Bear Spray: Carry It and Know How to Use It


The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee recommends the use of bear spray to hunters of all species who plan to hunt in bear country.

If you are hunting this fall, and prowling through bear country, you need to:

  • Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
  • Hunt with a partner, leave detailed plans with someone and check-in periodically.
  • Pay attention to fresh bear sign. Look for bear tracks, scat, and concentrations of natural foods.
  • Use caution when hunting areas that have evidence of bear activity or areas with scavenging birds such as magpies, ravens, or crows.

Most grizzly bears will leave an area if they sense human presence. Hunters who observe a grizzly bear or suspect that any bear is nearby, should leave the area. If you do encounter a bear, stay calm, don’t run, and assess the situation by trying to determine if the bear is actually aware of you. Is it, for instance, threatening or fleeing? Always keep the bear in sight as you back away, and leave the area.

Bigfork, Montana resident and wildlife expert, Jack Hanna gives his account of a 2010 incident and how bear spray protected he and his wife during a hike in Glacier National Park.

Here are some guidelines for using bear spray:

When to use bear spray

  • Bear spray should be used as a deterrent only in an aggressive or attacking confrontation with a bear.

How to use bear spray

  • Each person should carry a can of bear spray.
  • If a bear is moving toward you from a distance of 30-60’ direct the spray downward toward the front of the bear with a slight side to side motion so that the bear spray billows up and creates a wide cloud that acts as a barrier between you and the bear.
  • If the bear is within 30 feet spray continuously at the front of the bear until it breaks off its charge.
  • Spray additional bursts if the bear continues toward you.  Sometimes just the noise of the spray and the appearance of the spray cloud is enough to deter a bear from continuing its charge.
  • Spray additional bursts if the bear makes additional charges.
  • A full canister of bear spray is essential for bear encounters.
  • The expiration date on the spray should be checked annually.

Selecting a bear spray

  • Purchase products that are clearly labeled “for deterring attacks by bears,” and that are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • No deterrent is 100 percent effective, but compared to all others, including firearms, bear spray has demonstrated success in a variety of situations in fending off threatening and attacking bears and preventing injury to the person and animal involved.

For more on living with bears and being bear aware, see the FWP home page at and click on ‘For Fish & Wildlife Information’ then Be Bear Aware. For more on bear resistant products, go to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee website.