Black Bears and Black Pepper… and Cayenne Pepper Too!

Black Bears and Black Pepper 1

“This misty spray just could save your life”

I’ve eaten quite a lot of black bear meat in my life. And, just like most meats, I normally season it with salt and black pepper when I’m preparing to cook it. But, when I’m in the bush and I see a bear within my immediate area, I’ll “season it” with cayenne pepper over black pepper, any day.

Cayenne-based pepper spray is, in my opinion, the best line of self defense against bears. My second best line of self defense against bears or my “go to move” if I ever had to defend myself without pepper spray, would be the double leg, flying scissors take down. But, I truly hope that I never have to try that one, because I’d look like a real asshole when the bear gave me a head fake, moved to side and I landed on the ground!

A few years ago, when I was living in northwestern Ontario, I was back on my property, about a half a mile from my house, clearing the brush around the base of a tree, preparing a spot to hang a treestand. This would have been mid-September. There were quite a few bears in my area and three of the dumber ones ended up getting got shot while on my back steps. Have you ever suddenly had the feeling that someone or something was watching you? Well, holy shit, I sure did that day! I turned around and about 40 yards away was a smallish black bear of around 150 pounds, maybe 200, tops. I’ve been around bears all my life and have been very close to a bunch of them while in the bush and I’ve never been nervous or afraid of these animals that are often shy and afraid of us humans. I’ve never had to prepare myself to use my “second best line of self defense,” the double leg, flying scissors take down. But, this time things seemed a little different.

The bear was looking right at me. I don’t know, maybe he thought I “looked cute” in the jeans I was wearing or something… but, I had the feeling that something else was on his mind. Like food… it was a shitty blueberry season, after all. He started slowly walking straight toward me. No charge, no running, no posturing (like in the movies where we often see Bart, the trained grizzly bear struttin’ his stuff for the camera!) Just a steady, “I’m coming for you, Mr. Human.”

So, what do the bear “experts” say we’re supposed to do at this point? I know… stand up tall and try to make yourself look bigger… grab a stick and start waving it in the air… start yelling… Well, I did all that. I even threw a perfectly sized branch (the size of a small baseball bat) at him and it hit him in the front legs… then, I threw a stone. I missed, of course. But, on he came… slow and steady, straight for me.

The ironic thing to this whole story is that this was one of the few days that I bothered to carry my pepper spray with me. It was in its holster, ready for action. As this black, hairy bastard kept walking straight at me, I pulled it out, removed the plastic tab that acts a safety, and aimed it right at the guy… He never did charge, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have at any second. When he got to about 15 feet, I let ‘em have it. Right in the face with a solid load from my cayenne pepper-based “bear spray.”

This was the first and only time in my life I’d ever sprayed a bear. Holy shit! It worked even better than I ever thought it would have. The second that big, peppery mist hit that lad in the face, he made one hell of a sound, one that I didn’t know bears made, turned and ran off sideways, straight into a tree. Bang! Head first into a big poplar tree. I can only assume he was temporarily blinded. Then, he backed up and ran off, crashing into whatever was in his way. The whole thing was over in seconds. Then, I checked my underpants to see if there was any actually shit in it. For the record, there was a little wet spot… But, just a little one.

Black Bears and Black Pepper 2

“Blueberries and bears go together, so be prepared.”

There are a lot of people who know a lot more about bears than I do. And, there are different theories as to what the best bear protection gear or device would be. Some say a rifle would be the best choice, some say a shotgun loaded with SSG or buckshot. Some say a good quality cayenne-based pepper spray is the way to go. And, some guys (okay, just one guy) think that the double leg, flying scissors take down would be a good move. I would imagine that rifle, shotgun or spray all have their moments of glory. Maybe even the double leg flying… okay, maybe not.

Let’s take a look at the rifle to start with. And, there is a big difference between a rifle with a scope and one without. If you ever had to defend yourself against a charging bear, your shot would probably be inside 20 yards and likely less than 10. You’d have a very hard time seeing a bear through a scope at such close range, especially, if the scope is cranked up to 12 or 16 power. All you’d see is a big, black, blurry thing, out of focus and bouncing around. Good luck to trying to make a kill shot. You’d either miss it altogether, or hit it somewhere like in the shoulder or leg, and it might still keep charging. I think a rifle without a scope would be a far better option. You better be a good shot though… a charging bear (with your heart pounding and hands shaking like a goddam leaf) would not be an easy target, regardless. You might get just one shot, so make it a good one.

A shotgun, in my opinion, would always be the best firearm for bear defense. A shotgun is sort of like a hand grenade, meaning it shoots a pattern of smaller projectiles, rather than just one. If you aim at shotgun for a bear’s head, you’ll hit it nine times out of ten, unless, you’re really crappin’ yourself! And, a load of SSG (12 – 15 pellets per 12 gauge load) or OO buck, for example, would very likely kill the bear. But, almost guaranteed, it’ll stop, turn and run.

So, a shotgun is a good choice for bear protection. But, is it always practical to carry a shotgun every time you enter bear country? If I was going to be in grizzly bear country, I’d always have a shotgun, or the very least, a rifle with me. It is, however, always practical and easy to carry pepper spray with you. The canisters are small, about the size of a small can of shaving cream and you can carry it in its holster. Most come with a holster… but, you may have to buy that separately for a few bucks. Either way, pepper spray is only going to save your ass if it’s at the ready. A holster is best (and only) way to carry it. A bear will not wait for you to dig through your back pack until you find the goddam thing!

A good quality bear spray will shoot about 15 – 20 feet and the pattern should be about 4 feet in diameter at that range. This almost guarantees you hit the bear in face, like I did. I’m telling you that bastard ran like a son-of-a-bitch when I blasted him with it. Plan on spending anywhere from $30 – $60 for a can.

A few things to be very aware of… One, try to avoid spraying this stuff into the wind. If you have no choice, go ahead and spray it. But, if you can, turn or reposition yourself to avoid the pepper blowing back into your face. If you get this shit in your eyes and lungs, I can almost guarantee you’ll be going to the hospital. Next, don’t screw around with this stuff. I know a guy who was working in a hunting store back in Ontario and he was showing a customer how the spray works and he accidentally discharged a very small amount in the store. Everyone had clear out and they had to stay out of the store for at least three hours. Don’t let your kids anywhere near this stuff, unless, the same way we would train them with firearms, train the kids properly. It’s not like the spray we see on cop shows. This stuff is serious…

These days, I always carry my can of pepper spray (on my belt) when I’m in bear country. That way, if I ever do encounter a rowdy bruin, I won’t have to use the double leg, flying scissors take down. Not that I don’t think it would work, but I rather go with the spray.

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  1. Thank you for this post It is indeed very helpful

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