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How Effective Is Bear Spray?

Bear spray is a deterrent used during wildlife viewing in the event a hiker encounters a charging bear. Over the years, there has been debate over whether it is the best approach to dealing with a bear or if gunfire is more effective. In this post, we look at the efficacy of bear spray in protecting you from an attack on your next visit to bear country.

How Does Bear Spray Affect Bears?

Bear spray is by far the most effective and safe way to deter a charging bear. This is because it can halt an attack without harming the bear. For context, you have to understand how bear spray affects bears.

A charging bear will usually inhale deeply as it runs to cater to its use of energy. When you deploy bear spray, it creates a spray cloud, which the bear is forced to inhale. Bear spray contains Capsaicin and Capsaicinoids – chemicals that cause inflammation and irritate the bear.

The chemicals present in bear spray irritate the bear’s lungs, nose, throat, eyes, mouth, and ears within seconds. As a result, the bear’s throat begins to close, and it has to choke and cough. The eyes also become blurry and watery, causing the bear to slow its advance.

The best part about using bear spray is that the effects are temporary and do not leave any permanent damage on the bear. It gives you just enough time to move to safety.

Bear Spray Vs. Pepper Spray

It is very easy to want to swap bear spray with pepper spray, especially since the latter is readily available. However, the two are not interchangeable, and pepper spray should never be used as a bear deterrent. Bear spray is non-lethal, and its ingredients are registered with and regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). A manufacturer cannot alter the formula without approval.

On the other hand, pepper spray manufacturers are not expected to register ingredients with any agency and can alter formulations as they wish. Consequently, some pepper sprays will be either too strong or weak and could harm the bears or lead to a more agitated attack.

Bear Spray Vs. Firearms

Some people prefer firearms to bear spray when dealing with charging grizzly bears. However, if research has taught us anything, it is that using a gun on bears actually puts you at more risk of an attack and is less effective than bear spray.

Shooting a target, any target, requires procession aiming, which takes time and skill. A charging bear is a moving target and significantly reduces your chances of landing a shot. Even if you do, wounded bears sometimes continue to charge and could still harm you and other innocent bystanders.

When Should You Use Bear Spray?

You should only ever use bear spray when being charged by a bear. Avoid deploying it when non-threatening animals approach you. Even when dealing with a bear, it is best first to allow the bear a chance to leave before deploying, especially if it is not attacking.


A lot of research has gone into determining the effectiveness of bear spray as a bear deterrent. As you can see, it is the safest bet to ensure your safety in the wild, and you should always carry a can. If you love grizzly bears and would like to learn more about bear safety, come visit Yellowstone Bear World.  


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