Bear Deterrents

People in bear country should be prepared to encounter a bear at any time. While following BearSmart practices can reduce the likelihood of an encounter, carrying and knowing how to properly use bear deterrents can help prevent injury if you do encounter a bear.

Bear Deterrent Types

The two most effective bear deterrents are bear spray and noisemakers. Carry both when in bear country.

When I see a bear, should I use a noisemaker or bear spray?

  • Noisemakers are best used to deter a bear that is at a distance – one that sees you and continues to approach or one that’s heading to your camp or settlement.
  • Before using noisemakers, be sure to assess the situation. Make sure the surroundings are clear of people and the bear has an obvious way out. A bear that’s been startled by a noisemaker may not be able to avoid groups of people as it flees the area.
  • Remember, the noisemaker may not immediately deter the bear, especially if the bear has had previously experience with noise deterrents. Also, noisemakers may not prevent the bear from returning to the area.
  • Bear spray is best used when you need to deter a bear at close range (see below).

Bear spray

Does bear spray work?

  • In a study of Alaska bear encounters, it was found that 98% of those who used bear spray were uninjured by the bear. The remaining 2% received only minor injuries that required no hospitalization.
  • Bear spray can work in three ways:
    • The active ingredient (oleoresin capsicum) irritates the eyes, nose and lungs, causing severe but temporary blindness and breathing restriction.
    • The unusual sound and sight of deployed bear spray can sometimes be enough to startle a bear off its course.
    • Having bear spray provides people with a tool for responding appropriately in a bear encounter. Those who use bear spray do not resort to other, potentially dangerous responses, such as running away.
  • Bear spray is an essential part of your gear, but having it does not mean that you can forego other BearSmart practices. Even when carrying bear deterrents, it’s essential to stay alert and diligent in preventing bear encounters.

Buying bear spray

  • Be sure the canister is labelled "for deterring bear attacks."
  • The canister should weigh at least 225 grams (7.9 ounces).
  • Check the canister’s expiry date and replace it when necessary. If the bear spray was purchased outside of Canada, it may not state the expiry date. In this case, check directly with the manufacturer to find out how long the bear spray will be effective.
  • Be sure to purchase a belt or chest holster to carry your bear spray.

Practicing bear spray use

  • It’s important to understand the range and force of your bear spray, as well as how to deploy it quickly.
  • Practice reaching for your spray until you can retrieve it quickly.
  • You can practice using bear spray with an expired canister. Keep in mind, however, that outdated spray canisters may not have the same pressure as newer ones. You can also practice with an inert canister, which has the same spraying power but not the hot pepper ingredient.
  • A 225g canister contains enough bear spray for about 8 seconds of use. If practicing with a canister that you’ll be carrying later, remember to conserve as much as you can. If you suspect that you have used more than 1/3 of your bear spray, buy a new canister to carry in bear country.
  • If you can, practice using bear spray in a location outside of bear country. Residual bear spray has been known to attract bears, so do not practice using bear spray when you’re on the trail or at camp.
  • If you discharge bear spray from your canister, be sure to clean off the nozzle so bear spray doesn’t get on your clothes, gear, body or in your eyes.

Storing bear spray

  • The safety clip should always be in place when the spray is not in use.
  • Keep the canister away from items that could crush or puncture it.
  • Never leave the canister in direct sunlight or anywhere temperatures can become very hot or very cold. Do not store the bear spray in your vehicle and don’t use bear spray that you suspect has been frozen.
  • Special regulations apply to transporting bear spray in aircraft. Always talk to the airline/pilot before taking bear spray on your flight.

Carrying bear spray

  • Keep the spray accessible. Carry it in a hip or chest holster, and not in your backpack or with your other gear.
  • When biking or quadding, the best option is to keep the bear spray in a chest holster or jersey pocket.
    • You can also modify the bear spray canister to fit inside the water bottle holder on your bike, or you can install a special bear spray mount. Remember, if you keep your bear spray on your bike or quad, you may not be able to reach it if you are separated from your bike or quad in a bear encounter.
  • While sleeping, keep the spray next to your flashlight.

Using bear spray

Bears are normally wary of people and will leave if they know that you are in the area. If the bear sees you and continues to approach, prepare to deter it with your bear spray.

  • Stand your ground. Do not run and do not play dead.
  • Evaluate the wind direction. If possible, rotate so the wind is at your back.
  • Speak in an authoritative voice and make yourself appear larger.
  • Be prepared to spray - remove the safety clip.
  • Aim low in front of the bear so the animal runs into the spray.
  • If a bear approaches:
    • At 9 to 15 m (30 to 50 ft) fire a warning blast for ½ to 1 second, aiming the bear spray slightly downward.
    • At 6 to 9 m (20 to 30 ft) fire 1 to 2-second blasts in continuous succession, aiming slightly downward in front of the bear’s head until the bear leaves.
    • At 0 to 6 m (0 to 20 ft) fire 1 to 2-second blasts in continuous succession, aiming at the head, or into the nose and mouth of the bear until the bear leaves.
  • Hold your breath.
  • Be sure to move out of the bear’s way.
  • Spray and react. Try to keep some bear spray in reserve. Always re-evaluate your situation.
  • When the attack is interrupted, retreat. Do not run. Do not turn your back on the bear.
  • As the bear leaves, go a different direction.

First aid treatment for bear spray

  • Anyone who’s been accidentally sprayed should be moved from the contaminated area to fresh air as quickly as possible.
  • Flush exposed skin with cold water and soap. Mild, non-oil-based soaps such as baby soaps are best.
  • Do not rub exposed areas. Pat dry with a towel.
  • To flush spray out of your eyes, place your head under water and open your eyes every few seconds. Do not rub your eyes. Remove contacts lenses.
  • Do not apply lotions or creams to the exposed areas.
  • If the effects of the spray do not dissipate in 30 to 45 minutes, seek medical attention.


The most effective noisemakers in bear country are the people working and recreating there. Talking or singing loudly can help prevent surprise encounters with wildlife. With enough warning of your approach, wildlife should have time to move themselves and their young from the area.

Types of Noisemakers

  • Airhorns: Easily carried in bear country; create a loud, piercing sound of greater than 120 decibels.
  • Bangers: Available for pen-launchers, .22 caliber launchers, and 12 gauge launchers. Creates a loud bang after travelling 20 to 100 metres (66 to 328 feet).
  • Screamers: Similar to bangers except they create a loud, continuous screeching noise for approximately 100 metres (328 feet). The flight pattern is erratic. Because these projectiles can be unpredictable, be extremely cautious when using them.

Using Noisemakers

  • Use noisemakers to scare away bears that are aware of your presence but do not leave the area.
  • Do not use bangers or screamers in dry forest conditions. They may cause a fire.
  • Do not shoot the noise deterrents directly at the bear.
  • Ensure bangers explode between you and the bear. A banger that explodes behind the bear may startle it so that the bear runs back in your direction.
  • Be prepared to defend yourself with bear spray in case the noisemaker is ineffective.
  • Ensure you are not using bangers or screamers that are old, or that have been wet or altered in any way. They may prematurely explode cause injury.

Noisemaker Safety

  • Noisemakers that fire a projectile (bangers or screamers) should be stored and carried unloaded.
  • Always be aware of the line of fire.
  • Be aware of the potential for a ricochet.
  • To avoid personal injury or death, never point or fire a noisemaker projectile at a person.
  • Ensure you are not using bangers or screamers that are old, or that have been wet or altered in any way. They may prematurely explode and cause injury.

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Updated: Dec 10, 2014