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 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.