The debate has raged for years, and it’s likely to continue unabated for many more: What’s the best line of defense for protection in grizzly bear country—a firearm or pepper spray deterrent?
Chances are very good that the regular readers of this blog, as experienced shooters and hunters, would overwhelmingly opt for carrying a firearm when the threat of dangerous game encounters loom. Conversely, many non-hunters and non-shooters might choose to carry pressurized canisters of commercially produced pepper spray when hiking or recreating in bear country.
Interestingly, the results of an extensive study conducted by biologists at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah, and published this week in the Journal of Wildlife Management, infer that both options are by and large the most appropriate choices for those involved.
BYU biologist and bear expert Tom S. Smith and his colleagues analyzed 269 incidents of close-quarter bear-human conflict in Alaska between 1883 and 2009 in which a firearm was involved. The data covered 269 incidents of bear-human conflicts involving 444 people and 357 bears, 300 of which were Alaskan brown bears.
The research concluded there was no significant statistical difference in the outcome of the encounters, which resulted in 151 human injuries and 172 bear fatalities.
“It really isn’t about the kind of gun you carry; it’s about how you carry yourself,” said Smith.
While the study highly recommended that backcountry travelers carry bear spray, it stressed that those opting for firearms should always consider their ability to be accurate under duress. Good advice.
“Guns are great, but for a gun to be great you have to be very, very good,” Smith added. “No one ever practices on a 500-pound animal charging at you through the brush at 10 yards. They practice on paper targets. That’s a big, big difference from being in the moment of stress.”
Data compiled in the study also revealed that handguns slightly outperformed long guns in halting a bear’s aggression, 84 percent of the time versus 76 percent.
“That’s surprising because some believe that handguns have no place in bear safety,” Smith said. “But they are much more maneuverable and carried more accessibly.”
What’s your choice in bear country?