When a family of four was half-a-mile down a trail in Yellowstone in 2018, a female grizzly raced out of the vegetation nearby. Unbeknownst to them, she had at least one cub with her and her protective mother instincts were on high alert.
As the 10-year-old son instinctively began to run away, the bear chased him and knocked him down. Fortunately, his father had bear spray with him, had watched a video on how to use it and had practiced taking off the safety before the hike. He dashed toward his son and as he got closer, the bear came after him. He sprayed the bear from three feet away.
“There was a moment, less than a second — just a beat — when it seemed it wouldn’t stop the bear because it was still coming,” the father told Jennifer Jerrett, the host of Telemetry, the park’s science and issues podcast. “But then it took a breath and just recoiled.”
The bear ran off. And the family, along with their son who had been clawed in the back, walked back to the car safely.
Incidents like this highlight the importance of having bear spray with you, even if you aren’t planning to walk far down a trail.
There are a number of bear spray brands to choose from as you prepare for your Yellowstone vacation. You can even rent bear spray at Canyon Village in the park at the Bear Aware LLC kiosk near the Canyon Visitor Education Center like the father in the 2018 incident did. Another brand available for purchase, Counter Assault, has the only 40-foot bear spray on the market.
“Spray distance and time matter when you’re faced with a charging bear, which is why we’ve designed our product to reach farther and spray longer,” says Jeana White, Counter Assault brand leader.
In addition to carrying bear spray always hike in groups of three or more, make a lot of noise as you walk and stay alert.
Learn more about bear spray at www.counterassault.com/bear-spray/.
5 Bear Safety Tips for Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks
Yellowstone is one of the last places in the Lower 48 where grizzly bears live. One-and-a-half to two times larger than black bear, about 150 grizzly bears live in the park. No one in the continental United States has likely treated more bear attack victims and investigated more bear attack incidents than former Yellowstone and Glacier national park ranger Gary Moses. A product ambassador for Counter Assault bear spray, Moses has five tips to avoid a dangerous bear encounter.
1. Buy Bear Spray
Before heading out on the trail, buy a bottle of bear spray. “One of the analogies I use for folks coming to the park is you put a seatbelt on every time you get in the car, even though the probability of getting in an accident is low,” says Moses. “Bear spray is the same thing. Whereas the chance of physical contact with a bear is small, when it does occur, bear spray can prevent or reduce injury.”
But remember, not all brands of bear spray are created equal, Moses warns. Some manufacturers produce cans that run out quickly or can’t spray far. Counter Assault makes a 10 oz. can that lasts 8 seconds and sprays 40 feet. Counter Assault also makes an 8 oz. that lasts 7 seconds and can spray 32 feet.
2. Know How To Use Bear Spray
“Anything we do that’s important, we should practice doing,” Moses says. “You’re not going to go to the golf course and be good at it the first time.” Same goes with bear spray. Practice pulling it out of the holster and learn how to pull the safety off (without actually spraying), so you’re not trying to figure it out with an aggressive bear in front of you. Keep it on the outside of your backpack or on your hip belt when you hike, so it is easy to access if you need it. Never bury it in your backpack or leave it on the ground when you walk away to take a photo. If a bear charges, you won’t have your bear spray with you.
In the event a grizzly charges you, get out your bear spray, remove the safety, and aim your spray slightly downwards toward the front of the bear. Aiming above the bear’s head is too high – the spray is designed to spread and billow upwards, so if you spray over the head, you’ll miss the bear. Spray in 1-2 second bursts. Watch the spray cloud and be prepared to adjust your spray angle as necessary. You don’t want to empty your can in one spray in case you aimed incorrectly or the wind carried the spray away from the bear’s face.
3. Hike in a Group
In grizzly bear country, it’s best to hike in groups. You’re more likely to be talking, which will alert a grizzly in advance that you are in the area. That means it has more time to move away. Furthermore, if you do encounter a grizzly, you have hiking partners around to help or get help.
4. Make Noise
Announce your presence in the forest, especially near gurgling streams, dense vegetation and lake shores, where a bear may not hear you until you are right upon it. Moses recommends making noise as you hike around a cliff band or a blind corner where you cannot see the other side of the trail.
5. Keep Food Packed Away
All food and garbage should remain in your backpack, except if you are eating it. At camp, it should be placed in bear proof cans or hung high on a tree branch.
Learn more tips at CounterAssault.com/bear-spray.