Bear Spray Failure in 2003: Russian Bear Researcher Vitaly Nikolayenko

Vitaly Nikolayenko, Russian bear expert, from Facebook

U.S.A.-(– Nearly 20 years ago, there was a well-documented bear spray failure in Russia. A world-famous bear researcher, Vitaly Nikolayenko, was killed by a bear only two months after Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard were killed and partially consumed by a bear or bears in Alaska. Nikolayenko was half-eaten.

All the bears involved were variations of the brown bear, also known as the European brown bear, grizzly bear, or Kodiak bear.

Treadwell disdained any type of defensive weapon. Nikolayenko had bear spray and a flare gun. When Nikolayenko was late in reporting, a search team, including his long-time friend, Victor Rebrikov, found his body and evidence the spray was ineffective. From the archive of

“Vitaly must have begun to take pictures of the resting bear, but the tree trunks and branches were in the way, and he must have decided to get inside the grove. His footprints lead into the grove after the bear. He approached the bear at a distance of three meters,” Rebrikov said.

A large swath of orange pepper spray indicates Nikolayenko tried to defend himself, and a flare gun was lying next to the body, unfired. Half his body had been consumed.

His camera was broken and bloody nearby. The film has not yet been developed. The researcher’s wife, Tatiana Nikolayenko, had spent most of last week trying to find a helicopter flight to bring her husband home in time for the New Year’s holiday.

Russia, since the Soviet takeover in 1917, has loathed allowing anyone but the authorities to carry handguns.

Nikolayenko did not view the bears as harmless as Treadwell did; he understood they were dangerous. Still, his methods of research were similar to Treadwell’s eco-adventurism; he approached the bears at very close range and depended on their tolerance for his life. In December of 2003, both the tolerance and bear spray failed.

The fatal failure of bear spray at this early date seems to have been ignored by bear spray proponents.

Those who promote bear spray appear primarily concerned about preventing bears from being killed (cynics claim the concern is to sell bear spray).

The percentage of bears killed in defensive encounters with humans is relatively small where bears are hunted. Bears killed in defensive encounters are a fraction of those required to be killed to maintain a stable population. In Alaska, over 26 years, defense of life and property (DLP) killed bears were 5.1% of the total of hunter bears (sport kills, 26,489) and DLP kills (1,413).

For brown (grizzly) bears to have a stable population, more than 10% of bears must be killed each year. Whether those bears are killed by another bear, by bear hunters, or as aggressive bears confronting humans, does not matter to the bear population. Bears killing other bears is not sufficient to keep the population stable.

Removing bears that are aggressive toward people can change the genetics of the bear population.  Bear populations which are hunted are likely to be less aggressive toward humans.

Bear encounters are not subject to legal standards of proof. If bear spray is sprayed during an encounter, and the person is still killed by the bear; that is a bear spray failure.

Bear spray proponents may claim that of bear spray was used during a bear attack, and the bear killed the person, is not a proven bear spray failure. The bear spray may not have been the “right” brand; the bear spray may not have been deployed exactly “correctly”.

If we apply the same standard to firearms, a person killed by a bear, who is found with a fired gun next to the body, would not be a proven firearms failure.

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 retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten

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Desert Rat

Bear spray is 00 Buck, bear stop is slugs.


My bear spray is either .44 Remington mag or 454 Casull . I live and hike
in grizzley country daily .


I prefer bear stop to spray too


Play stupid games – win stupid prizes!


darwin award


The time need to deal with an attacker varies all over the place.

After steadying self defense for more then 5 decades.

Trust your 6th sense if something appears, feels, sounds bad. Take the proper caution.

I have heard a lot of victims say I didn’t believe it could happen to me.

If situational aware most people have some idea something is going to happen.

It helps to train your self to react properly.

Acting like a squirrel in the middle of the road only gets you run over.

Deplorable Bill

This is proof once again that a determined predator, wither four or two legged, is best dealt with using a firearm. Going into the boonies (or the city) without a reliable, well practiced, easily accessible, powerful firearm is pushing your luck. Luck has a way of running out just when you need it the most see; Custer, Nickolayenko, Treadwell and his girl. I understand that Treadwell’s girl tried a skillet. Didn’t work. Nickolayenko used bear spray. Didn’t work. Bears, like most predators, don’t kill you before they start to eat you, they disable you and tenderize you a bit but… Read more »


When it comes to defending one’s self from a deadly threat.

OC spray has proven time and time again that it is a poor substitute for a good firearm.


The best bear spray has always been rapidly moving lead.


Right through their eyeballs.