Firearms, Bears, And Bear Spray

Many die-hard hunters say they would never rely on bear spray to do the job of a gun.   Others counter that a gun can possibly maim a bear, causing it to ferociously settle the score.

What position do bear biologists take in this debate?   I can’t speak for others, but after studying more than 600 Alaska bear attacks, I’ve learned:

• In 72 incidents of people using bear spray to defend themselves against aggressive bears in Alaska, 98% were uninjured, and those that were suffered only minor injuries.
• In 300 incidents where people carried and used firearms for protection against aggressive bears in Alaska, 40% were injured or killed, including 23 fatalities and 16 severely injured persons. Another 48 people suffered lesser injuries.

In my research, hunters were generally unable to fire a shot before the bear slammed into them.   Some hunters couldn’t get the safety off, others short-stroked the bolt and jammed the cartridge, yet others, out of habit, tried to ‘scope’ the bear, losing critical seconds while failing to zero in.

With a can of bear spray on one’s hip or pack strap, it is simply a matter of pointing and shooting.   One thing bear spray and a rifle do have in common however is that success depends on practice. Learn how to use bear spray, including adjusting for weather and wind direction.

I tell my fellow hunters to pack bear spray when they hunt. Keep it ready when you are hiking, butchering the meat and packing it out—times when a gun simply isn’t convenient to have in your hands.   Your family will thank you!

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