It was a lovely day for a fall drive. The season was just setting in. The air was cooler, trees were turning colour, and the farmers’ fields along highway 59 were ripe for harvest, though signs of water lingering on the ground suggested harvest was going to have to wait a while yet.
Eveline and I were on our way to New Bothwell. Past Paddle Manitoba President Chris and his wife Selena had invited us out for an intriguing evening. They had a couple of cans of expired bear spray and had contacted some members of our Paddle Manitoba community to see if there was interest in firing it off to get some experience with it and see what all the fuss was about.
Eveline and I were a definite yes. I mean, what could go wrong, right?
The wafting aroma of the baked, stuffed squash Selena was preparing for dinner, and Holly, the ever excited canine, welcomed us to New Bothwell. Chris gave us a brief tour of their property, with a mandatory stop at the ripe raspberry bushes for Eveline, and then the three of us drove out to the Tourond Creek Discovery Centre, a park managed by the operation Chris works for.
The discovery centre is an outdoor classroom that serves the local education community and maintains five micro-ecosystems including aspen forest, grassland, Tourond Creek, wetland, and rich woodland. A small network of trails connects the micro-ecosystems. The centre has a picnic shelter, a lookout tower, a dock, and an Environment Canada weather station.
We hiked the trail into tall grassland bordered by woods until we found a suitable place that we could disturb with bear spray, and where the direction of the wind would carry the spray away from us.
Having located an ideal spot, we set out to each have our first experience discharging a hot sauce firearm. Eveline and I insisted Chris take the first shot. This was his idea, after all. I went next, then Eveline.
The sudden orange cloud ejected from the canister surprised us all, as did the force of the spray which produces a slight recoil in the first instance of the shot.
Now into the second bottle, Eveline tried a second shot, as her first had drained the initial canister before she had gotten a full shot off. Each canister seems to have enough juice for four reasonably sized discharges, or for one serious expulsion.
Chris took a second turn with the last canister and fired off a decent round. Despite the wind direction, we experienced some clear blowback on this shot. The cloud of capsaicin that began to blow towards us smelled distinctly of chicken wings and hot sauce. It sent Chris into a coughing fit. Eveline and I caught the softer end of it, and only ended up with some tingling around the nose and eyes.
Once Chris recovered, we picked up our spent canisters and began the hike back to the car.
Chris returned to the park the next day with Holly. While on their hike, Holly caught the scent of the bear spray and went out into the grass in search of it. She sniffed out the location where we had discharged the spray and then rolled around in the ground trying to transfer the smell to her fur. It had been over twelve hours since we sprayed the bear spray and the area had experienced quite a bit of rain during the previous evening. Clearly, the spray will linger and is an attractant to scent-driven animals once it is no longer incapacitating
Important points about what we learned:
- You will be able to see the spray distinctly. It is a burnt-orange colour.
- The canister will jump a little bit in recoil when you first squeeze the trigger.
- Even if you are successful in managing the wind direction, you should be prepared for the possibility of the bear spray wafting back towards you – and it is definitely spicy.
Bear Spray Facts
- Bear spray contains 1-2% capsaicinoids (the active ingredient in chili peppers and hot sauce) which can be 10 times as strong as self-defense pepper sprays.
- Bear spray has been shown to stop undesirable behavior in brown bears 92% of the time, 90% for black bears and 100% for polar bears.
- 7% of bear spray incidents have had wind interfere with spray accuracy, although this interference did not prevent the spray from reaching the bear or having the desired effect.
- 14% of bear spray incidents resulted in negative side effects upon the user from the spray, ranging from minor irritation to near incapacitation
How to use Bear Spray
First, upon becoming aware of the presence of a bear, remove the safety clip.
If the bear begins approaching or charging:
- Aim the spray towards the bear. Adjust for wind direction.
- Steady your arm and pull the trigger.
- Discharge the spray in 2 – 3 second bursts once the bear is within 30 feet of your position.
- Aim the spray slightly above the bear’s head.
- Try to not use the entire contents of the canister in one go. You may need to fire on the bear again if it should retreat and return.
- Spray again if the bear continues to approach or re-approaches. Aim directly for the face.
- Once the bear has retreated or has turned to cleaning itself, evacuate the area quickly, but do not run.
What to do if the bear spray gets you
- wash all affected areas with cool clean water
- remove contact lenses
- wash all contaminated clothing ASAP. Remember that the smell of bear spray can become an attractant. It is only a repellent when the capsaicin is directly affecting the bear.
- be aware of hypothermia in cool weather conditions
- take short shallow breaths to avoid breathing in the spray
- It may take up to 15 – 20 minutes before relief from the symptoms is felt. If the symptoms persist seek medical attention.