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Bears, Oh My! How to Use Bear Spray

Bear spray is a necessary accessory for anyone who spends time outdoors in bear country. Bear spray contains an oily extract from hot peppers that causes a burning sensation when sprayed in an animal’s face. Once sprayed, a bear’s eyes will swell, burn and tear up. If the bear breathes in the spray, the same symptoms will be present in the respiratory tract. The sudden pain and difficulty seeing stop the bear from advancing and attacking you. Bear spray does not cause any permanent damage to the animal’s health. 

If you’re venturing out into grizzly bear country or heading on a black bear hunting trip, you need to know how to properly use bear spray to keep yourself safe. 

Bass Pro Bear Spray
Bear deterrent spray with holster available at Bass Pro Shops.

Easy Access

You don’t have a lot of warning before a bear attacks. Always keep your bear spray in a place where you can access it in mere seconds. A holster designed to fit your bear spray is an excellent option. It will hold the can secure around your waist even if you are running or hiking. You can also store your bear spray on an external pocket of your backpack, provided you can easily reach it without needing to remove the bag. 

When traveling through dense vegetation that obscures your vision, you may want to carry your bear spray in hand as you hike. If you’ve seen bear tracks in snow, carrying your canister of bear spray in your hands is a good idea. The easier your bear spray is to access, the better. Your adrenaline will be high when you are being charged by a bear, which may reduce your fine motor skills. 

Never store your bear spray on your mountain bike. If you become separated from your bike, you’ll be stranded without bear spray. Similarly, never store bear spray inside your backpack. You’ll lose valuable seconds trying to get it out in an emergency.

Preparing to Spray

All bear spray canisters use safety clips to prevent accidental release. When you encounter an aggressive bear, prepare to use your spray by removing the safety clip. Each brand of bear spray is slightly different. Familiarize yourself with how to disengage the safety mechanism of your particular canister before heading out.

Before you spray, note the direction of the wind. If possible, adjust your position so the wind is blowing away from you. This prevents the spray from being blown back into your face. For a crosswind, aim your bear spray slightly into the wind. The wind will help carry the spray into the bear’s face rather than blowing it away before the bear reaches you. 

You should aim the bear spray at the level of the animal’s head. Typically, you’ll position your canister at a slight downward angle toward the ground directly in front of the bear. This produces a cloud of spray for the bear to run into. 

bear in tree

When to Spray

Wait until the bear is 30 feet away before starting to spray. Hold your bear spray can with both hands, one holding the canister steady and the other positioned to pull the trigger. Use short blasts of no more than two seconds, pulling the trigger in quick succession. It’s normal for the canister to kick back slightly with your first spray. Adjust your aim back toward the ground in front of the bear. You can move the canister slightly from side to side to increase the size of the cloud of bear spray. 

Keep using the short, rapid bursts of spray until the bear changes direction. This may occur quickly, after just one or two sprays. It may even be scared away by the sound of the spray. Don’t stop spraying until the bear halts or retreats. 

After You Spray

Try to remain calm and slowly leave the area after successfully stopping the bear from charging. While most bears run away and steer clear of the bear spray, some have been known to return. Calmly walk away while monitoring the area to check if the bear is on its way back. It’s okay if you need a moment to collect yourself. Dealing with an aggressive bear is a traumatic situation. However, with proper use of your bear spray, you have a much better chance of surviving the situation. 

A Last Resort

Bear spray can be an incredibly helpful tool, but the goal is to never have to use it. If you ever encounter a bear, attempt to back away slowly and give the animal a wide berth. Ideally, you’ll notice the bear before it notices you, giving you time to escape unseen. If the bear does notice you, don’t run. Move your arms while backing away slowly to show the bear you mean no harm. 

What to Do if You Accidentally Discharge the Canister of Bear Spray

Despite being well prepared, mishaps can occur. If a canister of bear spray accidentally discharges during your camping or hiking trip, vacate the area immediately to avoid suffering the effects intended for repelling bears. You can avoid accidental discharges by mindfully storing the bear spray in an area with a stable temperature. Avoid letting it get too hot or cold.

If some of the spray gets on your skin or clothing due to an accidental discharge (or while you’re spraying at a bear), it’s important to wash that area of skin with water as soon as possible to prevent irritation. Remove any affected clothing articles and rinse them in water as well. Avoid inhaling too deeply. The bear spray can affect your lungs and mucus membranes. Take short, shallow breaths until you’ve removed the clothing that was sprayed, or you’ve vacated the area where the canister discharged. 

If bear spray makes contact with your eyes, immediately rinse your eye under cold fresh water for 15-20 minutes. Hold the eye open while doing so; if you are a contact lens wearer, remove the lens before rinsing. If discomfort continues after rinsing, seek medical attention. 

bear tracks on beach
Photo by Josh Dahlke

Protect Yourself While Enjoying the Outdoors 

Before you head out into the woods on a hiking, camping or hunting trip, you need to be equipped with the right gear to protect yourself. During many months of the year, this includes carrying a bear spray you know how to handle safely and use correctly. 

For all your outerwear needs, shop Mossy Oak via our online store. You can never be overdressed or over-prepared for a weekend out in the wilderness.

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