By Chuck Bartlebaugh EBS CONTRIBUTOR
When used correctly, bear spray has been found to work 98 percent of the time, even against aggressive, charging or attacking bears. It has saved many people, including visitors to Yellowstone National Park.
The 2 percent of encounters when it didn’t work were related to wind or more than one bear charging.
Kerry Gunther, who is in charge of bear management for Yellowstone National Park, advises visitors to carry bear spray and travel in groups of three or more—advice that can be applied for all recreationists traveling in bear country.
“Hike during daylight hours and be aware of your surroundings,” he said. “Watch for bear scat, bear digging sites, rocks and logs turned over, claw marks on trees and paw prints along creeks and rivers.”
As a certified bear spray instructor, when I conduct my training, I emphasize these few critical steps to use bear spray quickly and properly:
1. Only purchase “bear spray.” Generic pepper spray is not the same as bear spray, which is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I recommend bear spray with at least seven seconds of spray duration and a spray distance of at least 25 feet.
2. Carry bear spray in a hip holster, chest holster or an outer winter coat pocket when in the cold. During winter months, store your bear spray inside to keep it warm.
3. Practice makes perfect. Practice withdrawing the bear spray canister out of the holster, holding the can firmly in one or two hands, and placing your thumb in front of the safety tab until this process can be done with little hesitation or effort.
4. Direct the bear spray downward in front of a threatening, charging or attacking bear. The powerful expanding cloud will billow in front of it. As the bear passes through the cloud, the inflammatory and irritating chemicals will fill its eyes, nose, mouth, throat and lungs, causing the bear to divert its charge.
5. If a bear is closer than 30 feet in a charge, there is a possibility of contact, but bear spray will reduce the length and severity of confrontation. Be prepared to lie on the ground and play dead until the bear is gone. When getting up, have your bear spray ready.
Remember, every year millions of Yellowstone National Park visitors never have a confrontation with a bear, but responsible hikers and campers prepare just in case.
Chuck Bartlebaugh is the director of the Be Bear Aware campaign and conducts bear avoidance and bear spray presentations for state and federal wildlife agencies.
A version of this article first appeared in the April 15, 2016, edition of EBS.