Bear Spray – Do You Really Need It?

In all of my years of hiking, I have never carried bear spray. Perhaps it’s because of the statistics of being injured by a bear are so low. Today, about 2-3 people are killed annually in the United States and Canada because of bear attacks. But 90 people are killed by lightning and 15 by dogs every year. Bear attacks hardly seem more worrisome than contracting West Nile Virus from a mosquito bite. For me, it’s lightning that scares me the most when I’m on the trail. But some of my friends still swear by the bear spray. However, if you’re going to carry it, make sure you have it easily accessible, such as having it hanging from your belt. I hiked with a friend once who said carrying bear spray gave him peace of mind, but when I couldn’t see it on him anywhere, I inquired. Oh, it’s inside my pack.

I have a few worries when it comes to me carrying bear spray.

It’s Useless If I’m Panicking

First, most people do not think clearly when they are in a fearful situation and the heart starts racing. Well-trained police officers, for example, often make mistakes and panic when they are required to draw their weapons in an emergency, even though they’ve practiced firing their weapons hundreds of times. Imagine if you were happily hiking and wandered upon a grizzly that suddenly charged you. Is your first instinct to reach for your bear spray? My instinct would be to reach for my spare underwear.

It Can Give False Confidence

There aren’t many other legal weapons that can give you more confidence than bear spray. Put one of those babies on your hip and you’ll feel invincible. Perhaps you’ll even forget to take the precautions that non-bear-spray-carrying hikers like me think about to avoid bear encounters – making noise on the trail, hiking in groups, and being careful with food smells. And over time, when you haven’t had need for the bear spray, you may be tempted to pull it out of the canister, turn it in your hands, wonder about it, maybe point it at something. You’ll wonder how effective it really might be, and if it might be useful in scaring away the neighbour’s cat. Seriously, as a child, I don’t know anybody who didn’t pick up a BB gun with curiosity and point it at something.

It’s a Weapon, So It Can Backfire

I’ve heard this story many times, so I’m not sure if it’s just an urban legend. Man carries bear spray. Man encounters bear. Man sprays bear. Since man is shooting bear spray into the wind, wind pushes bear spray back into the face of the man. Man falls unconscious. When man wakes up, bear is gone. Whether the story is true or not, I see myself in it; no doubt I would only injure myself by trying to scare away a bear with bear spray. And bear spray carries a big punch. After all, it’s made of ground up hot peppers. And I can barely survive a cup of spiced tea.

Those are some of the reasons I don’t carry bear spray, even though they deter brown bears 92 percent of the time, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. So if I’m hiking on the trail with my friends, I won’t be carrying bear spray. Even if I’m secretly hoping they are.

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