Question: Why didn’t bear spray work?
Todd Orr. 10/16/16.
Update to Grizzly Attack.
Question: Why didn’t bear spray work?
I noticed numerous comments out there this last couple weeks about the use of bear spray and it’s effectiveness. I am certainly no expert on the matter but would like to give my opinion as it relates to this incident and my past experience.
First and foremost, I am a strong advocate of bear spray! Statistics from recorded bear attacks show that bear spray is more effective than a gun at stopping a bear charge. I used bear spray on a black bear twelve years ago at about 15 feet, and it turned him around in a heartbeat. It works.
It makes sense. An animal gasping for breath because it’s lungs and eyes are filled with a burning pepper spray is more likely to stop its charge or change its behavior than a charging bear full of adrenaline with a stinging, superficial bullet wound.
Animals have a much higher pain tolerance than humans, and a bullet wound may be barely noticeable unless it penetrated a major muscle, bone or internal organ. Even then, an animal could survive with a major injury and continue its attack. A deer shot by a hunter rarely falls dead in its tracks even though a well placed bullet found its mark. Now imagine a heavy boned and muscular Grizzly bear protecting its young and charging at 40mph. Good luck making that well placed shot that pierces the bears brain or spine and stops it in its tracks in two seconds.
Additionally, a bear has a very thick and sloped skull that is not easily penetrated with a bullet even by an excellent marksman. The bullet could very well glance off the bone or lose much of it’s energy and lethal power. A frontal shot on a charging bear is likely to result in a wound to a leg or shoulder, with only the possibility of a chest or head shot, which may not be lethal and likely not going to stop a bear in its tracks. And even more likely, is a miss. Not many people practice shooting at a target full of teeth and claws on a surprise attack at up to 40mph. Think about it…
Now let’s go back to the use of bear spray in my incident.
First, my can of bear spray was a well known brand name of the medium 8oz size and still within the expiration date. It put out a good blast and cloud of spray when I tested it three weeks earlier.
I have had a number of government certified bear identification, safety and bear spray use classes over the years with the Forest Service. I am familiar with the distance bear spray travels and its effectiveness.
In my situation, the bear was at full charge the entire time, and did not stop or hesitate as most bears would, opening a good opportunity for the use of bear spray.
Bear spray puts out a good, concentrated cloud to roughly 25 or 30 feet. So ultimately you would want the cloud in the bears face or just in front of it if charging. I estimated that I sprayed at about that distance or likely further at the initial spray but I can only speculate the exact distance. In any case, the cloud of spray engulfed the bear. I am also aware that bear spay has a slight recoil that will lift you arm a couple of inches and shift your spray pattern upward, so I was sure to keep the pattern low to the ground and at the attacker.
The bear did not stop at the cloud of spray and was through it immediately. Had she taken a deep breath at the right moment while going through the spray, it may have been a different story. Had she slowed, stopped or bluff charged at the cloud for a second, I believe the spray would have had an obvious effect as well. In this situation, I believe her speed and determination just carried her through the spray with a minimal effect that did not deter her. She was focused on getting to me.
So I ask that anyone out there in bear country or around other wild animals, please carry your pepper spray. Don’t be discouraged or consider it unnecessary just because it didn’t work for me that day. My situation was very unique. The odds are still highly in your favor that it could save you life in the event of an attack.
If you want to really be prepared, attend a bear identification and safety class and take the opportunity to test an inert can of bear spray so you know what to expect if you had to use one.
Also, I like to give a quick test burst of my bear spray once a year to know it is operating properly. I have heard others say this is a bad idea because it uses up a half second of spray you may need to use on a bear. That is a legitimate concern, so each person should make their own decision on the matter. If you choose to test, make it a very quick burst and be certain to spray in a large, open space outdoors, and away from people or pets. Common sense should tell you not to spray into the wind. After the quick test spray, immediately move away from the area and wash your hands.