Question: Why didn’t bear spray work?

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.

Todd Orr
Skyblade Knives.

Comments (14)

  • Heather HusbandOctober 18, 2016 at 10:09 pm

    Thank you for this post Todd. I think it really helps people to know from someone who has “been there” that in a majority of situations, bear spray is very effective and one of the best tools you can have in bear country.

  • Joe LightOctober 18, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    Todd, you amaze and impress us all with your levelheadedness throughout this entire ordeal. I wish you many seasons in the great outdoors and many free rounds as you are asked to retell the tale of that incredible day. -Joe Light

  • Scott BloomOctober 18, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    Excellent information to a troubling question. Hope you are doing well Todd and thanks a lot.

  • betty orrOctober 19, 2016 at 12:11 am

    good article Todd I think you explained it just right and I never felt the need to carry bear spray but believe me it will be with me on every outing now love ya honey

  • Mike CraigOctober 19, 2016 at 2:52 am

    more good info Todd thank you

  • Michael BowenOctober 19, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Todd,
    First, glad you are well on the way to a full recovery. We met several years ago when I was visiting Steph from North Carolina. Many years ago it seems now. Living here in NC, many folks believe that a firearm is the way to go as far as a protective measure against bears. Here we only have black bears and very few attacks or violent encounters. I try to express to everyone that I talk to about being in bear country, which I will be in the Gravelly Range in a few weeks, is your best defense besides the muscle between your ears is bear spray. When they want to discuss a firearm, my argument is that the respiration rate of a bear, especially a grizzly is very low. This low respiration rate equates to nullifying a heart/lung shot as far as deterring a close encounter. As well, I agree with you about a head/spine shot being a low percentage accurate shot in the heat of the moment. While we will have firearms on our upcoming elk hunt, believe me when I say I will have the bear spray as my first defense. Thank you for using this terrible event as a chance to educate about bears and being in bear country.

    Again, glad your recovery is going well and continues.

  • Waynette VanFleetOctober 19, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for posting that Todd. Hope you are getting better with each day♡

  • randy brownOctober 19, 2016 at 11:46 pm

    excellent, Todd…thanks

  • Jamie LennoxOctober 22, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Excellent Todd! I hope you are healing well. You are a great writer, keep it up. Your old friend, Jamie

  • Yvonne BlenisOctober 26, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Hello Todd , I’m so thankful your alive praying for your healing. thank you for all your input about staying safe in this situation. i dont know how you did this. I know I would not of made it out alive .. I have night mares of this a horrific think to Just think about let a lone live though …. if you don’t mind how big was this bear height and weight . Montana looks beautiful . Glad you got to fly fish with your dad wonderful 🎣. Will be thinking of you for healing and please stay safe ..! 🌳🍁🍂🍃🌿

  • Green GirlOctober 26, 2016 at 8:22 pm

    Could the cubs have been a factor? I know I would run through bear spray to protect my children if I thought they were in grave danger 🙂

  • Jerry ScharmerOctober 27, 2016 at 11:43 pm

    Todd your a positive attitude gives you fighting spirit to carry on may god be with you

  • Bob NakagawaOctober 29, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    I work during the summers at Campfire Lodge Resort ( just below Hebgen Dam ) just a few miles from where Todd was attacked. I am sincerely glad that you survived the attack.
    I have two stories to share concerning grizzly attacks and the use of bear spray.
    One occurred in September of 2015. Three young archery hunters were hunting elk out of our lodge near the Kirkwood trailhead. Two of them heard brush breaking and were being charged by a grizzly. They quickly deployed their bear spray and turned the bear. Fortunately for them the bear did not return! They bought another can of bear spray from us the next morning.
    The other story was from a hunter from Livingston, MT that was hunting out of the Beaver Creek campground, like the Kirkwood trailhead, is only a few miles out of the Lodge. He assisted two hunters that rode out from 10 miles deep in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness after one of them suffered an attack. That attack was ended by one partner deploying bear spray. Fortunately, they had horse wrap to slow the bleeding on his arms and other puncture wounds. The hunter from Livingston told us that an outfitter had 10 separate sightings of bears in the area within a couple of weeks. Further, investigators found that there was a carcass close to this attack.
    Obviously, hunters are most at risk by being stealthy in bear AND big game country. Bear spray works.

  • Robert ReegDecember 10, 2016 at 3:13 am

    Very interesting article. Pepper spray won’t stop a pschotic or drugged human, so it stands to reason it won’t work on all bears, in all conditions. I have regular pepper spray that when they expire I’ll discharge under my shed to discourage woodchucks. On many of those smaller cans most of the propellant is GONE. The can would be useless if I had needed it. That leads me to suspect that if you test a can you might gradually use the propellant over time. Be a sport, buy yourself a new one every year.

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