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Be Bear Aware

Handling Your Game

  • Have bear spray readily available.
  • Wear gloves and apron (to minimize odors on clothing.
  • Separate carcass from entrails, and remove carcass from area as soon as possible.
  • Never leave entrails within 1 mile of a trail, campsite, picnic area or parking lot.
  • Carcasses should be kept unavailable to bears by hanging at least 10 to 15 feet from the ground and 4 feet out from the supporting structure; and 100 yards from any recreation site especially sleeping areas.
  • Hang carcass where you can see it from a distance. That way you can observe it as you return.
  • Items are considered unavailable to bears if they are:
    • Stored in a closed, bear-resistant container.
    • Enclosed within a vehicle constructed of solid, non-pliable material.
    • Suspended at least 10 to 15 feet from the ground and 4 feet horizontally and vertically from any supporting tree or pole.

Food Regulations

  • Human food and beverages, horse feeds, dog food, etc. either in possession of left unattended must be kept unavailable to bears unless being consumed, prepared for consumption or transported.
  • When departing an area, remove all good and refuse from any bear resistant containers left in the area.
  • Do not sleep in the same clothes that you handled game or cooked in.
  • Keep sleeping bags, tents and sleeping area free of food and beverage odors.
  • Keep bear spray readily available.

Bear Spray

Bear Spray plays an important part in reducing attacks during human encounters with bears. It is proven to be an effective deterrent of North American bears, but it can be adversely affected by wind, rain, temperature, and even how close the bear is when it charges.

When purchasing bear spray it is important to remember that personal defense sprays are not the same. Although both types of sprays are made from oleoresin capsicum, it is the capsaicin and related capsaicinoids that are the active ingredients in bear  spray. Therefore, if you see claims on a large can that state 10%, 20% or 30% oleoresin capsicum, it is a personal defense spray, not bear  spray.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates bear  sprays pursuant to an Act of Congress. Look for the EPA registration and establishment numbers, usually found at the bottom of the front label, only bear sprays will have this information. Also, bear spray labels will clearly refer to bears, and state it is a bear deterrent, bear repellent, or for stopping attacking bears.

Currently the EPA requires that the concentration of Capsaicin and related capsaicinoids range between 1 and 2.0%. The variance in potency within this range is negligible, and all will affect the eyes, nose, throat and lungs of a bear. The minimum size can the EPA will register is 7.9 ounces, or 225 grams. Cans smaller than this may not have sufficient spray duration or distance to be used safely in deterring a charging bear.


Bear and wildlife management specialists, outfitters, guides, and many individuals that have been involved in bear attacks recommend the following guidelines:

  • A minimum of 6 seconds of spray duration in case you are charged by more than one bear, charged more than one time, or have more than one encounter.
  • A spray distance of 25 feet under optimum conditions. This will give the bear a chance to experience the effects of the bear spray, disabling and distracting it from its charge, thereby reducing the likelihood of making contact.
  • Always carry it readily accessible. Remove the safety clip if you encounter fresh bear sign, when cleaning game or fish, and especially if a bear is in the immediate area.

Bear  spray is a good last line of defense, but it is not a substitute for vigilance and following the appropriate safety techniques. Always give the bear a chance to leave, or for you to attempt to leave the area. Bear spray should only be used if you are charged by a bear. Point the canister towards the charging bear, slightly downwards, and if possible, spray before the bear is within 30-40 feet. Do not use bear spray to harass or chase animals out of your yard. Call your local wildlife management agency to assist you.

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Chuck Bartlebaugh

PO Box 7487, Missoula MT 59807

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