Bear spray doesn’t help much if it’s at the bottom of your pack or if you don’t know how you use it. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Don’t rely on bear spray in the back country, experts say

Not knowing how to use bear spray properly can lead to a grizzly scene

  • Jul. 27, 2017 9:00 a.m.

By Jamie-Lee McKenzie

What’s the deal with bear spray? If you have it, are you safe?

Bear spray is known to be a valuable tool in bear encounters. It contains capsaicin and it’s not lethal. The nasty symptoms experienced by the bear are said to be enough to stop an attack.

It can be a great tool to help protect you and it can actually work if you run into a bear. But bear spray alone will not necessarily save your life.

“I don’t recommend it to people and say ‘Here you go and everything will be fine,’” said Jesse Cooke, owner of the Klondike Experience in Dawson City. “I recommend they take it as long as they know how to use it and understand bear safety in general.”

The problem is that many people think that just having bear spray means they’re safe, say people with experience in the back country. People need to know how to use bear spray properly, because not understanding how it works it can be more dangerous than not having bear spray at all.

A lot of people feel very comfortable with it and it’s an extra deterrent, says Cooke. Bear spray is just one little part of the puzzle. But bear spray is not going to make your journey any safer unless you know how to use it and unless you’re able to use it, he said. It can be dangerous, you can end up hurting yourself with it and if you don’t know how to use it, it’s no good.

“Bear safety goes a lot deeper than just carrying bear spray with you,” said Cooke.

Awareness supersedes any sort of deterrent, says Mike Taras, a wildlife education and outreach specialist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Recognizing bear signs, proper behaviour and being aware that there could be more bears in an area will all help prevent bear encounters, he says.

Although Taras does recommend bear spray as a deterrent against bears, he still stresses to everyone the importance of knowing how to handle yourself in a bear encounter — and knowing how to properly use bear spray is just as important.

For many people who understand bears well enough, bear spray is often a last resort. It’s their knowledge of bear behaviour that they rely on to protect them in bear encounters., said Cooke, adding that there are many other ways to get out of a bear situation long before you’d have to use bear spray.

Alexandra Morrison was born and raised in the Yukon. Her family hiked the Chilkoot Trail often and someone always packed bear spray, but they also had a strong awareness of bears.

Morrison still spends a lot of time in the wild, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing and camping. Morrison carries bear spray with her, but she’s never had to use it in any encounters with a bear.

During a hike a couple of years ago, Morrison and her partner were on a trail southeast of Whitehorse when they noticed a “beautiful grizzly” just ahead of them. Rather than panic or pull out her bear spray, Morrison decided to quietly climb further up the mountain and let the bear pass them. When the bear eventually did catch wind of their presence, she began making loud noises and yelling until the bear finally moved on.

“Bear spray and bear awareness and safety seem to go more hand in hand,” said Morrison.

Cooke said he’s never had to use bear spray during bear encounters either. Instead he’s relied on his knowledge and used other techniques, like making a lot of noise to scare the bear away.

Bear spray can give you false confidence, and it’s no good if it’s at the bottom of your backpack, said Cooke.

What’s important is knowing how to use bear spray. Hikers need to understand how it works to use it properly. That starts with not relying only on bear spray alone when during bear encounters.

“I would hope that if you go out into the woods you are aware of the dangers and you would educate yourself on how to avoid them,” said Morrison.

Contact Jamie-Lee McKenzie at jamielee.mckenzie@yukon-news.com

bearsEnvironment

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before conducting a test with it on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
An inside look at the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre

As the active COVID-19 case count grew last week, so too did… Continue reading

Conservation officers search for a black bear in the Riverdale area in Whitehorse on Sept. 17. The Department of Environment intends to purchase 20 semi-automatic AR-10 rifles, despite the inclusion of the weapons in a recently released ban introduced by the federal government, for peace officers, such as conservation officers. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Environment Minister defends purchase of AR-10 rifles for conservation officers

The federal list of banned firearms includes an exception for peace officers

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The K-shaped economic recovery and what Yukoners can do about it

It looks like COVID-19 will play the role of Grinch this holiday… Continue reading

Jodie Gibson has been named the 2020 Prospector of the Year by the Yukon Prospectors Association. (Submitted)
Jodie Gibson named 2020 Prospector of the Year

Annual award handed out by the Yukon Prospector’s Association

A number 55 is lit in honour of Travis Adams, who died earlier this year, at the Winter Wonderland Walk at Meadow Lakes Golf Club in Whitehorse on Nov. 24. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
A new take on holiday traditions

Winter Wonderland Walk, virtual Stories with Santa all part of 2020 festive events in Whitehorse

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Karen Wenkebach has been appointed as a judge for the Yukon Supreme Court. (Yukon News file)
New justice appointed

Karen Wenckebach has been appointed as a judge for the Supreme Court… Continue reading

Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, speaks at a council and senior management (CASM) meeting about CASM policy in Whitehorse on June 13, 2019. Constable highlighted research showing many municipalities require a lengthy notice period before a delegate can be added to the agenda of a council meeting. Under the current Whitehorse procedures bylaw, residents wanting to register as delegates are asked to do so by 11 a.m. on the Friday ahead of the council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Changes continue to be contemplated for procedures bylaw

Registration deadline may be altered for delegates

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Most Read