2009 Bear Spray Campaign Endangers Hunters, Grizzlies

David Smith urges IGBC to change its bear spray campaign slogan to “Carry bear spray and know when to use it.”

Smith urges what might seem to be subtle but very important change in the way the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee educates hunters about bear spray.  However, for 2009 the IGBC is using the same arguments as it has for years.

2009 Bear Spray Campaign Endangers Hunters, Grizzlies. Unfiltered By David Smith in New West.





  1. jburnham Avatar

    What, no mention of the “c” word?

    I think these are good recommendations, and a much better presentation of your arguments.

  2. jdubya Avatar

    “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
    Rita Mae Brown”

    I thought Einstein said that.

  3. JimT Avatar

    Einstein, paraphrased, offered that you can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking that created it in the first place, among many other great things.

    Not bad for a guy who got kicked out of high school for being a disruptive influence…LOL

  4. timz Avatar

    Speaking of Grizzlies
    BILLINGS, Mont. — A federal judge in Montana says the government must restore protections for an estimated 600 grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park, citing a decline in the bears’ food supply caused in part by climate change.

    Grizzlies lost their status as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in the spring of 2007.

    On Monday, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula sided with environmental groups who argued in a lawsuit that the bear population remained at risk even after bouncing back from near-extermination last century.

    Molloy cited a decline in whitebark pine trees – a key food source for many bears that has been disrupted by climate change – forest fires and other factors

  5. Mal Adapted Avatar
    Mal Adapted

    It seems all links to the bear spray story on newwest.net actually lead to one about mountain biking.

  6. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    It looks like a New West glitch. Earlier today it actually did lead to Dave Smith’s piece.

  7. SEAK Mossback Avatar
    SEAK Mossback

    I think the author makes some good points. The problem is two plans with not enough time and dexterity to choose and implement. Asking a hunter facing a sudden nerve-shattering charge to give up a rifle or shotgun in hand and reach for pepper spray is asking a lot – less so perhaps for a bow hunter. A few years ago, a local hunter here was charged suddenly from 30 feet by a sow and had his scalp detached while carrying a .223 (AR-15) for deer and a large (.454 casul) revolver on his hip for bear protection. It’s pretty much the same scenario facing a lower-48 elk hunter with a scoped rifle in hand and pepper spray on the hip – conflicting plans and not enough time.

    I’ve wondered if the solution might be a technological one that allows integration of pepper spray and firearm in a single plan. As it stands right now, hunters have to pick a single plan and the author is correct that most are probably not prepared to quickly and effectively implement either firearm or spray. This fact suddenly became personal for me one November a few years ago when I was “charged” by a brown bear while deer hunting on Admiralty Island. The bear was immensely fat at the end of sequential salmon runs and despite its size and brush-mowing, stick-flying rush it somehow didn’t appear deadly ferocious with a 150 lb. wave of fat rolling from stem to stern with every jump. Never-the-less, I couldn’t ignore the fact that with 360 possible degrees of options, it was headed directly for my belt buckle. At that moment, I didn’t feel very confident about stopping what seemed like a furry freight train while peering around my scope and trying to sight for the first time ever down the bare barrel of my 30-06. Fortunately when I yelled, he veered at about 25 feet and ran past into the forest (it appeared he’d crossed my scent trail and panicked).

    Anyway, most hunters these days use scoped rifles and I believe you should practice pointing without the scope and hitting a target at 25 feet if you intend for the firearm to be your bear defense plan. Otherwise, practice getting the firearm out of the way while deploying your pepper spray. I’ve been “seriously charged” several times while working on streams in remote areas where I carry a powerful rifle with sturdy open sights, and have shot one bear in self defense. Things happen so quickly, you can only figure on one shot at best and there is no sense in taking it beyond about 25 feet which is about the balance point between accuracy and urgency. Sows in seldom traveled country in a close, sudden first encounter with a human will commonly charge in to 30 feet or closer. A couple of years ago my assistant had a raging sow with cubs in tow get within 15 feet and was so close to shooting he was already feeling remorse for having killed it – his confidence and restraint being bolstered slightly by knowledge that two more armed people were backing him up. Other times, people who didn’t have time to shoot have had bears get as close as 4 or 5 feet, while of course many have been taken down and mauled as well (as happens to deer hunter an average of about every 3 years in my community).

    Perhaps having a canister of pepper spray that could be mounted in-line under or along the barrel or forearm and controlled with the hand on the forearm would sufficiently integrate pepper spray and firearm so a hunter could first ready the firearm and then quickly deploy the pepper spray without compromising the option of using the rifle. Given a logical one-chance shooting distance of no more than 25 feet and advertized pepper spray effectiveness out to about 30 feet, it may be possible to significantly increase safety for the hunter over either plan alone while avoiding some bear kills and woundings. I’ve thought something like this might be handy for the relatively few of us who carry long guns for protection on salmon streams, etc. Probably not enough demand to be economic. But when you add in a lot of elk and deer hunters in the Rockies . . . . . who knows?

  8. Cobra Avatar

    I actually mentioned having something similar on a previous post during the summer, actually was somewhat working on it but got to busy at work and such. I still think a cannister of some kind can be fixed into a forearm of a stock or something without making the rifle to cumbersome.
    We’re seeing more and more Grizzlies in North Idaho and although I usually pack a handgun, rifle or both I’ve actually considered getting a can of spray to carry also. I’m not to familiar with them but I read on here somewhere they only weigh a pound or so and if your out hiking and can’t handle an extra pound maybe you shouldn’t be hiking or at least not as far. I figure trying to cover all the bases can’t hurt

  9. mikepost Avatar

    Cobra, SEAK is correct. The issue here, as any police officer or soldier will tell you, is that under the stress of the threat moment, you will react with the tools and techniques that you have practiced with and become familiar with. It usually needs to be an instinctive reaction (which you can train into a person) or you won’t execute any good response. Most hunters go to the range, some even engage tactical firearms training, but unless you train to use bear spray under stress the thought may not even occur to you regardless of the 1 lb lump on your hip. If you have the time to figure it out, great, but if that bear charge mental info is being filtered by surprise, fear and adrenalin, you will instinctively fall back on what you are most comfortable with without even thinking about it. Most cases it is the weapon.

  10. Cobra Avatar

    The only bear I’ve ever shot was in full charge and he fell not 20 feet from my my rifle. It was just a black bear about 250 lbs. but there was no mistaking this charge as real. The bear had been wounded by some other hunters a week earlier and he was fevered up and hating the world. He covered probably 50 yards in the blink of an eye. It’s amazing how fast they can really be. I’ve been bluff charged seems like just about every year while elk hunting, it’s pretty impressive to have them no more than 10 to 20 yards away popping there teeth and jumping up and down huffing and woofing.
    I’m not saying I would use the spray as a first defense because I am used to a rifle or handgun being in my hands but after reading a few bear attack books and how even some people with firearms had their guns knocked away or lost their weapons after tripping or whatever at least with the spray on your hip you maybe able to turn a severe mauling into one that can be survived.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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