Pepper spray for bears contains the same ingredients as pepper spray for humans. They both contain Oleoresin Capsicum, a derivative from hot peppers. It affects the eyes, sinuses, mouth and lungs if inhaled. The spray causes a burning sensation and the membranes omit mucus and fluids to attempt to rinse the fluid away causing runny noses, choking and trouble breathing.Both sprays have a shelf life of 2 years.
The difference between bear spray and people spray is the size of the container. Both can contain the same amount of Oleoresin Capsicum of 2 % by volume. While spray used on people is generally used in close contact such as a few feet you would not want to let a bear get that close.
The EPA has set minimum requirements for products to be classified as a bear deterrent. Those requirements are:
Because a bear is larger and tougher than a human the containers for bears will hold more. A container for people and dogs holds approximately 4 ounces. Containers for bears are 8 to slightly more than 13 ounces.
Pepper spray is considered a less than lethal form of self defense even though there have been a few fatalities from humans being sprayed. Pepper spray has been found effective to repel bears in a charging situation. A bear will not confront an opponent if they cannot see or breathe. The odds of winning a conflict in this condition are slim to nonexistent.
You can also use pepper spray to force a bear to give you distance should they start to get too close. For more information about dealing with bears see my page about Camping with Bears. Pepper spray for bears should only be used as a last defense after all other precautions and practices are used. Just because you have a means to repel a bear does not mean you do not have to be careful.
The canister of pepper spray should be handy at all times, preferably in a holster on the outside of your pack in an easily accessible place. A bear will not give you a warning that it is coming. If you have to dig through your pack or undo some straps to get at the canister you will not have enough time. If you are not wearing your pack place the holster on your belt to keep it handy. While in your tent keep the spray near your flashlight so you can find it quickly.
When using pepper spray on humans it is recommended you start spraying the attacker in the face when they are about 2 arms length away. This gives you a better chance of hitting what you are aiming for. If you spray too soon they can dodge the spray and use another form of attack. If you spray when they are closer you can be hit by the overspray and momentum can carry the attacker into you. Bears are not as smart, or do they know what lies in store for them. If they are charging and you know they are not going to stop their charge at the last minute you should start spraying when they are within the range of the spray. Most spray containers for bears have a range of 25 feet with a few brands reaching to 35 feet.
Pepper spray containers for people dispense the spray as a concentrated stream because of the limited range and amount in the container. Bear spray dispenses the spray as a condensed cloud. This gives you a better chance of hitting your target from further away. The problem with spraying at a distant target is the wind can affect your targeting. If you are downwind from the bear ( shooting into the wind ) the wind can shorten the effective shooting range and blow the cloud towards you. If you are aiming across the wind at an angle you can miss your target completely.
You want to wait until the bear is close enough to hit with the cloud with minimal damage to you or your group. You want to aim for the face. When hit, the bear will retreat from the pain and symptoms.
If you are accidently sprayed or caught in the cloud aimed at an attacker there is some form of relief. The first thing not to do is rub your skin or eyes. OC is a resin and can be aggravated and spread by water. It will not rinse off, much like trying to cool the effect of eating a seriously hot pepper.
You can wait out the effects but it can last for up to 4 hours. If you are backpacking more than likely you will not have ingredients that will help. Hospital emergency rooms have found that diluted chlorine bleach ( 1 part bleach to 5 parts water ) help to remove the formula. However, you cannot use the bleach solution in or near the eyes. You can use contact lens cleaners. Ambulance companies and emergency personnel have had good luck with baby shampoo to cut through the resin.
Fox Labs International has developed towelettes the size of a piece of paper in individual packets that will ease the effects of pepper spray. They recommend using 2 wipes per instance.
Because pepper spray is labeled a dangerous substance because of the pressurized gas for the propellant and the effects of the contents, it is banned from being transported in commercial airlines. Don't plan on purchasing the spray where you live and expect to get it onto a jet going to your destination. NSA will lock you up. This does not include the fines levied by the Department of Transportation ( DOT ).
You can usually find a supplier at your destination depending on the state possession laws. Regulations for each state are covered in the next section.
If you plan on transporting pepper spray check the regulations of the states you will be traveling through. Pressurized canisters are affected by heat and can explode if exposed to strong sunlight for a period of time. Try to keep the canister cool and out of the direct sunlight. Pressurized canisters also loose operating pressure in cold environments. Pepper sprays will work in freezing temperatures but should not be stored in freezing conditions. Kimber makes Pepper Blaster 2 that does not carry a pressurized charge. The charge is instigated with the trigger activation. I do not know if you can purchase it locally but because of the limited size and amount of contents it is not classified as a bear deterrent. Pepper Blaster 2 comes under the same transportation conditions as larger items. I found it at Kimber America.com
Pepper spray for bears comes under the same regulations of pepper sprays for humans except in a few states the limit the amount of contents in a canister. Below is a list of states with regulations. This information from Wikipedia.com is not verified and could have changed after the last modification on January 2, 2012.
Even though you can get pepper spray for bears the best protection is caution and knowing how to avoid bears in the first place. The best distance to view bears is about 1 / 4 mile away. So when you head for the woods know what to expect and be safe.