When bear encounters do occur, one response has been effective in consistently reducing the number of bear attacks with severe outcomes, the use of bear pepper spray.
Many can testify to the effectiveness of bear pepper spray as a bear deterrent, from bear specialists to outfitters, guides, and hunters. But what exactly is bear pepper spray and what makes for a good choice. Be certain you are purchasing bear pepper spray, not personal defense or law enforcement spray.
Bear pepper spray is clearly identified on the label. All bear pepper spray is required by the Environmental Protection Agency to show at least one of the following: “bear deterrent” or “to deter bears from attacking humans”. The label will clearly identify the proper ingredients such as “Capsaisan and related Capsaisinoids”, “derived from Oleoresin of Capsicum”.
The active ingredient content should fall between 1 and 2 percent. All bear pepper spray must be registered with the environmental protection agency and the label will clearly show the following: EPA Registration Number, EPA Establishment Number, and state where manufactured. Canister minimum size requirements are 225 grams or 7.9 ounces of net weight.
Read the label thoroughly for the following: detailed precautions, directions for use, and storage and disposal instructions listed on the canister. When purchasing bear pepper spray take into consideration the following: you may have more than one encounter with a bear, you may have more than one bear charging you simultaneously, you will need sufficient spray for the hike out.
Small personal-size canisters may be effective against humans, but are not effective against bears and they often emit a stream of liquid difficult to aim. If you come across a store selling an unregistered product as bear pepper spray, please help by notifying the Environmental Protection Agency. A good bear pepper spray will have a safety clip on the trigger. This prevents accidental discharge. Never carry bear pepper spray in your pack. The time it takes to remove it can make the difference between being charged by a bear and being mauled by one. Two basic holsters allow for quick and easy access to the spray; the hip holster, and the chest strap holster.
It is recommended that each person should have their own canister both for their own protection and to back up others. Under no circumstances should you use the spray as an insecticide. Do not spray a tent or equipment. Never spray a person or clothing. The spray will not repel a bear from later curiosity or aggression. Bear pepper spray is only effective when the aerosol mist is directly inhaled or sprayed into the bears face.
In terms of human health and safety, there are a few things to remember. Asthmatics should avoid inhaling the spray. Contact lenses may be permanently damaged by exposure. If skin or eyes come in contact with the spray, flush with plenty of water.
If you inhale the spray, move to an area of fresh air. The effects of the spray will wear off after about an hour.
Bear pepper spray should be transported in the trunk or back of the vehicle in a sealed bag or canister. Avoid handling in the car. Avoid storing in direct sunlight or in temperatures above 120 degrees F. Avoid risk of puncturing the canister. Certain weather and habitat conditions may effect the use of bear pepper spray. With wind there are two concerns: speed and direction. A strong side wind will blow the mist of spray to the side. A strong head wind will blow the spray back at you. Even a mild head wind may eventually expose you to spray if you do not leave the area. Extreme heat or cold may reduce effectiveness.
Be extra alert in limited sight areas. Bear pepper spray is non-lethal to bears and causes them to experience the following: eye irritation, choking, coughing, nausea, reduced breathing, and inflammation of the skin…all distracting a bear from its charge. If you are new to bear pepper spray, practice spraying a couple of times. Also it is recommended to test fire each new canister to make sure it works properly. Always test outside, with any wind at your back. First, flip off the safety clip. Make sure the nozzle is aimed away from you. Press the trigger with a short test burst.
If you surprise a bear at close range, especially a grizzly bear, and especially a bear with cubs, know that they will usually leave, but be prepared to spray. There are many times when using bear pepper spray is not appropriate.
If a bear is in the distance, do not approach or attempt to spray them. If a bear is nearby but not being aggressive or coming toward you, be prepared to spray, but try to leave the area first.If you spot or suspect a bear in the area, don’t spray, but be prepared by: removing the can from the holster and removing the safety clip.
When spraying a charging bear, especially shooting from the holster, you may not have time to aim. Try to spray early enough so the bear, if charging, runs into the widest bear pepper spray cloud. If a bear begins to charge, spray when the bear is within 30 to 40 feet. Remember a bear can run up to 35 miles per hour. When spraying the bear, aim for the face but slightly downward for the spray will billow upwards a bit. Give a second shot if the first shot doesn’t immediately stop the bear’s charge. If the bear continues to charge, empty the can. Leave the area immediately after shooting the spray.
Bear pepper spray is recommended by professionals for prevention and defense against bear attacks. The cone of the spray allows for less precise aim. A bullet that only wounds a bear, produces a dangerous bear. Just as important, bear pepper spray is non-lethal. It may save you and the bear. When you are in bear country the best defense is to follow basic safety techniques.
Bear pepper spray is no substitute for planning. It won’t prevent encounters. Bear pepper spray is meant as a last course of action. It is no replacement for common sense. Every bear is different and each encounter is also unique. Visit your local wildlife agency to learn more about bears before entering bear country.
You walk around a bend on one of Yellowstone’s trails and all at once there’s a bear. Would you know what to do?
Bear safety starts before you get on the trail. Start at the nearest backcountry office or visitor center. Ask about bear closures and recent sightings. Take the time to learn a little bear ecology. Learning what foods are available at certain times of the year can help you avoid confrontations.
Hike with others, and talk or clap your hands while walking. Consider carrying Bear Pepper Spray. It should contain between 1% and 2% capsaicin. Each hiker should carry their own canister.
So you have done your homework and you are prepared, and still, there is this bear. If the bear has not seen you, try backing up slowly and quietly. If that works, leave the area and reroute your trip.
If the bear has seen you, the proper response depends on what the bear does next. Slowly walk backwards while talking to the bear in a non-aggressive voice. Most likely the bear will run away, but not always. Never run from a bear.
If the bear charges you, stop retreating and hold your ground. Most charges are bluff charges. Remove the safety from your bear spray and if the bear gets within 40 feet of you spray it in the face.
Never play dead until a bear has made contact with you. If that happens, lay on your stomach with your hands clasped over your neck. Keep your backpacks on. Your legs should be slightly spread, so that it’s harder to flip you over. Remain as quiet and still as you can, until the bear leaves. Then find help.
Remember that climbing trees does not always work in Yellowstone. The park has both black bears and grizzly bears. Black bears are great tree climbers and grizzlies have been known to follow people quite far up a tree.
In reality, your chances of being injured by a bear in Yellowstone are 1 in 1.9 million. Yellowstone is a wilderness and wildernesses have rules that we can learn to follow. “Hey bear, Hey bear.”(Walking away while clapping).
Yellowstone is prime habitat for both grizzly bears and black bears. With a little luck, you might spot one on a visit to the park. But it’s not as easy as you might think to tell them apart. Here are some clues to help distinguish between grizzly bears and black bears.
Due to their name, you might think that black bears are black, and grizzly bears are …well… some other color. But all of Yellowstone’s bears – both black bears and grizzlies – can be black, brown, or even blonde. Because of their reputations, you might also think that all black bears are much smaller than grizzlies. Grizzlies are generally bigger, but a big black bear can easily outweigh a female grizzly or a young grizzly. Without color or size as a guide, you have to look at other features.
The best way to tell grizzlies and black bears apart at a distance is by their body shape. Grizzlies have a distinct hump on their shoulders that is higher than their rump. This hump is a mass of muscle that makes their front legs powerful digging tools. Black bears have only a slight shoulder hump if any at all, and their rump is higher than their shoulders.
Another way you can tell the two bears apart is by the shape of their face. Grizzly bears have a clear depression between their eyes and snout, a dished-in profile. Black bears have a straight profile between their eyes and snout. Grizzly bears also have relatively smaller, more rounded ears, whereas black bears have more prominent, oval shaped ears.
You can also tell grizzly and black bears apart from the tracks they leave. The toes of a grizzly bear are in fairly straight line, not too dissimilar from those of a human’s. And, because grizzlies have long, straight claws, the claw marks show up quite a distance from the bear’s toes. The toes of a black bear, in contrast, are arranged in an arc. Their shorter claws leave marks closer to the toes.
So other clues are much more reliable than color or size to differentiate black bears and grizzlies. But why, then, are they named the way they are? Black bears got their common name because, in many other parts of the country besides Yellowstone, most of them are black. Grizzlies are so named because the tips of their fur are often silver, lending them a “grizzled” appearance. In Yellowstone, many grizzlies do indeed have grizzled fur. But if you’re close enough to see those silver tips, you’re probably far too close to the bear.
For your own safety and for that of the bear, park regulations require that you stay at least 100 yards from bears, that’s the length of a football field. You can find more information about staying safe in bear country on the park’s website.
By watching bears from distance, you can help ensure all bears, black or grizzly, will stay wild and survive to thrill the next park visitor lucky enough to spot a bear.
Duration: 4 minutes, 22 seconds Most people visit Yellowstone from their cars. When they stop, it is at one of the park highlights which is crowded with visitors. The wise visitor sets aside some time for a longer dayhike.
Here in Yellowstone, we like to believe that we have some of the best hiking in the country. The park has 1000 miles of trails, 15 miles of boardwalks and 92 trailheads. There is something for every level of hiker or explorer. Some folks like the short easy strolls found near one of the park’s locations, like here at Canyon; while other people like to test their abilities on the longer or more strenuous trails.
If you like the more populated trails, try the boardwalks. They are found in the many thermal areas that are located throughout the park. These raised sidewalks weave through some of the most amazing geologic scenery found anywhere in the world.
You can find maps of these areas here on our website or you can pick them up at a visitor center once you arrive in the park. You can also find them in boxes located near the entrance to many thermal areas. We ask for a 50 cent donation for each map.
If you feel a little more adventurous or like to get off the beaten path, there some great day hikes here. You should start by talking to a ranger at a visitor center. Ask some specific questions about the hikes you would like to take. The rangers will know or can found out about bear closures, stream crossings and other up to date information pertaining to a specific trail.
Visitor centers also offer free day hike pamphlets that will give you an idea of some of the more popular hikes. These free guides are separated into seven different regions. Pamphlets also have a map and some information about that specific area or trail.
The Yellowstone Association also sells a “Dayhike Sampler,” at the bookstores that are located in park visitor centers. They cost 50 cents and have 21 hikes listed. This is also a good place to get more detailed maps or hiking books about Yellowstone.
Most of the more remote hiking in the park begins at one of the trailheads. Most people day hike in and out from the same trailhead. Few of Yellowstone’s longer trails are loops. When parking at a trailhead, store any valuables you leave in the car out of sight.
Always be prepared for changing weather when hiking in Yellowstone. We often get afternoon thunderstorms and it can snow any month of the year. Carry raingear, food and water with you. A good hat and gloves are always nice to have in your pack. Sunscreen, bug spray and a first-aid kit can make a long day more enjoyable.
Make sure your boots are broken in before your trip and remain on the trial as you hike, even if the trial is wet; this trail is wider than it should be. The less impact we have as visitors here the better. If you encounter horseback riders on the trail, step to the downhill side of the trail and let them pass.
Most hikers here like to carry Bear Pepper Spray with them. It is used as a last resort if you have a bear encounter, but it could save your life and the bear’s life. It is not a good idea to hike in Yellowstone if you have not talked to a ranger about bear safety.
Try to hike with someone and make some noise as you move down a trail. Try clapping your hands or singing, it really works. Letting wild animals, including bears, know you are coming ensures you don’t surprise them. A sudden encounter is the most dangerous way to meet an animal.
Be sure you stay within your limitations. Remember, you need to get back to the trailhead by dark. Let someone know what trail you are hiking and when you expect to be back. You can do this by talking to someone at your hotel or calling a family member back home. Don’t forget to check-in after your hike.
If you would like to spend the night in Yellowstone’s backcountry, you will need a permit. They are available at backcountry offices throughout the park. Watch our video on backpacking for more information.
The wild world of Yellowstone awaits. Whether you just want to stroll through a geyser basin or climb a mountain peak, this place can inspire and challenge you. Developing a relationship with Yellowstone National Park just may be one of the most important things you will ever do.
Did You Know?
You cannot fish from Fishing Bridge. Until 1973 this was a very popular fishing location since the bridge crossed the Yellowstone River above a cutthroat trout spawning area. It is now a popular place to observe fish.