear spray and firearm studies about defense against bears do not show that bear spray is more effective.  I have placed some of Dave's words in bold for emphasis:

Bear Spray Hoax: IFGD Betrays Hunters

I’m pleased the Commission recommends denying a petition that would require hunters in grizzly country to carry bear spray. But the petition is not being denied for the right reason: When a grizzly charges a hunter with a rifle after a classic surprise encounter at close range, bear spray will not keep a hunter safe. IDFG must prepare hunters to use an adequate rifle quickly and effectively.

In 1991, a Hunter/Grizzly Bear Interactions Task Team (that included U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen) told the Yellowstone Ecosystem Subcommittee that bear spray has “minimal usefulness in trail encounters with bears at close range due to the difficulty of effective use.”

Bob Wharff, executive director of Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, told the Jackson Hole News & Guide that bear “spray isn’t the answer for every encounter, especially when it requires hunters to drop their guns when there’s little time to react. You’re talking milliseconds. It’s illogical that you’re going to set your gun down and get your pepper spray.”

Trina Jo Bradley, vice-president of the Marias River Livestock Association, said “Let’s just think about how we carry ourselves when we’re hunting. I carry a large caliber rifle in my hands, usually with a bullet in the chamber and the safety on. I can easily raise my rifle and fire if I see the game I am hunting, or if a bear attacks. Why in the world would I put down the firearm that I’ve used over and over to grab a can of bear spray?

It’s clear a hunter carrying a rifle cannot use bear spray in a safe or timely manner during a surprise encounter with a grizzly. IDFG and other agencies acknowledged this in 1991. But on September 1, 1999, these agencies did an about face on bear spray when U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service news release announced: “Outfitters And Guides Develop Safety Class To Prevent Bear Attacks.”

The news release said, “During the past year, over 200 outfitters and guides in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado have been trained to safely share the backcountry with bears.”

Were the outfitters and guides taught to use an adequate firearm effectively? No. “Course presenters discourage the use of firearms to mitigate bear attacks, because the practice has resulted in much greater frequency and severity of injuries to people involved [than bear spray]. The reliability and safety of pepper spray over other methods of deterrence has also been promoted by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee.”

No data or references were provided to substantiate this claim. Nevertheless, these agencies adopted a de facto policy of discouraging firearm use, and promoting bear spray. The results have been disastrous. As the environmentalists’ bear spray petition notes, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team found that “54% of all injuries inflicted on humans by grizzly bears [in the Yellowstone region] involved hunters.”

In response to the environmentalists’ petition, Toby Broudreau said, “the Department already has a Bear Education Program within grizzly range in Idaho. That program helps inform hunters on bear spray use and benefits.”

That program does not teach hunters how to use bear spray with each of the six field carries for long guns. That program does not provide hunters with accurate, meaningful information about bear spray and firearms research. If you keep hyping bear spray—and use that as an excuse for not teaching hunters how to use an adequate rifle quickly for self-defense—you guarantee the carnage inflicted on hunters since 1999 will continue.

A 2008 study on the Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska said, “In 96% (69 of 72) of bear spray incidents, the person's activity at the time of was use reported. The largest category involved hikers (35%), followed by persons engaged in bear management activities (30%), people at their home or cabin (15%), campers in their tents (9%), people working on various jobs outdoors (4%), sport fishers (4%), a hunter stalking a wounded bear (1%), and a photographer (1%).”

Given that the purpose of stalking a wounded bear is to kill it, non-lethal bear spray was the wrong tool for the job. The study did not provide additional information about this mysterious incident. A 1998 bear spray study did not provide any information about the activity of people who used bear spray. So research tells us hunters carrying a rifle don’t use bear spray, and common sense tells us why: Hunters can’t use bear spray because they’re already carrying a rifle.

Bear spray advocates focus on the overall success rate from Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska: 3 people were injured during 75 incidents. Of 175 people present during 72 incidents, just 3 were injured. Bear spray advocates never inform hunters that 3 of 9 people who sprayed charging grizzly bears were injured.

Bear spray advocates have repeatedly made the indefensible claim that research proves bear spray is more effective than a firearm. One, they’re claiming that research on bear spray use by non-hunters (who are not carrying a firearm) proves hunters (who are carrying a firearm) should use bear spray. That does not make sense.

Two, there have been two interrelated studies on bear spray, and two studies on guns vs. bears. Bear spray advocates are really saying, if you compare the results of one bear spray study to the results of one dissimilar study on guns, bear spray wins. But Field Use of Capsicum Spray As a Bear Deterrent/Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska used different methodologies than Efficacy of Firearms For Bear Deterrence in Alaska. It is unethical to compare the two studies, because of the different dynamics involved.

In addition, you’ve got to be totally unprincipled to pretend a 1999 study on the Characteristics of Nonsport Mortalities to Brown and Black Bears and Human Injuries from Bears in Alaska does not exist. After reviewing 1,036 incidents from 1986 to 1996 when people killed bears in defense of life or property (DLP), the authors of the 1999 study wrote, “Most of the persons shooting brown bears or black bears in DLP circumstances indicated that no human injury occurred (98.5% for brown bears and 99.2% for black bears).”

Bear spray advocates deny the existence of the 1999 study because it does not advance their cause. “Research proves bear spray is more effective than a firearm” is not a factual statement based on research; it’s a baseless propaganda slogan. To provide for the safety of big-game hunters in grizzly country, IDFG must teach hunters how to use an adequate firearm quickly and effectively.

Dave does not address a basic premise of the advocates for the use of bear spray. The premise is that in a bear human conflict, it is better if the bear is not killed. The purpose of bear spray seems more to protect the bear than to protect the human.

Bear and human conflicts are rare. Most bears avoid humans. If all the bears that threaten humans were killed, it would not harm bear populations.

One major advantage of firearms over bear spray is the bear is usually killed. 

Bears that attack humans should be killed. Bears that are killed are not able to attack other humans. They are no longer a threat. If bears are not killed during the attack, they often must be tracked down and killed at some expense and danger.

Both grizzly and black Bear populations are increasing in North America. Bear populations will continue to expand, utilizing human developed food sources, as long as humans allow them to expand.  The grizzly bear population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem has continued to increase, even though about 5% of the grizzly population is killed in bear/human conflict every year.  Humans must kill bears to keep the bear population inside acceptable limits.

It is poor management to attempt to prevent a bear attacking a human from being killed so that another permit to kill a bear can be issued to a hunter in the necessary bear hunting season.

The idea that it is important to save the lives of bears who are threatening humans is a bad one. It is a false economy.

Bear spray has benefits. It is useful to people who are afraid of firearms, or who do not wish to develop the modest skill necessary to use them to defend against bears.  Bear spray is useful where firearms are difficult to obtain, such as for American tourists in Canada. Bear spray does not present a lethal danger to bystanders, except as it may inhibit their own defenses, as it did with Tom Sommers.

Bear spray should not be mandated for people who are already carrying a gun to hunt big game. The idea that bear spray is more effective than firearms in stopping bear attacks is not proven.  It is junk science.


About Dean Weingarten:Dean Weingarten

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

  • 37 thoughts on “Why Requiring Hunters to Carry Bear Spray is a Bad Idea

    1. Gee is see a marketing opportunity here: barrel mounted bear repellent canister similar to an M203. Won’t that make the anti’s crazy!

    2. I carry a 475 Linebaugh in a chest holster with 400 gr.22bhn slugs. My other choices would be a 44 mag with 300gr slugs. lastly, a 10 mm auto with200 gr solids.At least 15 rds with the 10. It is more important to know your weapon!Practice, practice, practice.

    3. Here is a view from north of 49; I have extensive bush experience having been into mountaineering in my young and crazy youth. Now that I am in my mid 60s I still prefer a tent over a rv. I have also been a hunter for over 40 years. I spend a week every fall in the bush and this is the only time I carry a firearm.
      I do not shoot bears. I shoot at bears. This is to educate the bear to avoid humans. Last September I had a bear encounter while in my tent. I practice no trace camping and after sniffing around for a couple of minutes it moved off.
      No bear spray required, no firearms needed.
      I work in Vancouver and live in the burbs. Yes this makes me a city slicker. But then I own over a dozen long guns and can show you a grizzly within an hours drive of Vancouver.
      Vancouver has a coyote problem. And the coyotes love Vancouver because we cannot shoot them. The suburbs have black bear problems and again only our police and conservation officers can shoot them.

      1. Thanks Norm. If a bear was actually posing a threat to me, it makes sense to as you say “I shoot at bears. This is to educate the bear to avoid humans.” You can see in about a second afterwards if that worked and if you actually need to shoot the bear, if I’m not mistaken. Too often I see some folks get themselves whipped into a froth and want to turn the wilderness into a nice safe shopping mall experience because the outdoors actually makes them nervous.

      2. Not impressed. I can show you coyotes and black bears where I live too. I don’t believe in Biden warning shots, you may not get a chance for the follow-up.
        ONLY a couple dozen long guns? At your age? Oh, I get it, OPSEC. Riiiight.

    4. The animal worshiping, hunting banning cults ( most of which are located in New York City or Las Angeles and are run by hysterical women) , want to put grizzly bears and. mountain lions and wolves, in each state west of the Mississippi , and you are not allowed to defend yourself or livestock against any attacks! And you don’t have to worry about them as they only want to be your “friend”! And they show doctored videos with “petting zoo” animals to show how “friendly” these animals are. And since they are all “endangered species” , you can no. longer go on BLM land, National Forests or National Parks. However they and their friends are allowed to. To say a can of bear spray will stop a charging bear is rediicious. This must be the same group that says you don’t need a handgun for protection just use pepper spray against muggers or robbers. Also another article in Ammoland talked about the dangers of criminals, felons, drug dealers and others hiding out in National Forests and campgrounds. Gun banning groups are joining up with hunting banning cults (and democrats) to ban all guns and hunti g in America. Vote for President Trump in 2020! Support your right to own firearms and to hunt, fish and trap in America!

    5. Anyone venturing into the outdoors in areas where dangerous game exists with just a can of “bear spray” is ismply a fool soon to be departed from this life.

      Phil in TX

    6. IMOA, I think more study is needed to get the proper data and method required to deal with a bear that is charging only using pepper spray. I recommend a ten year research team from the various far-left ecology and animal rights groups such as the Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity send out their testers armed only with bear spray for protection (No guns allowed) into areas with a high concentration of bears during the salmon run.

      1. These cultists would certainly promote endless tours of carbon emitting buses full of “camera hunters” cruising though an animatronic natural habitat of bears, wolves,etc., showing how nice they play with each other. In time, these tours could cruise through felon camps staffed by recently “rehabilitated” early release candidates promising not to attack the buses! Great source of revenue! Just my two cents worth.

    7. Every one of those idiots from the Humane Society of the U.S., Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and anyone else pushing for this bear spray crap needs to be put in Grizzly country with a slab of bacon around their neck, a can of bear spray and a .44 Magnum handgun and then they’ll figure it out pretty quick, if they survive. Most of those morons don’t live in Grizzly country, never have, never will or have only encountered a Grizzly in a park or zoo where they were safe in their vehicle or behind a barrier. Typical liberal green weenies living safe and comfortable in their condos in big cities telling the rest of us how to live our lives.

        1. oh, it would waste THAT chunk, alright. But think about the big picture. If hundreds of such slabs of bacon would be draped round the scrawny necks of hundreds of gaia worshipping tree hugging aminalwrites whiners, it would reduce THAT population to more acceptible numbers, and at the same time be a great boon to hog farmers, feral pig hunters, and all the associated butchers and smokers.

          Yes some bacon would be destroyed….. but in the end, I suspect we’d have three long term benefits: more bacon, more bear meat in the freezer, and fewer libruls. MUCH better then letting the dweebs have their way.

      1. Just a reminder, these are the same idiots that caused Paradise to be destroyed by the Camp Fire in Kommieforniastan, by not allowing PG&E to clear the brush and dead trees from their right of way. We can sacrafice some bacon to be rid of them.

    8. Old hippies and morons are the only ones carrying bear spray here in Wyoming.
      I would also note that some Federal departments forbid the carrying of firearms when in the field, and wonder when a fatal encounter will finally occur.

      1. I hope you are kidding, but time is not on their side. That kind of stupidity can only come from a bureaucrat that has never been in a situation with an animal.

    9. The ‘enlightened’ crowd of environmentalists think these apex predators can be stopped by an aerosol can of pepper. They lie about predatory behavior by many bears, they lie about the number of bears in any given area, and they even have most biologists lying, too. But guess what? When the biologists go out in the field, they take electric fences and powerful guns! Take a gun and protect your lives and ultimately others. Because a bear that’s not afraid of humans is a problem bear!

    10. I spend time in the Canadian woods hiking and camping. Without my .44 I feel very vulnerable. It is not rocket science to know that if a bear charges you, you are in trouble if you can’t kill the bear BEFORE it gets there!! I’ve been fortunate to not have had any encounters. This was an excellent article and I will share it widely. Thank you.

    11. I live in North Idaho. In fact I was living in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho where they reintroduced the Grizzly Bear back in around 1985(?). I was in the US Navy at the time but family and friends let me know what was going on. And now all you have to do is Google my home town and see how effective Bear Spray would be. No one I know carries that stuff that lives here for any length of time. Even people from the more “civilized” places? Cough, cough, (California, New York City!) We are still a small town and we have numerous dangerous animal sightings in town and at homes all the time. Bears, Cougars, Moose and Elk. I now live in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho which is only 72 miles south. We get those same animals down here but the Grizzly Bear. Black Bears alot. Bear Spray only works if you are 100 feet away and up a tree.

      1. I am not too sure abut your last sentence. Have you seen the video of the sow who chased another adult bear up a tree and then went after it. That looked to be at least 75 if not 100 feet up in that tree.

        1. These cultists would certainly promote endless tours of carbon emitting buses full of “camera hunters” cruising though an animatronic natural habitat of bears, wolves,etc., showing how nice they play with each other. In time, these tours could cruise through felon camps staffed by recently “rehabilitated” early release candidates promising not to attack the buses! Great source of revenue! Just my two cents worth.

          1. Read a article a while back , that told of eye witness that have seen such animals in the wild like: lions (Kalifornia) hyenas (in Oklahoma), tiger (New York City apartment)!, in the Denver area is a wild cat sanctuary. Most people don’t realize that there are few laws regarding the ownership of wild and dangerous animals. Remember a couple of years ago, when in Ohio some guy had a private zoo, flipped out and released all of them. Police had to shoot what they could, but some got away.

    12. Goofy idealogues desiring threatened human beings to use cans of pepper against 200 to 1100 lbs of death on wheels. Does it get any more debauched than that? They actually care about animals more than human beings. They are deeply I’ll and they don’t know it.

    13. I heartedly prefer the AFFOREMENTIONED author’s informed (and practiced view) over that of all the lemmings who follow the Walt Disney view of mammal/homo sapiens interaction. Those who wish to entertain: STICK to it! I was sworn “to protect and serve the Constitution…..”

    14. This is an excellent article that refutes the liberal nonsense about bear spray effectiveness. Maybe the politically correct should just avoid the woods and wildlife including those carrying firearms.

    15. So in the 9 instances where the bear was an actual threat to life, 1/3 of the time it didn’t work. The other part of the equation not answered was how many of the firearm uses were on charging bears and what was the effectiveness? We can then see how effective firearms are compared to bear spray. I agree that if you are holding a high-powered rifle that it is illogical – down right stupid – to drop it to grab a can of bear spray while the bear is charging.

      1. According to the Miller & Tutterow 1999 study 255 bears were killed (1986-96) because they were an immediate threat (charging). The study does not say how may people were injured by charging bears. It’s just not possible to make an apples to apples comparison between bear spray research and firearms research. But even if you presume all human injuries occurred when people shot charging bears, the injury rate is low. And the sample size for gun incidents (255) dwarfs the sample size for bear spray incidents (9). Hope this helps answer your question.

      2. Reminds me of an account came out a few years ago up outside of Anchorage Alaska. A local homeowner had walked down his LONG gravelled driveway to collect the post at the post box out at the county road. As always, (but he almost didn’t bother this time, he reports) he holstered his .44 Mag revolver. As he approached the postbox, he heard something back behind him, and turned to see…. a HUGE bear in full on charge, eyes focussed squarely upon HIM, the only moveable item within sight of the bear. He drew, and fired. Bear continued. He knew he’d hit. fired again. Same. Again, Same. As the bear was only a few feet away and still playing freight train chicken with him, he fired his last round. The bear stumbled, dropped, and slid along te gravel, stopping only a couple feet away from him. Oh my. And THIS GUY should have ONLY had pepper spray?

        He got the adrenaline rush of his life, spent six .44 mag rounds, and now has a fine bearskin rug in his house. Now, he NEVER sets foot outside the door without some form of steel authority upon his person. I imagine they also had a freezer full of fine bear steaks and roasts, into the bargain, worth far more than the six rounds it cost him.

        It wasn’t yet HIS time, but it WAS the bear’s time.

        I love it when a story ends well.

        1. There is no way that pepper spray is going to stop a bear that it took 6 .44 Magnum rounds to stop, anybody that says otherwise is full of it! I don’t care who you are, you are never going to convince me that an academic study is more correct than a friend of mine who has hunted big game all over the world. When I talked to him about this he just looked at me and said “your either kidding or stupid, I know you ain’t stupid enough to really believe that! I am editing out parts of the comment so that is family friendly! But I think that settles it for me.

    Leave a Comment 37 Comments

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *