The thought of running into a bear while hiking, camping or paddling is often enough to keep some people inside. But there are certain things you can do to avoid a bear attack, stay safe when you see a bear and get to safety after an encounter. One of the most important elements is knowing how to use the bear spray you carry with you.
Before you freak out too much, let’s be realistic about the likelihood of a fatal bear attack. While grizzlies are significantly more dangerous, black bears will often leave you alone if you leave them alone.
Still, these wild animals aren’t teddy bears. Tourists in places like Banff and Jasper are often chided for taking selfies with wildlife. It’s always safest to view wildlife from a vehicle, and you should never ignore the incredible strength and territorial, defensive nature of a bear.
How to Avoid Encounters
To avoid a bear encounter, you should sing and talk loudly to announce your presence. You can also use a bear bell. Always keep your food in bear-safe containers and never bring scented items into a tent that you intend to sleep in in the outdoors (this includes deodorant, toothpaste, scented soap and body lotion).
In the backcountry, cook and eat your food approximately 90 metres away from your tent. Store away everything you used to cook and change your cooking clothes before tucking into your sleeping bag. Dispose of all garbage securely. If there isn’t a toilet available, use the natural ‘facilities’ far away from your tent. Always follow Leave No Trace principles and keep odours to a minimum.
Keep your dog on a leash, never leave children unattended and don’t forget, we share this environment with wildlife—it’s their permanent home. We’re only visitors.
What to Do if You See a Bear
1. Stop and assess the situation. Does the bear see you?
2. If not, back away slowly and return to safety. Never turn your back to the bear and run. Bears are great climbers and swimmers, and they can run downhill.
3. If the bear does see you, talk to it calmly, but avoid making direct eye contact.
4. Take out your bear spray and remove the safety.
Keep your bear spray within reach whenever you are hiking or camping in an area where wildlife may be present. If it’s crammed in the bottom of your backpack, it’s no use to you in an emergency. Ideally, keep your bear spray in a hip or chest holster. Never store bear spray in a hot vehicle or close to the fire.
Before you leave home, cut off the zip-tie that keeps it closed and check the expiry date.
How to Use Bear Spray
Bear spray uses capsaicins, found in chili peppers, to deter charging and aggressive bears. It targets the bear’s eyes, nose and mouth, causing discomfort and distracting the bear, giving you time to get away.
Bears will often charge a perceived threat, sometimes pulling up short before actually attacking. It’s a bluff. When in doubt, deploy your bear spray. Here’s how:
1. Hold the canister with your dominant hand. Thread your forefinger through the loop and place your thumb on the top to deploy. Hold the body of the can with your other hand and extend, but don’t lock, your arms.
2. Remove the glow-in-the dark safety. You should be able to do this with a flick of your thumb.
3. Keep backing away slowly, with your bear spray at the ready.
4. Notice the wind. Is it blowing towards you or away from you? Bear spray will adversely affect you as well, so try not to get sprayed.
5. Aim the canister down at a 45-degree angle. This way, the spray won’t go above the bear’s head. You want to hit the bear right in the face.
6. When the bear is within 10 metres, start deploying the spray. You don’t want to deploy too soon, or the bear spray won’t reach the bear.
7. The spray will deploy in a fog. Building a wall, discharge the full contents of the can.
8. Once you’re finished spraying, step out of the way, as the bear might continue charging.
9. Slowly back away from the bear and return to safety.
10. Do not try to continue your hike past the bear. If the bear is blocking your way back to safety, give it an extremely wide berth when navigating around it.
11. Report bear encounters to your local conservation officer. If anyone is hurt, immediately call 911.
Practice Test with FRONTIERSMAN Inert Training Unit
Alison Karlene Hodgins
Luckily, I’ve never had to use bear spray to deter aggressive wildlife. In fact, I’ve only seen wild bears from the safety of a vehicle.
However, this also means I’ve never had the chance to practice spraying bear spray. Even once you know what you’re supposed to do, getting a feel for how bear spray actually works is useful.
I took the opportunity to use a training canister from SABRE in a secluded section of the forest. While the canister only contains water, it has the same pressure as regular bear spray.
Holding the can in front of me with both hands, I used my right thumb to knock off the safety. Aiming down, towards an imaginary bear, I pushed down on the trigger with my thumb.
The speed of the spray surprised me a little when it came out, but the button was easy to deploy and didn’t take much force. A burst of mist spewed out of the canister. I tried it a couple more times, moving my hand slightly as if I were aiming at a moving target. After three sprays, the can was empty.
You can purchase these testing cans from SABRE. It was a great experience to test it out and made me feel a lot more confident in case I ever need to use bear spray.
I still hope I never do encounter a bear in the wild—and I hope you never do, either.
Whether you’re a parent looking to keep your kids protected, looking to stay safe in the great outdoors, a college student wanting to stay safe on campus, just moved to a new city and are looking for some security, or anything in between; we’re here to help Make It Safe™.
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