It’s that time of the year again, the bears are out and we need a refresher on bear spray. It isn’t magic – and definitely not the solution to all bear problems – but with a little know-how it will keep you safe in most bear encounter situations. Bear spray is a tool to help you out of a situation that, in most cases, you shouldn’t have gotten into in the first place.
Your brain is the tool which should be keeping you out of conflict with a bear.
First of all most “bear problems,” as we like to refer to them, are actually people problems. The human has made a mistake that has allowed the bear to get too close, or has actually done something to attract or challenge the bear.
The bears belong here and we are guests, so if we humans treat bears and other wildlife with respect, the problems would be minimized.
Bear spray is available in most outdoor equipment stores. It comes in two sizes, one slightly larger than the other, but the smaller one is more convenient to carry and costs less.
The cost for the standard size is between $40 and $60 and ideally should be purchased with a belt holster so it can be carried conveniently, within quick reach. The spray itself contains a propellant and capsaicin, which is made from very hot peppers. The duration of the spray is about eight seconds for the standard can and 12 seconds for the larger can.
If you check your watch you will note the neither eight nor 12 seconds is a very long time, so you can be out of spray pretty quickly. Test sprays are not advised because of the minimal amount total spray available to start with.
The spray will travel only about 5 to 6 metres before it falls to the ground, so obviously the bear has to be within that distance in order for the spray to have any effect.
Wind will affect the direction of the spray, including bringing it back on you if the wind is blowing towards you. It is very important that you think about the wind and the distance to the bear or the spray will be wasted.
The most important consideration is that the capsaicin in the spray only affects mucous membranes, i.e. eyes, mouth and nose, so it has to hit the face. It will have no effect at all if it hits the bear anywhere else on its body. A minimal mist of spray may dissuade a curious or unsure bear, but more spray may be needed to affect a bold or enraged bear.
Avoiding contact with bears is the goal. Take the time to learn more about bear avoidance and bear behaviour so that you will be safer and better prepared for time on the land.
The whole Yukon is bear country and I urge people to always carry a bear spray while walking the kids, the dog or just by yourself. If you are a little self-conscious about being seen carrying spray around trails near town, carry it under your jacket on a loop of cord around your neck.