Thomas Smith, a bear biologist from Brigham Young University, compared the effectiveness of bear spray to that of a gun in a bear attack. His conclusions are supported by a parallel study with similar outcomes conducted by Stephen Herrerro in Canada.
Smith analyzed 20 years of data involving 175 encounters in Alaska. His surprising conclusion was that an 8 ounce can of bear spray proved more effective than the gun in either a direct attack, or to discourage a bear away from a camp or camp food. Data indicated that bear spray stopped aggressive behaviour over 90% of the time as compared to around 65% with the gun.
“Working in the bear safety arena, I even found a lot of resistance to bear spray among professionals,” Smith said. “There was no good, clean data set that demonstrated definitively that it worked, so that’s why we did this research.”
Smith found that it takes, on average, 4 hits to stop a bear. Factor in shooting accuracy and terror during an attack, and one can appreciate how a gun may not be that highly effective.
Along with the main tenet of his study, he also found that:
– wind did not usually affect accuracy, nor did it disable the person using it.
– wind only interfered with accuracy in about 7% of the cases studied. Even in that 7% the spray still reached the bear.
– there were no reports of the spray not working.
– the average distance at which it was used was around 3.5 meters (11.5 ft).
– it worked effectively against grizzlies, black bears, and polar bears (although there were only 2 reported incidents with polar bears).
– it’s success may be attributed to the fact that people are more inclined to stand their ground against a bear if they have spray, as running only encourages an aggressive bear.
It is important to note that anyone who plans to carry bear spray when entering bear country knows how to use it. Be sure to receive instruction from the retailer you purchase your spray from. Spraying your tent or mother-in-law will not discourage attacks. If anything its scent has attracted curious bears. Hmmm………..no, she’s not that bad.