Bear spray

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A bear spray dispenser

Bear spray, is a type of pepper spray or capsicum deterrent that is used to deter aggressive bears, typically in wilderness environments.[1]


Bear spray typically contains higher levels (typically 1-2%) of major capsaicinoids (the key active ingredients) than pepper sprays intended for self-defense against human assailants (typically 0.2-1.3%).[2] The spray-can must state: bear spray.[3]


Studies suggest that bear spray is effective at reducing the risk of injury or death in these situations. While bear spray can be effective, authorities stress that proper bear-awareness and avoidance techniques are the best ways to minimize injuries due to human–bear conflict.[1]

A 1990s U.S. Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team analysis determined that people who defended themselves with: guns suffered a 50% injury rate; with bear spray avoided injury most of the time.[3][4]

A 2008 "Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska" study stated:

  • "Red pepper spray stopped bears’ undesirable behavior 92% of the time when used on brown bears, 90% for black bears, and 100% for polar bears.
  • Of all persons carrying sprays, 98% were uninjured by bears in close-range encounters.
  • All bear-inflicted injuries (n = 3) associated with defensive spraying involved brown bears and were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization required).
  • In 7% (5 of 71) of bear spray incidents, wind was reported to have interfered with spray accuracy, although it reached the bear in all cases.
  • In 14% (10 of 71) of bear spray incidents, users reported the spray having had negative side effects upon themselves, ranging from minor irritation (11%, 8 of 71) to near incapacitation (3%, 2 of 71).
  • Bear spray represents an effective alternative to lethal force and should be considered as an option for personal safety for those recreating and working in bear country."[5]


Mark Matheny claims to have developed the first capsaicin product designed specifically for use against bears following a 1992 near-lethal encounter with a bear which he survived using standard pepper spray. After the attack, he became determined to develop a pepper spray that would work more effectively against bears by increasing the potency, range, and duration of the deterrent.[6][7]


Bear spray is intended to be used to deter an aggressive or charging bear. A user points the canister at an aggressive bear and sprays the contents for 2-3 seconds. Distance will vary depending on the manufacturer of the spray.

Using the spray improperly can have undesirable effects. Because the deterrent effect depends on the bear receiving a concentrated dose of spray, using bear spray on objects or clothing is not effective, and can actually attract bears.[8]

Because spray canisters are pressurized and contain hazardous contents, they must be stored in cool temperatures and handled with care. They can explode from overheating if left on a car dashboard.[1] A typical can of bear spray costs about $40 to $50 USD. Bear spray is available to rent in some tourist destinations, such as Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park.[9]

All bear sprays must be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Cans are labeled "for deterring attacks by bears." The EPA registration number is displayed on the front label. The active ingredient is on the label and is 1% to 2% Capsaicin and related Capsaicinoids. Keep bear spray in sleeping, cooking and toilet areas of a camp. Keep the can in easy reach. Check the expiration date on each can has not expired.[3][10][11][12]


Bear spray is a very effective deterrent when used properly. In a 2008 review of bear attacks in Alaska from 1985–2006, Smith et al. found that bear spray stopped a bear's "undesirable behavior" in 92% of cases. Further, 98% of persons using bear spray in close-range encounters escaped uninjured.[8]

The efficacy of bear spray depends on the situation and circumstances of the attack. In the 2008 study, Tom Smith of Brigham Young University reported, “No bear spray has ever been reported to kill a bear. It is our belief that widespread use of bear spray will promote human safety and bear conservation.”[8] On the other hand, latent spray (on object) has also led to the attraction of bears, which usually end up with the bear destroying the spray-covered object.[8] This serves as a need to cautiously manage deterrent distribution and is a good example of where spray is useful and where it is not.

Mock-up of a man holding and aiming bear spray to deter a bear attack

A United States Geological Survey article, “Bear Spray Safety Program,” says that bear spray is effective in fending off aggressive bears while also preventing injury to both the human and the bear. It also states, “No deterrent is 100-percent effective.”[1] In "Living with Grizzlies," the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states, “The Service supports the pepper spray policy of the Interagency Grizzly bear Committee, which states that bear spray is not a substitute for following proper bear avoidance safety techniques, and that bear spray should be used as a deterrent only in an aggressive or attacking confrontation with a bear.”[13]


Bear spray is legal across the United States. It can be purchased even in Hawaii, New York, or Massachusetts, where standard pepper sprays are illegal unless bought locally by certified firearms dealers or pharmacists.[14] In Canada, while legal for use against bears, bear spray is a prohibited weapon if intended to be used against humans.[15]

Bear spray is illegal in some US National Parks, but Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks encourage carrying bear spray in the backcountry as protection against bears who reside there.[16][17][18]


  1. ^ a b c d Blome, Charles. "Bear Spray Safety Program" (PDF). U.S. geological Survey. Retrieved 27 Mar 2012. 
  2. ^ "Pepper Spray Frequently Asked Questions". Sabre. 
  3. ^ a b c Wilkinson, Todd; 25, National Geographic PUBLISHED September. "How a Potent Pepper Spray Became the Best Bear Repellent". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2015-09-26. 
  4. ^ "Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team | Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center (NOROCK)". Retrieved 2015-09-26. 
  5. ^ "Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska" (PDF). doi:10.2193/2006-452. 
  6. ^ Frank Miniter. The Ultimate Mans Survival Guide. Retrieved July 19, 2014. 
  7. ^ Matheny, Mark. "The Story of Mark Matheny: A grizzly bear attack survivor". Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  8. ^ a b c d Smith, Tom S.; et al. (2008). "Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska" (PDF). The Journal of Wildlife Management 72 (3): 640–645. doi:10.2193/2006-452. Retrieved 27 Mar 2012. 
  9. ^ "Bear Spray Rentals". Keystone Conservation. Retrieved 23 August 2014. 
  10. ^ "Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, the IGBC - Bear Spray". Retrieved 2015-09-26. 
  11. ^ "Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee Bear Spray Report June 2008" (PDF). 
  12. ^ "IGBC Bear Spray Recommendations" (PDF). 
  13. ^ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Bear Spray vs. Bullets" (PDF). Retrieved 30 Mar 2012. 
  14. ^ "Pepper Spray Laws". Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  15. ^ Bell, Danielle (5 February 2014). "Rules confusing around bear, pepper spray". Ottawa Sun. Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  16. ^ "Bears - Glacier National Park". U.S. National Park Service. 
  17. ^ "Selecting Proper Bear Spray". Yellowstone National Park. U.S. National Park Service. 
  18. ^ "Yosemite National Park, California - Weapons/Firearms". U.S. National Park Service. Retrieved 21 Jun 2013.