Pepper spray: Use the right kind, practice

Posted: Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bear pepper spray approved by the Environmental Protection Agency is not the same as Mace or personal pepper spray products. Personal protection sprays often release a second-long burst that carries only a couple of feet.

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Bear pepper spray is hotter than the mugger-deterrent variety; it's designed to shoot farther, for a minimum of six seconds.

Bear spray not only stings the eyes. Just as importantly, it gets inhaled, stinging the bear's mouth and sensitive nose. That really helps incapacitate the animal.

Leftover residue from bear pepper spray, however, can be as alluring to bears as spice is to people. Don't spray it like mosquito repellent on your tent. It won't keep bears away.

In the Yellowstone region and in Alaska, bear pepper spray has a better success rate than firearms, according to research by Tom Smith of Brigham Young University and the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service.

With firearms, the problem usually isn't the rifle or shotgun or caliber, it's operator error. People tend to freeze or panic and fire a wild shot.

But most people don't bother to practice with their pepper spray either. So, all things being equal, the bear pepper spray has an impressive record.

Practice reaching for your spray and removing the safety clip. Practice dozens of times. If you can't bring your bear pepper spray into play with instinctive quickness, you might fumble it during a sudden encounter.

Your worst nightmare is startling a brown bear. The bear charges.

Stand your ground. Do not run. When the bear is close enough to spray, spray. If you don't have time to reach your bear pepper spray, or if it fails to stop the bear, wait for the bear to make contact, then play dead.

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