You are here

Studies Show Bear Spray More Effective Than Guns Against Grizzlies


With all the debate lately over whether visitors should be allowed to carry weapons in national parks, much has been said about the need for protection against wild animals, bears in particular. Well, studies show bear spray is a much more effective deterrent than a speeding bullet.

Evidence of human-bear encounters even suggests that shooting a bear can escalate the seriousness of an attack, while encounters where firearms are not used are less likely to result in injury or death of the human or the bear. While firearms can kill a bear, can a bullet kill quickly enough -- and can the shooter be accurate enough -- to prevent a dangerous, even fatal, attack?

The question is not one of marksmanship or clear thinking in the face of a growling bear, for even a skilled
marksman with steady nerves may have a slim chance of deterring a bear attack with a gun. Law
enforcement agents for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have experience that supports this reality --
based on their investigations of human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and
defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50% of the time. During the same period, persons
defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured
experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries.

That snippet was taken from a report prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You can find the entire document attached below.


In response to tom:

The folks that did this study are not insane. The likelihood of hitting and successfully killing a bear with a gun is quite low unless you are well trained to not only be a "good shot" but to also be able to make the shot under extremely stressful circumstances. Plus, it's very likely that if you simply wound the bear, you have a better chance of the bear coming back to attack you. However, given the wide range of bearspray and the reaction from bears (which is documented) you are more likely to deter a bear attack with the spray then with a gun. Saying we need guns in National Parks to protect ourselves from the wild animals is just fear mongering. A careful and respectful hiker knows how to handle her or himself and avoid encounters with bears.

One additional point that you elude to is the difficulty in telling whether or not a bear is going to attack. A curious bear standing on its hind legs does not mean an attack is inevitable, but given the fear the pro-gun side is preaching, I am certain that the numbers of bears and other wildlife species will be killed because someone unfamiliar with animal behavior gets scared will skyrocket.

Let's leave the rule as it stands.

As you know, I am a strong supporter of gun rights. This issue isn't about bears. It's about rights, like we are exercising in this blog. We don't all agree, but we have the right to say what we feel as guaranteed by the 1st amendment. We are only seeking to exercise the God-given right we have to defend ourselves as guaranteed by the 2nd amendment without being arrested for violating NPS rules and regulations.

The NRPM will be released on April 30. We, the people, will have a 90-day period to make comments about the proposed rule change. I suspect that about 73% of the comments will favor allowing concealed-permit holders to carry their firearms in National Parks. It will be an interesting discussion.

Fred, true, the 1st Amendment gives us the right to speak our minds, but there are laws against slandering folks, inciting a riot, and shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. Keeping that in mind, I don't think it's unreasonable, or an infringement on the 2nd Amendment, to have laws that dictate where weapons are allowed or in what manner they might be transported.

As I pointed out earlier, this movement, if it succeeds, will really create a regulatory nightmare in parks such as Yellowstone, Death Valley, Great Smoky Mountains, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, all of which span more than one state. Will gun owners worry about which state they're in and what laws they have to follow? Judging from previous comments under this issue, no. But rangers will, theoretically, have to police the laws. Any guess on how many gun owners will protest about unreasonable searches?

And really, if the NRA and gun-rights advocates are so determined to carry weapons wherever they go, why focus on national parks? Why push legislation that would rely on what existing state laws say? Why not seek a uniform, nation-wide concealed carry authorization?

Fred Miller wrote:

This issue isn't about bears. It's about rights

I guess I misread Kurt's title of this article: Studies Show Bear Spray More Effective Than Guns Against Grizzlies

I suggest that you're failing to examine the issue of your rights more deeply. A gun, narrowly defined as a device that ignites an explosive, causing expanding gas to propel a projectile, is merely a technology that can be used for "defense" against an attacker. The basic right I think you're talking about is self-defense, not owning a particular piece of technology. If your definition of "defensive arms" was a bit less narrow, I could easily see pepper spray classified as a side-arm. Indeed, it is a device designed entirely for the purpose of self -defense. And in the case of the study Kurt cites which compared the effectiveness of two different technologies at defending someone against a potential bear attack, your favorite technology was shown to be less effective.

As for another right, when the constitution talks about freedom of the press, do you think they're only talking about the printing press? Do computer printers count? Does the constitution not guarantee freedom of communication (mass or otherwise) by modes like radio, television, Internet, blogs, or podcasts because these technologies aren't explicitly mentioned in the first amendment? The basic issue is speech, not the age-old technology of the printing press.

Likewise, in self-defense, the issue is appropriate and effective defense, not a right to use the ages-old technology of lead and black powder.
The WildeBeat "The audio journal about getting into the wilderness"
10-minute weekly documentaries to help you appreciate our wild public lands.
A 501c3 non-profit project of Earth Island Institute.

Just curious, but why do people want to carry an unloaded gun into a park?

To all of those who think you need (or should have the right) to to carry fire arms in the national parks for defense of bears or people let me say this: I personally have witnessed a bear being shot while charging. A long story short, My Uncle got startled, shot in the air, the bear charged, my uncle shot the bear in the shoulder, and by the way he is a very good shot, the bear chased me up a tree, my uncle shot one more time. Needless to say I have not hunted in well over 30 years and won't ever again. 3 years ago I was camping in the same area of northern Montana, I startled a bear while hiking, I believe it was a bluff charge, never the less it charged. I used pepper spray, and did not have to play dead, run or climb any tree. That bear turned away trying to get the the spray off. So I personally see no need for concealed weapons in the National Parks. I can see someone getting spooked and not only wounding a bear or worse but maybe shooting a bystander.

chances are of getting your gun out, aiming and shooting about the same as getting your spray out aiming and spraying and if the sound of the spray would scare the bear then the sound of a gun would do the same. don't get me wrong, I don't think a side arm would stop a bear only make him mad, unless it's a mini cannon. I am for the guns only for self protection from other predators that may want sommething in my RV, human type. I am not for carrying weapons just want to have on onboard.

Well bear sprays come in hip holsters, Counter Assault anyway, where you can just shoot from the hip. Also if you are in an area that looks like bears are indeed around you should have your spray out at the ready. Yes, the bear would hear the gun noise, the difference is that you are trying to aim a gun to STOP the bear so the shot has to be a pretty good one and after the sound, comes the entry of a bullet which doesn't register fast enough or hurt (assuming with high probability that you haven't made a kill shot) bad enough to stop the bear. If the noise from the spray doesn't scare the bear, or doesn't scare the bear in enough time the bear still has to make it through the mist. In fact, he may even make it to you, but chances are when he inhales that first breath he will panic (most animals do, including us, when they can no longer breath or see) making his initial intent to maul you the last thing on his list to worry about and stop short or get in one swipe before panic sets in and he leaves. Using good bear protocol while out should be top priority and knowing bear sign and the area can lower your chances of a negative encounter. Bears are wonderful creatures if people would just give them the respect they deserve. Watch a bear, really watch one, and the last thing you will want to do is carry a weapon with the intent to kill should this creature come too near your personal space. Counter Assault will be your top deterrent allowing both you and the bear a safe and wonderful experience.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide