Does Bear Spray Really Work On Black Bears? (Explained)

Most of the time, wild animals do not bother us, and we do not bother them. We are both out there enjoying our lives in nature while respecting each other’s boundaries and avoiding being in each other’s way until that option is no longer available.

90% of black bear attacks have been deterred by bear spray. This means it is very effective. Let us look at how the bear spray works on black bears, where to buy it, and how to use bear spray.

Here’s Whether bear spray works on black bears

Yes, the bear spray works on black bears. It contains capsaicinoids, the compounds responsible for the pepper’s heat. When the trigger is pressed, the spray dispenses as a fog rather than a stream, allowing it to quickly interact with the mucous membranes of the bear’s face and lungs, which slows or stops its attack.

It is better to stay safe than to be sorry. Black bears are solitary, quiet animals that typically scavenge for food rather than hunt it but can be very aggressive when bothered.

The bear spray creates a fog in the air, causing severe irritation in the bear’s eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and lungs and temporarily paralyzing it. According to experts, there is no better way to repel an aggressive black bear attack.

Bear spray’s active ingredients, such as capsaicin, affect the upper respiratory system, causing involuntary eye closure, an intense but temporary burning sensation on the skin, and burning, tearing, and swelling of the eyes.

When inhaled, it causes respiratory tract inflammation, resulting in swelling of the mucous membranes lining the breathing passage and temporarily restricting breathing to short, shallow breaths. According to the bear-spray manufacturers, the effects usually wear off in 30 to 45 minutes.

Bear spray, unlike a gun, does not need to be precisely aimed to stop a charging bear. The user points the canister at the charging bear and sprays the contents for 2-3 seconds.

The maximum range of sprays varies by manufacturer, but they are reported to be effective when sprayed from 1.5 to 3 meters away at a charging or aggressive bear (that is, 4 ft 11 into 9 ft 10 in.).

How do you use bear spray on a black bear?

It is crucial to practice removing the safety cap before using bear spray. Keep your bear spray on you and in a place where it can be easily and quickly accessed, ideally in a holster on your belt. If you encounter a bear, you won’t have time to fish around in your backpack to find it.

When you first see a bear, get the bear spray into your hands. Prepare to use it only if the bear gets closer than 50 feet (15 m). Consult the manufacturer’s label for instructions for storage, disposal, and proper use.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to use bear spray on a black bear.

  1. When you spot the black bear, do not run away and do not make eye contact. This may set off the bear’s chasing instinct.
  2. Stealthily and steadily, take your bear spray out of the holster and unclip the safety clip.
  3. Hold the spray can in front of you with one hand on the can and the other on the trigger.
  4. Keep the can raised and ready.
  5. If the bear gets within 20-30 feet (6-10 m), spray with both hands in a zigzag pattern to create a spray cloud between yourself and the bear.
  6. Aim directly ahead of the bear’s head and slightly downward. A cloud of ingredients will billow up from the ground, forming a foggy spray wall. The bear will sense the cloud when it reaches it.
  7. If the bear does not stop, respray it.
  8. Remember to avoid the spray. If possible, position yourself so the bear is facing downwind to avoid the mist blowing back at you when it is discharged.
  9. Keep an eye on the bear’s activities, and do not turn your back on it.
  10. When the bear moves away, start moving slowly away.

Remember, always ensure the safety clip is attached to avoid accidental discharge. Secondly, bring your spray inside your tent with you in the evening and store it somewhere you can find it without using a headlamp.

Do not be tempted to spray your tent with bear spray in the hopes of deterring bears before they get too close. Doing so will only attract bears to your campsite by giving them the scent of the pepper in the bear spray.

Is bear spray harmful to bears?

No, bear spray is not harmful to bears; it only deters them for a couple of minutes to give you enough time to get away from the bear. The bear spray causes immediate inflammatory and irritating effects in the bear’s mouth, throat, nose, lungs, eyes, and ears, causing it to flee.

The bear’s mouth produces saliva, and its throat gets constricted and inflamed, causing coughing and choking. The bear’s nasal passages expand and constrict, affecting its sense of smell and restricting airflow to its lungs. Its eyes become wet and hazy, and its ears begin to ring, causing damage to both its eyesight and hearing.

The Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) regulates bear sprays. The EPA requires bear sprays to have an EPA registration number and an establishment number usually found at the bottom of the front label. The animal will be fine in 30 to 45 minutes.

Bear spray labels must also clearly refer to bears and state whether it is a deterrent, repellent, or for stopping attacking bears. The EPA currently requires that the concentration of capsaicin and related capsaicinoids be between 1% and 2%.

The active ingredients will significantly impact the bear’s ability to inhale and exhale enough oxygen to support an attack.

Which is stronger pepper spray or bear spray?

Bear spray is stronger than pepper spray. Capsaicin levels in the bear spray are higher than in pepper spray. Bear spray has a capsaicin percentage of 2%, compared to pepper spray.

Pepper spray emits a short, narrow stream directed directly at the target’s face, while bear spray emits an extensive, vast fog with a high probability of striking the bear’s eyes, face, and nose.

Bear spray has a broader range (20 to 30 feet) and thus is much stronger than pepper spray when it comes to deterring bears. Although pepper spray may work on bears, it will only render its target immobile at close range, and this is not a luxury one has with a bear attack.

The pepper spray is pressurized but not powerful. Most pepper sprays have a volume of less than an ounce and can spray up to 10 feet. Bear spray canisters are much more pressurized and contain more volume.

The bear is not deterred unless you hit it with a cloud of bear spray. Pepper spray is not sold for use on bears.

Some pepper sprays are extremely weak and cannot deter a bear. Pepper spray manufacturers are not required to register their ingredients with any agency. They can change their formulations at any time without notifying anyone.

Many people are given incorrect instructions for using bear spray based on how to use pepper spray on humans.

This misinformation has tainted information found on the internet and in the media, resulting in maulings and the false belief that bear spray does not work. When used correctly, quality bear sprays work, but pepper sprays may not.

Does bear spray work on other animals?

Bear spray works on almost all mammals, including bears, cougars, jackals, coyotes, wolfs, moose, elk, and deer. However, the most likely scenario in which you will require bear spray is if you come across an aggressive domestic dog.

Where to buy bear spray

Most outdoor and sporting goods stores sell bear spray. You can also order it online. Check that it says “bear spray” and “pepper spray.” Canisters labeled “pepper spray” may not contain the correct ingredient concentration.

Look for “Bear Spray” or “Bear Deterrent” canisters with a minimum of 7.9 ounces (225 gr) of product, an EPA registration, and a concentration of 1-2 percent capsaicin and capsaicinoids. Check the expiration date to ensure the ingredients have a good shelf life.

Bear spray is legal everywhere because it is a pesticide rather than a self-defense weapon. However, in some states, where there are strict laws governing the sale and use of pepper spray, it is illegal to buy bear spray if you intend to use it on a human.


In summary, only purchase bear spray approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA enrollment number is displayed on the frontal marker of bear spray cans.

Remember to practice removing the safety cap before using bear spray. Ensure you have bear spray and not pepper spray when going out for a hike.