Counted amongst nature’s fiercest predators, bears—when aggravated—can pose a fearsome threat to hunters, hikers, and campers. Here are a few last-resort options for halting an attack.
We’d be remiss in not first acknowledging that bear attacks are exceedingly rare, as bears tend to avoid human contact whenever possible. But as civilization expands, interaction between species becomes more frequent.
Your first, best option is to avoid behavior that can trigger a bear attack altogether. Make noise when moving and remain situationally aware. Look for bear tracks and sign as early indicators of their presence in your area. Of course, even when you’re trying to avoid confrontation, confrontation can find you. Here’s what you want strapped to your hip or chest (not stuffed in a pack) when Baloo decides he wants to bugaloo with you.
Note: Although some argue an air horn or loud whistle can be used as a means of driving off bears, no statistics support the efficacy of this approach.
Containing the same capsaicinoids found in pepper spray but at a higher concentration, bear spray boasts enhanced range and potency, and serves as a powerful—yet non-lethal—deterrent for an aggressive bruin. It projects a fog of repellent and can be effective up to 30 feet, which sounds like a lot until you consider bears can move at speeds of up to 35 mph—faster than an Olympic sprinter. Bear spray is especially useful as it can be carried in some areas where firearms are not permitted. Yellowstone National Park even has its own bear spray rental kiosk.
According to NASA’s Arctic – Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE), “Proper use of bear spray has proven to be the best method for fending off threatening and attacking bears.” The argument could be made that this statement dangerously oversimplifies the matter. Even if bear spray is demonstrably most effective at deterring an attacking bear, it has a critical drawback: A windy day could render the spray useless or could drive it back into your eyes and incapacitate you in a vital moment. Even when it works as advertised, you’re going to feel the burn, too. That’s just the nature of an airborne irritant. Consider the conditions before deploying it, and don’t treat it like a guaranteed solution.
According to the National Park Service, when selecting bear spray, look for a brand with a range of at least 25 feet and a spray duration of at least six seconds. Always test your bear-spray canister before journeying out and replace it every few years.
In the event you ever have to use it, don’t try to spray it directly at the bear. Instead, spray it in front of the bear to create a cloud the bear must pass through to get to you.
Another option is a handgun. When it comes to selecting one for bear defense, one should first recognize that even the largest hand cannons serve as comparatively weak medicine against a 700-pound grizzly. Although a powerful rifle or slug gun would be much better for taking down an angry ursidae, the advantage of a handgun is you’re more likely to have it on you if an attack occurs.
Although some advocate the use of high-capacity semi-autos in hard-hitting calibers like 10mm Auto, the Ultimate Predator editors prefer an ultra-reliable wheel gun. Unlike semi-autos, a revolver will still function following contact shots (we’re assuming you’re getting to know this bear very intimately if you’re firing on it with a handgun) and provides a second-strike capability on rounds that fail to fire. They have no magazines to accidentally release nor safeties to disengage. Besides, the higher capacity of a semi-auto becomes a bit superfluous when you consider the speed of a bear attack and how few shots you’ll have time to take.
When choosing a caliber, consider the magnum family—bigger is better. For loads, get yourself a deep-penetrating round that won’t deflect easily. Think flat-nosed, hard-cast lead bullets; not your normal personal defense carry rounds. High-expansion bullets won’t penetrate deeply enough to properly incapacitate a large bear. Heavy-for-caliber bullets moving at high velocities make for a good solution. Go as powerful as the gun—and you—can handle.
When it comes to bear defense, having more than one option can hardly be a bad thing. Neither a handgun nor a bear spray canister are impossibly bulky or heavy, so why not carry both? Most importantly, approach a bear encounter with a use of force continuum: Start with your non-lethal options if time and proximity allow, then escalate to the lethal option only when all else fails.