Bear Spray, what is it and how does it work?

bear sprayThere’s no substitute for appropriate conduct in bear country. Bear spray should only be relied on as a last resort. Most human- bear encounters are typically resolved without the use of bear spray. Ensure your bear spray is not expired, read manufacturer’s instructions prior to use, carry it in a holster on your belt ready to use, not in the bottom of your backpack!
What is it?
Oleoresin capsicum (abbreviated O.C.) is the oily mixture produced when the burning compounds that naturally occur in hot red peppers are extracted. Oleoresin is the oily extract obtained from a plant. Capsicum is the Latin word for pepper and is the taxonomic designation for all hot peppers used for seasoning. Capsicum literally means “pepper extract from oil”. When habaneras (fiery hot), jalapenos (moderately hot), or even bell peppers (not hot) are finely ground, this pepper slurry is mixed with vegetable oil to make oleoresin capsicum.
O.C. is comprised primarily of:
• carotenoids: the red pigments found in many vegetables
• vegetable oils
• Capsaicinoids: the compounds responsible for pungency. There are over 25 capsaicinoid compounds found in O.C. but only three are considered active ingredients. These three are responsible for the “heat” or pungency of the solution.
How does bear spray deter bears?
Capsaicin elicits an intense burning sensation when it comes in contact with skin. It causes pain receptors to send the same impulses to the brain as those generated by burning heat. What makes bear pepper spray an effective defence weapon is the effect it has on mucous membranes—primarily those of the eyes, nose and lungs. Capsaicin immediately causes these tissues to swell causing nearly total, yet temporary loss of sight and severe restriction of breathing. That’s why bear spray has to hit the eyes and nose of a bear to be optimally effective. It’s important that bear spray be highly aerosolized; otherwise there won’t be sufficient force to push the spray into the lungs.
Where can I buy Bear Spray?
It is available at most sport shops. Check the expiry date before purchasing. All approved bear pepper sprays have a shelf life of 3 years. Once the product has expired, do not carry it in the wilderness as a bear deterrent. Use the spray for practice to become familiar with the color, sound, pressure and reaching distance of the spray.
Reference, Practical Guide to Bear Safety by Jacques Drisdelle.