• Steam rises off of the colorful Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces. Photo courtesy Jacob W. Frank


    National Park ID,MT,WY

Using Bear Spray To Deter An Aggressive Bear



Bear spray is a non-lethal bear deterrent designed to stop aggressive behavior in bears. Capsicum, the active ingredient in bear spray is a strong irritant to the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and lungs of bears. Bear spray has been proven to be a good defense against charging bears and has been effective in most reported cases where it has been used. Remember, no bear deterrent is 100% effective. Use proper bear encounter avoidance techniques as your first line of defense! We have a great videos on using pepper spray on our Wildlife Safety Videos page.

Bear Spray Tips:

  • Bear Spray has been Proven Effective
    In a study in Alaska, bear pepper spray was effective in stopping aggressive behavior in grizzly bears in 92% of the incidents where it was used.
  • Easy To Use
    You don't have to be a good shot with bear spray. All you need to do is put up a cloud of bear spray between you and the charging bear. Precise aiming is not necessary.
  • Practice First
    Use an inert bear spray to practice quick drawing bear spray from its holster, removing the safety tab with your thumb, and firing. Practice firing inert bear spray with the wind at your back, into a head wind, and with a cross-wind so that you understand how bear spray is affected by the wind.
  • Bear Spray is Not a Substitute for Common Sense
    Be vigilant and use bear encounter prevention methods, body language, and bear safety protocols as your first line of defense.
  • Keep it Readily Accessible
    Bear spray must be immediately accessible in a quick draw holster, not stored in your pack. If your bear spray is not quickly accessible you will not have time to use it. Think of surprising a bear at a distance of 50 feet. The bear is charging at you at approximately 44 feet per second. You would not have time to pull your bear spray out of your pack. Be sure to remove the zip-tie securing the safety clip before heading out on the trail.
  • When to Spray
    Start to spray the charging bear when it is about 30-60 feet away.
  • How to Spray
    Hold the can firmly in one or both hands to prevent it from tilting upward upon discharge. Holding the bear spray with two hands gives better control. Point the bear spray nozzle toward the charging bear, aim slightly downward and using a slight side to side motion spray a 2-3 second blast so that the bear must pass through the cloud of bear spray before it gets to you. If the bear continues to charge, keep spraying until the bear changes direction. It is better to aim slightly low so the spray billows up off of the ground, than to aim too high possibly allowing the bear to run underneath the spray. If you have a strong cross-wind you will have to aim slightly up-wind so the spray drifts back in front of you. If you have a strong tail-wind it will carry the bear spray further giving you an added margin of safety. If you have a strong head-wind the spray will blow into your own face and incapacitate you. With a strong head-wind you may consider not using your bear spray until the bear makes contact.
  • Use Body Language
    Remember, when using bear spray you have made the decision to confront an agitated or aggressive bear in an effort to stop its charge or attack. Bears respond to body language and sounds. When dispersing your bear spray, take a firm stance, thrust your bear spray out in front of you, and yell loudly at the bear. By doing this you are letting the bear know that you are taking a stand.
  • Leave the Area Promptly After Use
    After you spray a bear with bear spray you should promptly leave the area as the effects of the bear spray will eventually wear off.
  • Know its Limitations
    Bear spray is adversely affected by freezing temperatures, strong winds, heavy rain or snow, and age. These factors may reduce the distance and duration that bear spray will spray. Check the expiration date on your bear spray. Properly dispose of expired bear spray.

Learn more about selecting the proper bear spray, what bear spray doesn't do, and proper storage of bear spray.

Dispose of expired and unused bear spray properly. Yellowstone has a recycling program with designated bins that can be found at campgrounds throughout the park.

Did You Know?