A spray can is no substitute for smarts

  • Can of pepper spray


Note: in the print edition of this issue, this article appears as a sidebar to another news article, "Bear spray manufacturers get a hit of reality."

Even if armed with an effective bear spray, backcountry users should not let down their guard, says Gary Moses, bear specialist at Glacier National Park. Grizzly attacks are infrequent, he says, but most occur when surprised mother bears defend their young.

"Don't surprise the bears," he says. "Hike in groups and make noise. Make more noise when you're in dense vegetation, near noisy creeks or when the wind is high. Don't hike early in the morning or late in the day. And never approach bears."

Bears will often bluff charge, running up to within 10 feet of a person, then backing off, he adds. "Don't cower, but don't be aggressive."

If confronted by a grizzly, spray when the bear is about 50 feet away. The sound and sight of the spray coming out of the can may be enough to frighten it. Also, the bear will begin picking up the pepper from the cloud as it runs through it. If it doesn't stop, give it a good dose right in the face. As the bear goes down, rubbing its eyes and face with its paws, back away and leave the area.

If you don't have pepper spray, or if the bear keeps coming, Moses advises dropping to the ground when the bear is about to make contact and lying flat on your stomach, with your hands on your head.

With smaller black bears, which are usually looking for food, the best thing to do is stand your ground and try to look big, he says.

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