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Studies Show Bear Spray More Effective Than Guns Against Grizzlies


With all the debate lately over whether visitors should be allowed to carry weapons in national parks, much has been said about the need for protection against wild animals, bears in particular. Well, studies show bear spray is a much more effective deterrent than a speeding bullet.

Evidence of human-bear encounters even suggests that shooting a bear can escalate the seriousness of an attack, while encounters where firearms are not used are less likely to result in injury or death of the human or the bear. While firearms can kill a bear, can a bullet kill quickly enough -- and can the shooter be accurate enough -- to prevent a dangerous, even fatal, attack?

The question is not one of marksmanship or clear thinking in the face of a growling bear, for even a skilled
marksman with steady nerves may have a slim chance of deterring a bear attack with a gun. Law
enforcement agents for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have experience that supports this reality --
based on their investigations of human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and
defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50% of the time. During the same period, persons
defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured
experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries.

That snippet was taken from a report prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You can find the entire document attached below.


Outside magazine has now entered this debate with a short article advocating bear spray over guns for safety in the national parks:

Politics is force, the exercise of political force is a form of violence. Sure we cloak it as civiliy as possible in the United States, citations, court dates, civil forfeture, but at the end of the day, the government has the power, at gun point to imprison you and take your life if you don't do what they say. Therefore I continue to be stunned and amazed when people will prefer to employ governmental force (violence) against their fellow citizens whenever they wish to acheive their goals, whether its banning fast food for kids or guns in National Parks or taking money from Peter and giving it to Paul. Each citizen should be free to choose how best to defend themselves and their family from two legged and four legged threats. I won't debate Pepper Spray vs, Firearms, that's your choice. I will point out though that none of the firearms propontents has suggested making Pepper Spray illegal for civilian use, like in England and other civilized countries have done. Respect your fellow citizens and trust in their good judgement, the vast majority of us are worthy of both. One other point; a "Consitution" is a contract between the governed and their government. Think how you would feel if a contract you were a party to; employment, buisness, etc. was deemed a "Living Document" that could evolve and change with the times or the fashions of the day and at the whim of a lawyer wearing a black dress. Many would define that as Tyranny, I do. Remember we are all visiting the parks because we love the outdoors and nature. We all have more in common with each other than you may think.  mauser6863

Re: "These stats are obviously invented by the anti-gun crowd."

One study often cited on the effectiveness of bear pepper spray is "Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska," which was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management 72(3):640-645. 2008. Neither that publication nor the two highly respected principal  researchers would qualify as members of the "anti-gun crowd."

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (certainly not an "anti-gun" agency either) cites this research and notes, "The study shows that in 72 cases where people use bear spray to defend themselves from brown, black and polar bear the spray stopped brown bears 92 percent of the time and 98 percent of the people involved were uninjured." 

The study found that wind interfered with spray accuracy in five of the 71 cases, but the spray reached the bears anyway in all of those situations. It also found that the three cases of "bear-inflicted injuries associated with defensive spraying involved brown bears and were relatively minor (i.e., no hospitalization required)."

If you want to read the entire study, you'll find it cited numerous times on-line. One link that allows free viewing of the entire article is found on this site.

Is bear pepper spray a perfect defense against bear attacks every time? No -  and neither are guns - but it's proven to be pretty darn good, and the spray offers better odds than firearms in terms of the user escaping the incident unharmed.

Anons comment above illustrates an unfortunate trend in today's world in regard to science: if you don't agree with the conclusions drawn from research, just reject it out of hand as "faulty" or "biased," without making any effort to check the details.

I'd also have concerns about the above commenter who claims to have used bear pepper spray against wildlife on multiple occasions. Professional wildlife researchers who spend years in the field studying bears rarely if ever need to use their spray in self-defense. Sounds like "Anonymous" may need to use better judgment to avoid getting into those situations on repeat occasions.

These stats are obviously invented by the anti-gun crowd. As other's have already said the spray can blow back into the user. A high power light will work some times, the same argument about charging bear and getting a shot off could be made about the spray. I have used the spray before and some animals it worked and some it just pi33ed them off more. There's no definate thing that will work, a lot of it will depend on the situation.  


I am a gun owner and hunter.  I think you are completely wrong.   A surprised bear (eg. grizzly sow defending cubs) and run 25 mph.   I've see videos of charges from 50 yards and the bear runs so fast that even if you had your gun out and ready, you'd only have time for one shot.  Are you that good of a shot?   I'm not and I practice A LOT.   Bears have extremely sensitive noses on par with the best bloodhound so blasting one with pepper spray will get its attention off the charge a lot faster than a bullet that fails to instantly kill.   You'd need something in the class of a 338 winchester magnum or 375 H & H to guarantee a one stop kill, assuming you hit a vital area.   You won't have the time to deploy such a rifle.   Bear spray really does work, it gets the bear's attention like nothing else will.  They forget everything except the desire to get away from the stinging pepper.

As far a protecting second amenment rights, while i think the firearm ban in parks is not necessary, i also don't have a problem with it.  We already can't take legally concealed carry guns in hospitals, airports, police stations, schools, etc. for very good reasons.   They are not going to take our rights away so stop the paranoia and get over it!

Wow what a thread! I have to say I agree with you, if bear spray is so effective why do Fish and Game carry Remington 870's with Bear slugs. Hey I live up hear in Alaska where there are big animals that can kill you. Bear spray is a good tool but for me I carry either a 870 Remington or a 45-70 with a 44 mag. My shotgun is loaded and I can release 3 rounds very fast.

Listen the Alaskan wilderness is hugh and the probability of a Bear encounter at the Russian River where there are many bears, is no place to be with just a can of spray. I am not saying spray doesnt work but I carry a proven stopper the same ammo and shot gun the Fish and Game carry. ( for a reason )

This will be an endless debate.

Just a few observations based on my law enforcement background, and my time working with the US Fish and Wildlife folks in Alaska:

1. Pertaining to OC spray, no civilian is authorized to carry LE/military-strength OC; that includes sprays used as bear deterrent. My LE-strength OC was anywhere from 5% to 10%. It has been (and likely IS still) illegal for civilian use.

2. As a deterrent, it is believed, at least in Alaska, that it's the contact of the spray, not the composition of it, that startles bears and encourages their retreat.

3. While the majority of brown bear charges are "false" charges meant to scare you, the intruder, off, there are no "just kidding" signs displayed by bears to tell the difference between false and real charges.

4. I've walked up behind a brownie to within five feet. I was careless to be quiet enough to allow such a close encounter, and lucky enough to be facing the east-end of a west-bound bear intent on tracking a pregnant moose. The bear was as surprised as I, and trotted off ahead of me. Lesson learned: make your presence known so as not to get caught flat-footed. Sadly, I helped recover this same bear several weeks later when some not-so-well intended hiker "murdered" it using 13 rounds of.40 SW from a hand gun at close range. I can't believe a charging bear moving at 25-30mph would wait for that magazine to be emptied. I have my own opinion on this one.

5. What does Alaska Game and Fish use for bear defense while checking salmon runs? When I was there, they carried 12 ga shotguns with rubber slugs to "spank" bears that got too close for comfort, and a sturdy .458 Win Mag to put down a charge. Period.

6. As for 5.56mm stopping a truck, this is a silly argument. When in the service, I performed intensive testing with this round. from the standard 1000" (83') range. That little 55 gr FMJ punched right through 5/16" armor plating. It also disintegrated inside a Dixie cup fill of sand, without clearing the other side. An adrenalin-pumped bear is not a truck you can shoot at and just step out of the way. Bears change direction and just keep coming as long as there is oxygen in their brain, or something vital breaks. If you plan on shooting one with a 5.56 to protect someone, be prepared to explain your line of thinking to their next of kin.

7. There is little more unpredictable than a BLACK bear. Brown bears are known to attack in self defense; black bears are known to just attack.

8. IMHO, if you don't like to carry a firearm that you are comfortable proficient with, by all means grab a can of spray and hope you never see a bear close up; it is better than nothing. But it likely won't stop an 800-plus lb. bear in full charge, intent on protecting her cubs. 2-1/2 tons of impact energy is more efficient. Also, if you plan on carrying a shotgun, there are plenty of great "flash-bang" rounds that make a great first-round choice as a deterrent. Above all, be aware of your surroundings. Bears (like SOME NP employees who want nothing else than to disarm EVERYBODY but themselves) are not your friends, and Yogi is just a cartoon character.

Carry both spray and a gun, plus a knife. Use spray first, and if the bear isn't stopped, then shoot. You should always carry all three in your sleeping bag or on your person while in bear country. To not do so is to risk your own life and limb and those of others.

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