Does Bear Spray Actually Work?

If you are venturing into the deep woods of the western U.S. and much of Canada, or even into the Smokies of the eastern U.S. there is a decent chance you’ll encounter bears.

a brown bear on the side of the road
a brown bear on the side of the road

Bear attacks on people are rare, but bears are not, and anytime you find yourself in their territory there is an opportunity for conflict, a conflict that the bear will win if you want to go hand-to-pie-plat-sized-paw.

There is no shortage of people recommending all kinds of defenses to repel or ward off bears, but surprisingly the most commonly recommended tool for bear defense, beyond even a firearm, is bear spray! Could it be possible? An easy to carry, non-lethal weapon that is proof against the great Ursids?

So does bear spray actually work?

Yes! Bear spray is an extremely effective defensive tool for saving your hide from a big ol’ grizzly or a black bear.

Bear spray boasts a high success rate and several advantages over firearms; though the latter may give its wielder a big psychological boost, you will statistically get a positive outcome more often carrying bear spray. Some of these advantages are practical, and others are legal and logistical.

Contrasted with firearms, bear spray is much easier to use, has a drastically more forgiving accuracy standard, poses little risk to the user and others nearby and is far less expensive to acquire and practice with as well as being legal pretty much everywhere with little to no regulation.

Not for nothing, it should impose no permanent harm or disability on the bear either, though it will leave him pretty grumpy!

Studies conducted on bear attack and pre-attack encounters with humans where bear spray was deployed showed a 90% efficacy rate at stopping the attack, and in cases where the bear carried through injuries to the hapless bipedal victim were considerably less severe than comparable attacks.

This is likely because the ferociously hot spray “caught up” with the bear and took the fight out of him.

What is Bear Spray?

Bear spray is simply a strong solution of oleoresin capsicum, or O.C. Pepper spray, in other words, though typically a concentration stronger than what is manufactured and sold for use against humans.

Bear spray is often sold in larger canisters compared to pepper spray for defense against humans, both to afford more juice for more shots or wider area deployment, and more propellant for better range.

Bear spray will have one of two spray-pattern types: mist or stream. Mist comes out with less force and has a shorter range, but develops into a cloud of irritant that the bear can waltz into on a charge, meaning that accuracy is less important overall but in trade meaning that the bear will get a weaker dose.

A stream comes out like water from a hose or sprayer, ensuring a hit results in a good drenching but meaning you’ll have to take care to guide the beam onto the target, which can be trickier than you’d think on a charging bear! Turns out a galloping 1,300 pound apex predator unnerves people. Who knew?

Both can work fine, but you should also consider that mist is less effective in breezy conditions and more likely to blow back on you. There is always a tradeoff.

Can you Use Bear Spray on Animals besides Bears?

Yes, you can! Bear sprays have been successfully used against all kinds of mammals with good effects, including cougars, dogs, feral pigs and even the most vicious of predators, our fellow humans.

Note: While bear spray works identically to pepper spray, as mentioned above it is typically in excess of regulations for concentration of active ingredients for defensive sprays for humans. You should not buy bear spray explicitly to use against humans, as this may get you in trouble.

Most mammals are highly receptive to the “hotness” of capsaicin, and while humans and even a few animals don’t mind a little spice, anything beyond the tiny amount that makes food interesting goes to unpleasant in no time and ferociously painful in short order.

Capsaicin creates burning pain in all soft tissues, especially mucous membranes and results in severe tearing, mucous production and coughing. To most animals, this is bewildering in the extreme, and found rarely with ever in nature.

This “all-purpose” nature makes bear spray a convenient and reliable defense against all kinds of aggressive critters, even humans, in a pinch!

Come on! Why Shouldn’t I use a Gun?!

Don’t get me wrong, you can use a gun to protect yourself from a bear attack, and plenty of folks won’t be caught dead in grizzly country without one.

But consider what it is that you are trying to do to the bear: get him to leave you alone and run back into the woods so you can beat a hasty retreat.

Now, one way to do that is to plow lead into the bears vitals until he loses enough blood or blood pressure that he can’t go on, or gives up from pain and shock before then.

Assuming of course you can deliver a precisely aimed shot from a gun into the moving, bobbing form of the bear, and do it on demand, in time to keep from getting mauled and chomped.

This requires a gun with enough power to reliably reach the bear’s vitals, and of course you’ll need to practice often with your gun to ingrain and maintain the skills needed to accomplish this task.

It can and does work, for sure. But barring your profession or proclivities keep you on the range honing your edge, it will be a serious gamble. Most people are poor shots, and they get worse under life-threatening stress.

Guns, even shotguns loaded with buckshot are weapons that require accuracy for effect on a target. Compare the fine motor skills required to effectively hit a target with a gin to bear spray; using the spray is about as easy as using a water hose!

Put your ego aside: considering the far greater ease and effectiveness with which you can employ bear spray to save your life, which one do you really want?


Bear spray works! And it is ounce for ounce one of the best bargains in defense you can buy for staying safe in deep woods where bears are likely to roam.

If you will be active or even bugging out in known bear country, take the time to research and select a high quality can of bear spray and get some practice in with it before the time comes you may need it.

does bear spray work Pinterest image

3 thoughts on “Does Bear Spray Actually Work?”

  1. Read June 2018 American Hunter/American Rifleman:”Bear Defense”.Bear spray can be equivalent of “steak sauce”.Yes I’ll carry it PLUS hot loaded” 44mag,45Colt,30-06,45/70 and “serious knife”.You can fly with checked in firearm but not bear spray.Think about it…

  2. Just reminded me of a FarSide cartoon; 2 bears were eating a man and one was saying to the other something like: “I’m not sure what they are, but they jingle and taste like pepper.”

  3. I do a lot of fishing where bears are present and usually unheard. I purchase a new set (4 or 5 canisters) each year and practice with the previous year’s supply. Bears don’t usually stalk you but big cats do and bear spray does make them less enthusiastic.

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