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What is pepper spray?

An aerosol product containing capsaicin, a naturally occurring extract of peppers, which, when sprayed in an animal's face, causes only temporary, but extreme discomfort. 

How do I use it?  

  • Keep at the ready - clipped to your belt, in your hand, easily accessible pocket.  It won't do any good in the bottom of your backpack or purse.

  • Aim toward the bear’s face, or slightly below.  Spray going over the bear’s head will not be effective. (

  • Mind the overspray so you don't accidentally spray nearby persons or equipment.  Residual spray can act as a bear attractant.

What's the difference between pepper spray and bear spray?  

Both have the active ingredient of capsaicin and related capsaicinoids and can cause temporary blindness, nausea, burning sensations, inability to breathe temporarily and other bothersome symptoms.  


The EPA regulates bear spray as a pesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and requires a minimum size of 7.9 oz while pepper spray is typically sold in 1.5 oz canisters.  Bear spray is also dispensed more forcefully than pepper spray.

Product Type
Product Example
Product Size
Percent Capsaicin
Spray Range
Bear Spray
Counter Assault
8-9 ounces
generally 2%
25+ feet
Pepper Spray
1.5 ounces
10+ feet
Pepper Spray
Halt II
1.5 ounces
10+ feet

Don't I need to use bear spray instead of pepper spray?

Nearly all close encounters with black bears involve bears seeking food. These bears are only mildly aggressive. The weaker types of pepper spray like Halt and Dog Shield have proven to be plenty potent against black bears seeking food.


These products are not EPA-approved for bears, but Ely researchers believe anything more potent is overkill in black bear country.

Is pepper spray effective on black bears?

Sue Mansfield of the Wildlife Research Institute reports good success discouraging nuisance activity and instilling renewed fear of humans when residents sprayed visiting bears with capsaicin spray which their group provided (pers. comm. July 2006 - The Return of the Black Bear to Eastern Kentucky - page 49)

Is pepper spray safe to use?

Your mail carrier thinks so.  The USPS states "The repellent has been accepted by the U.S. Depart­ment of Agriculture Pesticides Regulation Branch and has been registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and bears registration No. 7754-1.  It has been registered in all states requiring such registration. The significance of these registrations is that they identify the product(s) as effective and safe."  (

Does pepper spray make bears mad?

In all the testing researchers in Ely, Minnesota have done with various brands of pepper spray, no bear has shown the slightest hint of anger. All quietly retreated to deal with the temporary eye irritation.


None of the bears made any vocalization, blew, chomped its teeth, extended its upper lip, nor showed any other sign of aggression after being sprayed.  

(Rogers - Reactions of Free-Ranging Black Bears to Capsaicin Spray Repellent)

Can pepper spray be used as a bear repellent?  

No.  It actually has the opposite effect.  It is not meant to be sprayed on yourself or equipment as that can actually attract bears since they like to investigate novel smells. 



From the results published in Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska (Smith) -  "We analyzed 11 incidents of spray misuse that resulted in unintended consequences. In 45% (5 of 11) of incidents, persons applied spray to objects they hoped to protect from damage by curious bears; these efforts all failed. In 2 instances (18%), persons applied sprays as a zonal repellent but reported bears inordinately attracted to these locations (i.e., tent and on river bank. In 2 instances (18%), persons reported bears attracted to spray residues following use of bear spray for practice purposes."

Aren't I safer carrying a gun?  

Actually a spray is more effective than a gun.  One reason is because it is easier for you to aim the spray, than a gun. Even if you slightly miss the aim, the spray can provide you with increased chances of survival.  


It encourages human safety but it also helps in bear conservation. (Smith)


It is more effective than a gun: A wounded bear may charge you – a sprayed bear will not.  (

Research has shown that a mortally wounded bear usually lives long enough to seriously injure its attacker. People using guns against bears are more often attacked and more severely injured than those using bear spray to defend themselves and deter the bear. While so-called “bear spray” cannot prevent an encounter with a bear, it is by far the best known method of preventing attack and injury, if an encounter occurs. Bear spray is also nontoxic and will not permanently harm either the bear or the person exposed to it. (

Are there any other benefits to carrying pepper spray?  

The spray works on nearly all mammals and may be useful should you find yourself in a rare, but possible, unsafe wildlife encounter.  Obviously it is effective against dogs which may be threatening you or your pet.  It can also be used to keep other dogs at a distance if your dog is aggressive/reactive.

Where can I buy pepper spray?

It is easiest to purchase pepper spray online.  Below are some sources (February 2022).

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