Living with Wildlife in Manitoba
People in bear country should be prepared to encounter a bear at any time. While following Bear Smart practices can reduce the likelihood of an encounter, carrying and knowing how to properly use bear deterrents can help prevent injury if you do encounter a bear.
How to Properly Use Bear Spray (Youtube Video)
Click here for: Instructions on using Bear Deterrent Spray
Bear Deterrent Types
The two most effective deterrents are bear deterrent sprays and noisemakers. Carry both when in bear country.
When I see a bear, should I use a noisemaker or bear deterrent spray?
- Noisemakers are best used to deter a bear that is at a distance – a bear that sees you and continues to approach or one that's heading to your camp or settlement.
- Before using noisemakers, be sure to assess the situation. Make sure the surroundings are clear of people and the bear has an obvious way out or to leave the area. A bear that's been startled by a noisemaker may not be able to avoid groups of people as it flees the area.
- Remember, the noisemaker may not immediately deter the bear, especially if the bear has had previously experience with noise deterrents. Also, noisemakers may not prevent the bear from returning to the area.
- Bear deterrent spray is best used when you need to deter a bear at close range (see below).
Bear deterrent spray
Under the Criminal Code, bear deterrent sprays that use the natural ingredient Capsaicsin (a derivative of cayenne pepper) are prohibited weapons unless used for the purposes for which they are manufactured. For example, hunters, fishers and hikers may carry bear deterrent spray if they can reasonably show that its purpose is to protect them against an animal attack. Bear deterrent spray canisters will clearly state that it is meant to be a bear deterrent.
Bear deterrent spray should never be a substitute for practising bear awareness and safety.
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Does bear deterrent spray work?
- In a study of Alaska bear encounters, it was found that 98 per cent of those who used bear deterrent spray were uninjured by the bear. The remaining 2 per cent received only minor injuries that required no hospitalization.
- Bear deterrent spray can be somewhat effective in deterring black bears in remote areas, but is less effective against bears strongly conditioned to human foods and garbage.
- Bear deterrent spray is non-lethal and can work in three ways:
- The active ingredient (oleoresin capsicum) irritates the eyes, nose and lungs, causing severe but temporary blindness and breathing restriction. Some capsicum leaves a reddish dye on the fur, which makes spotting a returning bear easy.
- The unusual sound and sight of deployed bear deterrent spray can sometimes be enough to startle a bear off its course.
- Having bear deterrent spray provides people with a tool for responding appropriately in a bear encounter. Those who use bear deterrent spray do not resort to other, potentially dangerous responses, such as running away.
- Bear deterrent spray is an essential part of your gear, but having it does not mean that you can forego following other Bear Smart practices. Even when carrying bear deterrents, it's essential to stay alert and diligent in preventing bear encounters.
Buying bear deterrent spray
- Be sure the canister is labelled "for deterring bear attacks."
- Choose a bear deterrent spray that dispenses the content in a "cloud" rather than a narrow stream.
- The canister should weigh at least 290 grams (10 ounces) and have a capsicum content between 1 and 2 per cent.
- Check the canister's expiry date and replace it when necessary. It should have a shelf life of four years from the time of purchase.
- Be sure to purchase a belt or chest holster to carry your bear deterrent spray.
- Caution: Bear Deterrent Spray manufactured in Canada does not have to be certified or tested like Bear Deterrent Spray manufactured in the United States, which clearly states on the label that it is registered.
Practicing to use bear deterrent spray
- It's important to understand the range and force of your bear deterrent spray, as well as how to deploy it quickly.
- Practice reaching for your spray until you can retrieve it quickly.
- You can practice using bear deterrent spray with an expired canister. Keep in mind, however, that outdated spray canisters may not have the same pressure as newer ones. You can also practice with an inert canister, which has the same spraying power but not the capsicum ingredient.
- A 225 gram canister contains enough bear deterrent spray for about 6 seconds of use and the large 325 gram canister about 8 seconds. If practicing with a canister that you'll be carrying later, remember to conserve as much as you can. If you suspect that you have used more than 1/3 of your bear deterrent spray, buy a new canister to carry in bear country.
- If you can, practice using bear deterrent spray in a location outside of bear country. Residual bear deterrent spray has been known to attract bears, so do not practice using bear deterrent spray when you're on the trail or at camp.
- If you discharge bear deterrent spray from your canister, be sure to clean off the nozzle so bear deterrent spray doesn't get on your clothes, gear, body or in your eyes.
Storing bear deterrent spray
- The safety clip should always be in place when the spray is not in use. It is best to secure the safety clip using a zip tie to ensure the clip does not dislodge while in storage and deploy the spray, but remove the tie when you are in bear country.
- Keep the canister away from items that could crush or puncture it.
- Never leave the canister in direct sunlight or anywhere temperatures can become very hot or very cold. Do not store the bear deterrent spray in your vehicle.
- Do not use bear deterrent spray that you suspect has been frozen.
- Special regulations apply to transporting bear deterrent spray in aircraft. Always talk to the airline/pilot before taking bear deterrent spray on your flight.
Carrying bear deterrent spray
- Keep the canister accessible. Carry it in a hip or chest holster, and not in your backpack or with your other gear.
- When biking or quadding, the best option is to keep the bear deterrent spray in a chest holster or jersey pocket.
- You can also modify the bear deterrent spray canister to fit inside the water bottle holder on your bike, or you can install a special bear deterrent spray mount. Remember, if you keep your bear deterrent spray on your bike or quad, you may not be able to reach it if you are separated from your bike or quad in a bear encounter.
- While sleeping, keep the spray next to your flashlight.
- It is also recommended that each person in the party should carry a can and know how to use it.
Using bear deterrent spray
- Stand your ground. Do not run and do not play dead.
- Evaluate the wind direction. If possible, rotate so the wind is at your back.
- Speak in an authoritative voice and make yourself appear larger.
- Be prepared to use the bear deterrent spray by removing the safety clip.
- Aim low in front of the bear so the animal has to come through or into the spray.
- If a bear approaches:
- At 9 to 15 metres (30 to 50 feet) fire a warning blast for ½ to 1 second, aiming the bear deterrent spray slightly downward.
- At 6 to 9 metres (20 to 30 feet) fire 1 to 2-second blasts in continuous succession, aiming slightly downward in front of the bear's head until the bear leaves.
- At 0 to 6 metres (0 to 20 feet) fire 1 to 2-second blasts in continuous succession, aiming at the head, or into the nose and mouth of the bear until the bear leaves.
- Hold your breath.
- Be sure to move out of the bear's way.
- When spraying, try to keep some bear deterrent spray in reserve. Always re-evaluate your situation after using your spray.
- When the attack is interrupted, retreat. Do not run. Do not turn your back on the bear.
- As the bear leaves, go in a different direction.
First aid treatment for bear deterrent spray
- Anyone who's been accidentally sprayed should be moved from the contaminated area to fresh air as quickly as possible.
- Flush exposed skin with cold water and soap. Mild, non-oil-based soaps such as baby soaps are best.
- Do not rub exposed areas. Pat dry with a towel.
- To flush spray out of your eyes, place your head under water and open your eyes every few seconds. Do not rub your eyes. Remove contacts lenses.
- Do not apply lotions or creams to the exposed areas.
- If the effects of the spray do not dissipate in 30 to 45 minutes, seek medical attention.
The most effective noisemakers in bear country are the people working and recreating there. Talking or singing loudly can help prevent surprise encounters with wildlife. With enough warning of your approach, wildlife should have time to move themselves and their young from the area.
Types of Noisemakers
- Bells known as "bear bells" are NOT RECOMMENDED but consider using the following:
- Air horns: Easily carried in bear country; create a loud, piercing sound of greater than 120 decibels.
- Bangers: Available for pen-launchers, .22 caliber launchers, and 12 gauge launchers. Creates a loud bang after travelling 20 to 100 metres (66 to 328 feet).
- Screamers: Similar to bangers except they create a loud, continuous screeching noise for approximately 100 metres (328 feet). The flight pattern is erratic. Because these projectiles can be unpredictable, be extremely cautious when using them as they may cause a fire.
- Rattlers: Commercial product comprised of several metal discs attached to a handle. It makes a loud clanking sound by holding the handle and shaking the device up and down rapidly.
- Use noisemakers to scare away bears that are aware of your presence but do not leave the area.
- Do not use bangers or screamers in dry forest conditions. They may cause a fire.
- Do not shoot the noise deterrents directly at the bear.
- Ensure bangers explode between you and the bear. A banger that explodes behind the bear may startle it so that the bear runs back in your direction.
- Be prepared to defend yourself with bear deterrent spray in case the noisemaker is ineffective.
- Ensure you are not using bangers or screamers that are old, or that have been wet or altered in any way. They may prematurely explode cause injury or they may not function at all
- Noisemakers that fire a projectile (bangers or screamers) should be stored and carried unloaded.
- Always be aware of the line of fire.
- Be aware of the potential for a ricochet.
- To avoid personal injury or death, never point or fire a noisemaker projectile at a person.
- Ensure you are not using bangers or screamers that are old, or that have been wet or altered in any way. They may prematurely explode and cause injury.