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.

USFWS Bear Spray vs. Bullets.pdf50.36 KB


It seems that you have a serious axe to grind. This isn't so much to do with the Second Amendment but more to do with what is going to protect you best from a bear attack. Why don't you bring bear spray to protect yourself from a bear and bring your gun to protect yourself from other people etc. Also, it is a reduction of freedom to tell property owners what they can and can't allow on their property. If a property owner doesn't want guns on their property, that should be their prerogative, even if that land owner is a park manager. If you don't like it, don't go there! There is nobody in the world forcing you to go to places that won't allow guns. Also, it would help gun owners if they were more responsible. They started allowing guns in State Parks in Tennessee and a lady left her pistol on the toilet paper holder in the bathroom and a child found it. I don't have to tell you how badly that could have turned out.

How about the bears that attack hikers at night, in their tents? I don't think bear spray is as effective in this situation. If anything, the spray will disorient the hiker. I believe that at night people should have guns loaded and ready. Most of the bear attacks I've researched happened at night, and in a tent. I don't like the killing of bears, but in some circumstances, it is necessary.

A bear in a tent at night is a very frightening and dangerous (albeit very rare) scenario, no doubt. If you think that through, you are likely to be disoriented when suddenly woken up by a bear in or near your tent. You are in a dark, small and relatively unfamiliar space, likely in a somewhat confining sleeping bag, and often with other people in very close proximity. While I'm sure that you are confident in your ability to safely and accurately deliver a threat stopping shot at this bear at point blank range, there is a lot of potential for unintended consequences to you and others nearby, especially if your tentmates are in your line of fire.

Bear spray deployed in the same situation requires no aiming whatsoever, since a very small burst in the confined space of the tent will be plenty to affect the bear. You can spray the bear and your partner without killing either. That same burst will certainly affect you and anybody else in the tent, and that should be factored into your decision.

A well-respected bear researcher I know always keeps three things near him, in the same spot every time, while in a tent in bear country - a flashlight, a knife, and bear spray. The knife, he is quick to point out, is to cut his way out of the tent after he sprays the bear.

In the late 1950's, my father and brother, who was then a young toddler, were camping at White Wolf in Yosemite NP. They were advised by rangers, at an evening programon the subject, that if a bear entered the tent, they should use a large knife to stab it in the nose, where bears are particularly vulnerable to pain. My father kept a large hunting knife in the tent for this very purpose. That night, he awoke to noise and movement just outside the tent and, fearing for the safety of his young son, drew the knife and held it ready as tent flap was pushed open, only to discover for the first time that my brother was apparently prone to sleep walking and it was him - not a bear - entering the tent. As my father told the story, he came very close to stabbing my brother in the face that night. Thankfully, he did not, and I would like to think that if he had been armed with a gun he would not have shot him either. Nevertheless, it was a very close call for all concerned, and if things had gone differently, how much better would it have been to have accidently sprayed my brother with pepper spray that night instead of resorting to a potentially lethal option.

I would not be so quick to dismiss bear spray as a viable option against a bear in your tent - to the contrary, it may well be a better tactical option, even if you also carry a firearm. Just food for thought.

The comment assumes that you have to kill a bear with a shot in order to deter it, but the same bear "will most PROBABLY be scared from the sound of the spray alone"? This seems... disingenuous.
The statistics cited in by others at first seemed more persuasive, but look more carefully: 50% of those defending with a firearm are mauled, but most of those defending with spray are not, or mauled less so. Wait... whats the difference between about 50% and "most"? 1%? Were the situations even remotely similar? Most likely not, since hunters would be the ones most likely having guns, and they were far more likely to be moving quietly and surprising the bear, or even packing bloody meat, compared to hikers talking loudly and wearing little bells.

Lady, you're a female. And that's fine. I love women. I plan to marry one and I love her. But most women are taught to be afraid of firearms and to stay away from them, much less know how to use them. A skilled marksman as well as a park ranger at that with the right training would know when to shoot a dangerous bear and shoot him dead, quickly and efficiently. I don't know how the author of this article supporting bear spray can judge such trained people, studies or no studies. If I'm trained in combat hand gunning, I shoot what I aim at and it's dead. It's a no brainer for me. And I don't go around spraying bullets here and there at every bear I see or every sound or movement of the brush I see. Yes, it's alright to carry bear spray and use it. But be prepared if you miss your spray shot or it gets dropped or the bear knocks it out of your hand either by surprising you or being too quick for you. You need to be trained in advance if you venture into bear country. It's like learning anything new. Practice and train first, especially if it's your life and limb you're dealing with. Also, national parks have been know hangouts for all kinds of weirdos, including sexual predators, druggies, and just plain sickos. The parks are big and easy to hide in. I say be prepared like the Scout's motto says. If you're too stubborn and prideful to want to be prepared, then fine. It's your choice.

Was that gun stolen? I don't think anyone in their right mind would have left such an important thing behind, unless they were somehow maybe running to save a child?, a fire was approaching?, or something that would make a person completely lose their faculties (like a person who maybe got the drop on her who was armed with a gun themselves). Such a case is an isolated incidence and does not preclude the advantages of carrying a gun in qualified, skilled hands. All people with guns in national parks have to do is present their permits, and if the parks want to make it fine tuned, have the people show qualification in combat hand gunning. And all parks should have signs at the entrance and prominently posted, of the dangers at the park.

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.

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.

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.


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!

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.

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.

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

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