How To Use Bear Spray

In 2000 I was living and training for biathlon in Canada. On July 6th I had a good friend and teammate get attacked and killed by a black bear in Quebec. One minute she was out on a run through the trees, the next minute we were all getting phone calls about Mary Beth’s death. I was back in the states when I heard of the bear attack and her death. It was hard to lose a friend and teammate. It was also hard knowing that the cause of her death was a black bear.

Since then I haven’t been a fan of bears. I like them from a distance but sometimes when I’m skiing or hiking on the trails my thoughts turn to Mary Beth.

One thing that has helped calm my bear fears has been through education. Learning more about bears, both grizzly and black, and how they might react if I stumble on their path is important to know.

Another thing that alleviates my fears is hiking with a can of bear spray in places where we expect to see bears.

Last week Al and I were able to head over to the Laramie Game & Fish office where we were given a brief demonstration on how to use bear spray and then we were able  to practice using a training can of bear spray (one without capsaicin).


Here’s what we learned about how to use bear spray.

1) Carry bear spray on a hip holster or chest holster to make it easy to access. Bear spray can be sprayed from a hip holster.

2) When you’re being charged or attacked by a bear remove the safety on the bear spray.

3) Steady your body and your can of bear spray and with your thumb deploy the trigger. You can hold onto the can with your other hand for more stability (while you are peeing your pants…because let’s face it, you’re being charged by a bear).

4) Spray several 2-3 second bursts when the bear is about 10-15 feet away. Pay attention to where the wind is blowing and aim the spray slightly down toward the ground since the bear will have it’s head closer to the ground while charging and you’ll want the spray to get in the bears’ face.

5) After the bear feels the effects of the bear spray it will likely back away and try to figure out what is going on. This is your chance to high tail it out of there but do so calmly without running.

6) Chances are that you’ll feel some effects of the bear spray–burning, your eyes might water, you might choke a little bit but that’s okay because it beats the alternative.

It’s a good idea to call the Game & Fish or Forest Service and report aggressive bear behavior just so they have a heads up after an incident like this.

A few other things to note:

  • It’s a really bad idea to have your bear spray tucked away inside your pack. This seems like a no brainer, but it’s worth mentioning because people do it.
  • It’s also a bad idea to leave your bear spray in a hot car…it can explode in high temperatures and it won’t be pretty.
  • Also, it’s recommended that everyone carries their own can of bear spray…except probably our 2 year old.
  • It’s a good idea to practice! You can always give an old can of bear spray a test in a wide open area on a non-windy day (just be prepared for the effects) or better yet call your local Game & Fish and see if they can show you how to use a can of bear spray.

While we didn’t use a real can of bear spray it’s good to learn how to remove the safety, press the trigger and how to aim. It’s really simple but I don’t think it would be so easy to do while being charged.

Bears are beautiful and amazing animals. I hope to never have to use my can of bear spray on one, but if I do I feel more confident that now I know how to do so.

Sometimes when I put on my old team warm up coat and see the ‘MB’ patch we sewed onto our jackets to remember Mary Beth I know and respect the fact that the bear is stronger and mightier than me. I’m humble enough to realize that but I’m no longer afraid.

For more info on how to use bear spray check out these three websites, and thank you Robin for taking time out of your busy day to teach us more about bear spray.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

National Park Service

Bear Smart

Have you ever used bear spray on an actual bear? If so please leave us a comment and tell us your story!


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