Is bear spray as effective as advertised?

By ZACHARY COE/Montana State News

A highly publicized bear attack last year in the Madison Valley raises some questions about the effectiveness of bear spray as a deterrent.

Last October, Bozeman resident Todd Orr was viciously attacked by a mother grizzly bear twice and left for dead near Ennis, according to the local Fox news network.

Orr was able to get himself to his vehicle and later post a video on Facebook documenting his attack. The video later went viral. Orr revealed his bear mace had failed him, when a heavy wind carried away the spray from the bear’s direction upon discharge.

According to a study by Idaho’s Fish and Game department in 2011, bear mace is more effective than firearms because both the human and animal get to live after the attack when a direct hit is inflicted.

A piece written by gun activists Dave Smith on the High Country News website makes the argument that any hunter carrying both mace and a gun will almost always choose their gun to protect themselves from attack. But even the author flips this argument mid-article when he quotes Sports Airfield editor David E. Petzel who said, “Rifle slings have saved the life of more critters than PETA.”

The Universal Defense Alternative Products bear spray organization, a Butte company made as a result of a bear attack in 1992, has an informative website that explains what bear mace is and common questions that surround its usage. The size of the cans and their spray distance are answered in full detail on the website with a 3-ounce can being able to shoot 10 feet, a fog blast included, and a 15-ounce can that is able to produce a 30-foot blast distance on average.

According Kelli Poole, a wildlife technician for Fish Wildlife and Park and outdoor enthusiast, “Bear mace is my personal choice of protection to use when dealing with bears in the wild. I have found it quicker and safer when used to maximal efficiency. With bear mace, it is vital to educate oneself on the distance of the spray, how to unstrap the mace from the hip quickly, being aware of how to detach the safety from the nozzle properly, and being closely conscience of wind direction and surrounding conditions while hiking to ensure a quicker response time in case of bear attack.”

Bear mace can be an effective savior of hikers and hunters alike when awareness and education are involved with its purchase. Bears are a necessary but dangerous part of Montanan’s outdoor experience that deserves caution from both species to coexist in natural ecosystems that are plentiful in this state.

– edited by Merrit Geary

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