While bears might seem like a lovely species, there are times when they can become seriously precarious predators. Thus, it’s imperative to distinguish between a normal bear behavior and a dangerous one. In this guide, we’ll look at patterns of bear behavior to watch out for, go through different types of bear deterrents you can use to defend yourself, and review the TOP-9 Best Bear Sprays & Deterrent devices on the market to make choosing one less of a hassle.
- Types of bears commonly found in the US
- Bear behavior: things to look out for
- The bear behavior you would want to avoid
- Types of bear deterrents
- TOP 9 Best Bear Deterrents from $5 up to $300
- 7 life-saving rules for dealing with bears
- FAQ about bear sprays
- Comparative chart of Bear Sprays & Deterrents
If you’ve seen the Reverent, then you have an idea of what a bear attack can look like. I think that this brutal scene, in particular, contributed to the fact that Leo DiCaprio finally got his well-deserved Oscar. Unless you’re DiCaprio or intend to win an Oscar, you would certainly want to avoid such an encounter. And you’re in luck, because, in this guide, we’ll show all the necessary devices you need to get to protect yourself in the woods.
There are three species of bears that are commonly found in the US. It’s the American black bear, the most prevalent type which is found in 40 out of 50 states. Then there’s grizzly or brown bear, and polar bear, who continues to live in his preserved habitat. Although the species are distinctly different, they share some of the common behavioral patterns, but would sometimes react to humans in different ways. Let’s now look at the types of bear behavior that you can encounter so you know exactly when bears become dangerous and when there’s nothing to worry about.
First of all, you need to understand that most of the bears are lovely creatures; they are shy, humble animals that don’t have any desire to interact with human beings. Because of the significant increase in the human population in the last century and the climate change, bears are now forced to look for food in the areas around humans, thus they have to interact with us not by will but by necessity.
Second of all, bears (like any other species) have their own or “space” that you have to be aware of and do not attempt to trespass or enter. If, however, you happen to enter the critical bear’s space, he would need to react to protect himself or his siblings.
Thirdly, you have to understand the difference in how different types of bears react to critical situations. Black bears, for example, having lived in the forested areas most of their lives, would retreat by climbing on a tree, when scared. Grizzly bears, on the contrary, live in the mountainous areas and have evolved in a treeless habitat, and instead of retreating to the tree, they would most probably try to defend themselves and their cubs from perceived threats (either other animals or humans).
Also, when you see a bear in a standing position on his hind legs, it doesn’t mean that he’s becoming aggressive, however, it means that this bear is extremely curious and would like to see what’s up there in the distance and if he can play with it.
If bears perceive no danger from people, they can, in fact, habituate with them in close proximity without attempting to attack anyone. Since food can be plenty around humans, bears have evolved to tolerate humans at a close distance.
Also, when a bear first encounters an unfamiliar object, he will most probably retreat in fright, but then come back again (providing there’s no perceived danger) and inspect the object. This should not be interpreted as an act of aggression, but rather of curiosity.
Again, since bears are extremely curious and inquisitive creatures, they can often get distracted by playing around, munching on berries, and while following a trail they can accidentally bump into an unsuspected human, without intending any harm at all.
Now, when we’ve covered normal bear behavior, let’s look at some of the patterns that you would want to avoid.
The bear behavior you would want to avoid
Bears that sit, lie down, look away, and yawn most probably show you that they are disinterested in you and just want to be left alone. Also, their walking and running away from you indicates that they are scared of you themselves, and there’s no need for you to shoot them or spray them with anything.
If the bear, however, suddenly lunges toward you, stomps on the ground, and slaps the surrounding vegetation, then this is something you would want to quickly interpret either as a threat or as a mere bluff. If it’s a black bear, then most probably he means no harm, just annoyed and apprehensive of your arrival, if it’s a grizzly bear, then most probably you’re in trouble. Surprised and taken aback grizzlies will clack their teeth and make sudden short lunges at their target. This is the situation when you need one of those deterrents that will cover later in this guide.
To learn more about bears and their behavior, watch the following video, where Stephen Herrero, a University of Calgary professor emeritus, talks about the increase in recent bear attacks on humans, the reasons behind their aggressive behavior, the signs to watch out for, and relate other interesting facts and insights into bear psychology:
Bear deterrents are those devices that repel bears, keep them at a distance, or help you survive a bear attack. There are several types of devices that you can purchase, among them are:
Bear sprays – the most powerful type against bears
Pepper sprays, which are the most common and widespread self-defense items. They must contain, according to the US Federal Government, at least 1.0% and not more than 2% of capsaicin and related capsaicinoids.
How does it work?
Pepper spray is an inflammatory agent that causes temporary blinding, difficulty breathing, among other unpleasant things, which temporarily incapacitate an attacking animal.
Is it effective?
There’s been a 10-year study conducted by the US Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, which concluded that people, who defended themselves against bears with guns, suffered injury 50% of the time, while those, who fought a bear with pepper sprays, evaded injury most of the time.
How strong is a bear spray?
According to the US Federal Government, a bear spray must contain up to 2% capsaicinoids, which is strong enough to cause an animal severe distress.
How far does it shoot?
From 10 to 35 ft. The pepper spray gun shoots up to 150 ft.
How long does it last?
Usually it has a shelf life of 3-4 years. If you’re asking how long the bear spray effect lasts, then usually from 30 minutes to several hours depending on how much pepper spray a bear has been exposed to.
Other Bear Deterrents
- Signaling devices sometimes shaped as revolvers that work with shotgun primers, which when fired would be extremely loud and would scare the wildlife away from your camp.
- Deterrent balls are little bells that you attach your backpack, belt, or elsewhere, and as you are walking, the bells are ringing and if there’s a bear in the vicinity, he will hear it and chances are it’s going to run away. They are usually super cheap and quite effective.
- Handheld marine flares are great tools that not only can deter a bear but be used as a rescuing signal in case you get in trouble in the wilderness. This is the exact device that’s been used by viewing guides in Alaska. When choosing a flare, look for the one that’s activated by pulling a string, rather than by striking. Be cautious while using these things in a dry climate, as they can become a fire hazard if used improperly.
- Bear bangers and launchers. These scare devices are also inexpensive and very effective. These scare cartridges can be launched either through a pen launcher or a pistol. When firing these things up, you have to make sure there’s enough distance between you and a bear, so you won’t hurt him. Do not attempt to flare it up when you’re standing behind the bear because when in retreat the bear might turn and advance you trying to escape. The only issue is that these things flare up 300 ft, and if there’s a distance between you and a bear of 50 ft and it blows up behind him, then again the bear will advance you in his attempt to run away from danger.
- Deterrent horns are yet another effective devices for keeping bears at bay and away either from your property or camping site. They usually emit a piercing blast that can be heard up to half a mile away.
- Electric fencing deters bears by exposing them to an electric shock if they touch it. And while the electric shock is certainly unpleasant, it will not kill or harm an animal. However, if a bear gets caught in one of those wires, he can die of prolonged distress, so check the fencing on a regular basis to prevent unnecessary injuries.
- Walking stick. Doesn’t cost anything since you can make one yourself, just make sure it’s long enough (preferably above your head) and thick. And if approached by a bear, you can strike him with the stick on the head, and that will make him either run away or buy you time to retreat to a safer place.
- Forest axe. This simple yet powerful (and sometimes deadly) item can be a lifesaver if attacked by an aggressive bear. On the downside, axes tend to be pretty heavy, so you’d obviously want to avoid carrying it with you unless you’re determined to camp for a long time and have a bunch of other stuff to attend to and people in your camping team that you can delegate to carry this thing.
How to handle bear sprays? 12 rules
According to forest specialists from Yellowstone park the following steps would almost always guarantee you a higher chance of getting away from a bear uninjured:
- First, ensure you have an easy access to your bear spray because if it’s in your backpack, you might not have enough time to take it off. Attach it to your belt (like a gun)
- Wear other devices (which we’ll discuss further on) that would inform bears in the vicinity about your presence; talk to others in your group or sing if you’re alone
- When it so happens, that you encounter a bear, stay calm, do not run and take a bear spray out of the holster asap
- Remove the safety clip
- Back away slowly, avoiding eye contact and speaking softly
- Usually, at this step, a bear will see that you’re no danger and will turn and walk away from you
- However, if a bear is becoming more aggressive and continues to approach you, then there’s a high chance you would need to use your bear spray
- The most effective range for using a bear spray is 12 ft, although the manufacturers almost always state numbers of double or triple that distance. Remember, if a bear is too far away, your spray might not even reach him, or if there’s a strong wind coming toward you, you might get some of it on yourself
- Get one hand on a trigger and use another one to hold the canister
- Aim at shooting just below the bears head (to prevent the spray from blowing off above him)
- Shoot in 2-second bursts. A regular canister will have only from 5 to 8 seconds of pepper spray, so if you hold long enough and miss the target, you might lose all your spray. So short bursts are preferred
- When the bear’s stopped or runs away, it’s your turn to get out of the place as fast as you can
Here we’ll look at the major bear deterrent sprays and a gun that are all well worth the investment, bear repelling bells and horns, as well as the well stretched electric fencing that can save your livestock in case you live on a farm or have beehives to take care of.
Coghlans Bear Bell Magnetic Silencer
This is my favorite from this list because these balls “ain’t gonna hurt nobody”. These bear bells cost less than 5 dollars and are very easy to carry around. They come with Velcro strap so you can attach it anywhere you like, there’s a magnetic silencer ring so you can stop the ringing whenever you like. The bells are small (1.5 inches in diameter), fun to wear, and totally safe.
Customers are pleased with the bells, saying it won’t scare anyone, but would make bears pretty much aware of your existence in the woods so unless they are hungry they should retreat deeper in the forest from you.
But this is, by no means, the only thing you would want to carry around with you when in an area full of bears. Take a pepper spray (or a pepper gun), wood sticks, marine flares, and a powerful knife.
5 Best Bear Sprays
Frontiersman Bear Spray from Sabre
This pepper from Sabre, a reputable American company, is a bestselling spray with a huge distance range of 35 ft. It contains 2.0% capsaicinoids, exactly as determined by the US Federal Government, and approved by the EPA and Health Canada. Sabre has tested the spray in various field tests that proved its potency and effectiveness. The only downside of this device is that when the wind blows you can get some of this spray onto yourself and this is exactly what you want to avoid. So do not use it in a windy weather. For a bottle that big (9.2 ounces), it’s priced affordably, and since this is your life we’re talking about, this price is nothing, really. The majority of testers were pleased with the product’s performance especially those who happened to test it on real bears.
Counter Assault Bear Deterrent
It is yet another bestseller. It comes in a slightly bigger bottle than its previously described counterpart and also costs a little bit more but less than 50 dollars. The spray covers an area of 12 to 32 ft, and empties in about 9 seconds, whereas the Frontiersman (also not directly stated by the manufacturer but rather related by consumers) lasts only 5 seconds. However, it only means that Counter Assault chose less deterrent going down the range every second you hold down the trigger. Everything else is pretty much standard, as decided by the US Federal Government, meaning it contains 2.0% capsaicinoids. Again, as with the other brand, Counter Assault is a reputable business with a strong and positive track record and decisively confident consumer trust and positive feedback.
UDAP Bear Spray With Camo Hip Holster
UDAP is yet another popular American brand with a strongly positive reputation, whose products have been confirmed as effective on black and grizzly bears. UDAP falls into the same price range as the other competitors, meaning it’s just as affordably priced, like the others. And just like the competition, it contains the same amount of capsaicinoids and shoots as far as 30 ft. The can size is slightly smaller than that of its competitors (7.9 ounces), but it should be enough to deter a bear. As with the other major brands, this one has also received positive reviews.
Guard Alaska Bear Spray Repellent & Pepper Enforcement Metal Belt Clip Holster
The Bear Spray from Pepper Defense contains only 1.34% capsaicinoids, but that falls into the range that’s approved by the Federal Government. The size of the canister is 9 oz, which is about the same as Counter Assault. It also comes with a metal belt clip holster for ease of use. The distance range it covers is from 15 to 20 ft, which is again, an industry average. The price doesn’t differ much from those devices that we’ve covered.
Mace Brand Maximum Strength Bear Defense
Mace is another American brand that’s been in self-defense business long enough to be considered one of the industry’s leaders and experts in this kind of devices. It contains 10% OC, 2 % capsaicin, has a powerful 36 ft range, and comes in a canister of 9.2 ounces which empties in about 6 seconds, which is the closest to SABRE. The consumers have positive things to say about the item which again makes this product very easy to recommend.
All of the sprays we’ve covered share the same form factor, active ingredients, and general characteristics which make them virtually the same, so choosing one is easy, because they are all reliable and effective. So if you’re a stickler for a particular brand, say Mace, then go for it, it’s going to work just like any other from the list above, besides they all fall into the same price range, with only a few dollars difference.
Pepper Spray Gun | Salt Supply
The self-defense kit from Salt includes one pepper spray gun, ten pepper spray rounds (68 caliber), ten practice rounds, one magazine (7-round), one lockable case (lock not included), and an easy to follow user manual. This kit is by no means cheap, will cost you somewhat roughly more than 300 dollars, but it is well worth an investment in terms of saved lives. It shoots up to 150 ft and fires up to 21 shots. As described by the manufacturer, this gun has been proven effective by US Military, State Police, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
And, indeed, this guy is more than just your regular pepper spray, it contains both powdered pepper spray and tear gas combination and all break on contact immediately causing temporary blindness, and severe distress. The product has received stable positive reviews, with customers mainly complaining about the high price and inability to purchase a gun separately.
The gun itself looks like a Tippman Tipx, which is around 200 dollars, but if you buy other stuff that’s in the kit separately, you’ll end up with the same price that Salt’s charging, so I don’t really see a reason why anyone would want to save on the perks that come with this kit. There’s another slightly cheaper kit that has Tippman Tipx included, but it’s been advertised as one for paintball, but you can adapt it for deterring bears or other self-defense purposes.
Bear Horn | Frontiersman
This horn has been seldom covered in many video reviews, with people saying this is the best you can get for the price (which can be as less as 10 dollars). It’s pretty loud, meaning it emits a sound of 115 dB that can be heard from half a mile away, which is an amazing distance. Periodic blasts from this beast will surely keep all bears in the vicinity away from your campsite. This thing is very lightweight and compact and will easily fit into a pocket or backpack. Customers are generally pleased with the product’s performance, but there were a few detractors complaining of receiving a faulty item.
Electric Fence | Premier QuickFence
This is obviously not something you’d take with you on a camping trip (although there must be portable versions of those things) but it will serve well to keep bears away from your property. It’s delivered in one single spike, and, when unraveled, results in a nicely shaped fence 35 inches height and 50 ft long.
The fence must be properly energized to be effective, so care must be taken when installing it. Energizer is not included, and the manufacturer recommends buying .25 joule of energizer per roll of fence separately, as well as using only low or wide impedance intermittent pulse energizers and not continuous current energizers with electric netting.
This fence is highly conductive, as many as 10 times more conductive than electric netting with only stainless steel conductor strands. The manufacturer recommends installing non-conductive posts at the end of the fence or in the corners of the fence construction. Anyway, this item is quite sophisticated in terms of requiring some electricity related knowledge, so if you purchase it, then you surely need someone who understands these things to install it properly so nobody gets hurt. The item’s not cheap, but might be worth it if you’re living on a farm or want to protect your beehives that attract bears.
According to the National Geographic experts on bears, when traveling in an area known as a bear habitat, follow these simple rules to stay safe at all times:
- Avoid unnecessary scents or smells (do not use perfume or deodorant).
- Carry a pepper spray at all times.
- Make your presence known by talking in loud voices, singing (if alone), carrying bells, blowing horns, stomping on the ground with a stick, etc. Thus, a bear will become aware of your presence and should retreat its way back to the wilderness. It’s important not to startle a bear because a surprised bear is a dangerous bear.
- Travel in groups so bears would want to avoid you. Take a dog with you, if allowed.
- If a black bear attacks you, take a bold stance, and yell at a bear. Black bears generally avoid all confrontation with humans and would retreat accordingly. However, if he starts moving towards you have a pepper spray ready. DO NOT YELL AT A GRIZZLY BEAR!
- If you see a black bear mother protecting her cubs, then try to appear non-threatening: talk in a soft and appeasing voice and slowly back away, so mama bear knows you’re no danger to her little cubs.
- If a grizzly bear attacks you, play dead. Do not run away, this is not going to work because bears are much faster than humans. Drop to the ground and lie on your belly with your hands around your neck, stay calm and still. The bear should lose interest in you when he sees you don’t respond to his swipes, gropes, etc. You’d come out from this encounter bruised and bloody but alive, and that’s what matters. The study by Yellowstone National Park shows that those who laid on the ground and played dead, walked out from grizzly attacks with minor injuries 75% of the time. So this is a good and proven strategy.
Can regular self-defense sprays be used against bears?
Do not use any other spray other than a bear spray on a bear. It is a pesticide and has to pass various safety and effectiveness checks by the EPA. If you’re going to buy something else, it might not be as effective.
How to get a bear spray out of fabric?
Wear rubber gloves first. Then take the clothing that’s been exposed to a pepper spray and rub a cold cream to the area that’s been affected most. Let it sit for a few minutes, then rinse it off. Put the clothing in a bucket full of water and a laundry detergent and leave it for approximately 30 minutes. Then proceed with your normal washing routine.
How to get it off skin?
Wash your skin with plenty of soap and water for at least 15 minutes. If that doesn’t help, seek medical attention immediately.
Can a bear spray be used on humans?
Bear spray is ruled as a pesticide by the EPA, thus it can only be used on bears.
Is it harmful to humans?
Yes, it is. Avoid close proximity to bear spray and use it on neither dogs nor humans.
Can it kill humans?
Again, it is a non-lethal weapon. However, it becomes dangerous if abused.
Is it legal?
Bear spray is legal across the US.
Is a bear spray allowed in national parks?
Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks encourage carrying and using (when necessary) bear spray. However, some national parks prohibit the use of bear sprays (like Yosemite National Park, for example).
Will a bear spray work on other animals: moose, coyotes, wolves?
Yes, it will. However, these attacks are very rare, and unless you really have to defend yourself, we discourage using any type of spray against these animals.
Is it effective on cougars?
Yes, in fact, it’s been field tested as an effective way to scare off lions, cougars, among other predators.
Can it kill a dog?
Bear spray is considered a non-lethal weapon. However, if used excessively or inappropriately, it can become deadly (although very rarely).
Can bear spray be taken on an airplane?
You cannot take it on a commercial airline, however, you can have one container of 4 ounces in your checked bag.
What are humans side effects?
Same as any other pepper spray: coughing, shortness of breath, swelling of mucous membranes (eyes, nose, throat), burning on the skin, temporary intermittent blindness, etc.
How to make a bear spray?
We do not advise to make your own pepper spray (especially when dealing with wildlife, which can be dangerously unpredictable), besides, it’s not going to cover a significant distance and might not reach an animal at all, rendering a DIY spray absolutely useless. The recipes shared on the internet, though, often employ the following recipe scheme: mix chili powder or grated chili flakes with oil, alcohol, and water, then pour a resulting solution in a bottle. Again, you wouldn’t want to experiment when your life is at stake.
What size of a bear spray should I get?
From 7 to 9 ounces is a good size.
Comparative chart of Bear Sprays & Deterrents
|Coghlan's Bear Bell with Magnetic Silencer||Magnet in bag eliminates noise when not in use|
Hook and loop closure
|Frontiersman Bear Spray ||2.0% major capsaicinoids|
|Counter Assault Bear Deterrent||2.0% major capsaicinoids|
|UDAP Bear Spray With Camo Hip Holster||2.0% major capsaicinoids|
|Guard Alaska Bear Spray w/Metal Belt Clip Holster||1.34% total capsaicinoids|
|Mace Brand Maximum Strength Bear Defense Spray||2.0% major capsaicinoids|
|Salt Supply Pepper Spray Gun Self Defense Kit||1 pepper spray gun |
10 pepper spray rounds
10 practice rounds
1 magazine (7-round)
1 lockable case (lock not included)
1 easy to follow user manual
150+ feet and 21 shots of a proven range
|Frontiersman Bear Horn||115dB horn heard up to ½ mile |
Dimensions: 9.5 x 5.1 x 1.8 inches
|Premier Bear QuikFence Electric Net Fence||12/35/12 - 35" H x 50'L|
Energizer is not included.
Net fence is Pos/Neg capable for dry soils. Highly conductive
Most of the products we’ve covered in this review are reliable and effective options at repelling bears. Whenever you travel in groups or alone in an area known to have bears carry a pepper spray at all times. The major brands we’ve covered in this guide will all work very well. Buy some other deterrent gear, like bells or horns, that will inform the bears about your presence. By all means, try to avoid unpleasant encounters with bears and stay safe!