Drop the Rifle and Pick up the Bear Spray

Biologist discovers that guns aren't always the best form of protection in the wild

Brigham Young University bear biologist Thomas Smith says that guns aren’t necessarily your best option when facing down one of the beasts.

Smith and his team analyzed 20 years worth of incidents in Alaska, and found that the wilderness equivalent of pepper spray effectively deterred bears 92 percent of the time, whereas guns only did the trick one-third less often. (He studied polar bears, too, hence the picture, at left, of an unconscious mother and her cubs. And yes, he did get away before everyone woke up.)

The odd thing, though, is that the effectiveness of the stuff doesn’t seem to have much to do with the chemicals in the spray. In fact, Smith says he found some cases in which people actually attracted bears by applying the stuff to their tents or other gear. It may be that the cloud of spray, and the sound of its dispersal, are what really incite the bears to turn and run. So, you know, next time you stare down a bear, ditch the gun and whip out a spray.