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WY: Bear Spray to Be Required for Grizzly Bear Hunts?

Friday, November 11, 2016 14:39
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Dave Smith, a well known author and expert on bear attacks, sent me a heads up on a proposed Grizzly hunting regulation.  In the  Wyoming Grizzly Bear Management Plan(pdf), on page 47, (page 55 on some pdf versions), dated  5/11/2016, is a regulation requiring that grizzly hunters carry bear spray.


“All grizzly bear hunters must carry bear spray while engaged in the act of grizzly bear hunting (WGFC Regulation Chapter 16, pending)”

When you are hunting bears, you would normally be carrying a rifle.  You would have to drop the rifle, then access and deploy the bear spray.  That does not work. Nearly all bear spray successes have been during use by unarmed people.

One of the foremost proponents of bear spray has said that it would be crazy to attempt to use bear spray against a charging grizzly when you were carrying a rifle. From

Here’s the problem, according to Brigham Young University professor Tom Smith. In an interview with Sports Afield, he said, “If I’m actually out hunting and I have a gun in my hands, and suddenly a bear comes at me, do you think I’m going to lay the gun down and pick up bear spray? Are you out of your mind?” 

Smith is the primary author of Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska, and Efficacy of Firearms for Bear Deterrence in Alaska. His remark makes it clear that carrying bear spray is one issue, but using it if under attack is a far different matter. The impracticality of hunters using bear spray explains why bear-spray research only provides data on spray use by non-hunters.

Dave graciously sent me his analysis on the proposed regulation. I have edited and cut a bit for reasons of space:

The “logic” is that research proves bear spray is more effective than a firearm: it follows that during a surprise encounter with a grizzly, hunters should “only use a firearm if bear spray is unavailable.”
One, I’m not aware of a single case when a hunter facing a charging grizzly did “something” with his rifle or shotgun and then used bear spray. Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska shows that just one hunter “stalking a wounded” bear used bear spray.
It is illogical to claim that research on bear spray use by non-hunters proves bear spray is the best self-defense tool for hunters carrying a rifle or shotgun in hand.
Bear spray zealots prove the adage “when your only tool is a hammer, you treat everything as it were a nail.”
Bear spray zealots: the problem is that too many hunters who rely on their firearm for self-defense get injured by bears. Solution? Bear spray.
Dave explained that if the problem is that too many hunters who rely on their firearm for self-defense are being injured by bears, there is a simple solution.
Provide hunters with information on how to use their rifle quickly and effectively.
Instead of using Pittman-Robertson funds to promote bear spray and discourage firearms use, state fish & game departments should fund moving bear targets at shooting ranges in WY, MT and ID.
Teach kids how to use their firearm quickly and effectively. Right now, WY, MT, and ID teach kids in hunter ed classes how to use bear spray.

I wanted to see what had happened in Wyoming, so I looked up the Wyoming hunting regulations for this year (2016).  I could not find chapter 16.  It was obvious that cooler and more logical heads had prevailed. Everywhere else I looked, there was no mandatory carry of bear spray while hunting grizzly bears.

There was a site at, Bear Wise Wyoming. It had a number of suggestions about how to handle human/bear interactions.  I have excerpted the relevant ones.  From wyo.go:

What to do if you encounter an aggressive/defensive bear at close range

  • Try to remain calm, slowly back out of the area, and have a defense ready. 
  • Never run away from the bear.
  • Do not challenge the bear with any aggressive body language or direct eye contact.
  • If the bear begins to approach, stand your ground and use bear spray if available.

 What to do if the bear is acting predatory

  • Do not back away from the bear but instead stand your ground.
  • Act aggressively towards the bear.
  • Make yourself look as big as possible by holding your arms out and using your coat and standing on a log or rock.
  • Yell at the bear in a loud firm voice.
  • Use branches and rocks to deter the bear.
  • Use bear spray or a weapon to protect yourself.

What to do if a bear comes into your camp.

  • Remain calm and do not panic.  Bears generally avoid people and they are probably attracted to odors of food.
  • Get your bear spray or gun prepared for use.

The list shows that both guns and bear spray are useful defensive tools for interactions with bears.

There are studies that attempt to measure the effectiveness of firearms for defense against bears.  There are studies the attempt to measure the effectiveness of bear spray.  I have not seen any studies that compare the two. I wrote studies, not opinion pieces comparing apples to eggs.

The separate studies are not comparable, because they use completely different data sets, in very different circumstances.  Most of the uses of bear spray are against non-aggressive bears.  Most of the uses of firearms, in the most touted firearms study, are against aggressive bears.  The “studies” most often mentioned, refuse to release their data sets.

Both tools can be effective, if used in the right situation. It is not correct to claim that bear spray has been shown to be more effective for defense against bears than firearms.

The people at Wyoming Fish and Game used common sense.  They have applied a real world evaluation of situations when considering their hunting regulations.  Hunters are free to carry bear spray for situations where it may be appropriate.  They are not required to have bear spray with them while stalking grizzly bears with a rifle in hand. That is a good thing.

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.

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