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Bear spray success depends on the aim

Bear spray demonstration by FWP
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
Bear spray demonstration by FWP

Encounters between humans and bears continue to increase in Montana.

Two maulings in Southwest Montana by grizzly bears happened recently within a week of each other.

To avoid conflicts, wildlife officials advise carrying bear spray.

But, as YPR’s Orlinda Worthington explains, the spray is only as effective as the person using it.

"When you need to use it you’ll need to slide off that safety, and then at a downward angle in a spiral motion to create almost a wall of this stuff as it comes out," said Chrissy Webb, with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks as she demonstrated proper use of bear spray for those gathered at a bear awareness training at Lake Elmo in Billings.

She says practicing with bear spray is essential in being able to use it effectively during an encounter.

“This just gives folks a good feel for what firing bear spray is like. It does have a little kickback which surprises some people,” Webb said.

Another thing that surprises people is where to aim.

“When it comes out kind of billows upwards so you do want to aim at the bear's feet. time you just have one good shot.”

Webb says it is imperative to attach the spray where you can quickly reach it. Good places include a belt or the front outside straps of a backpack.

“I also like to remind folks to keep it in a consistent location so you don’t need to mentally go through and think about where you put it on that day. You have it in the same location any time you’re out and about,” Webb advises.

The Bear Aware demonstrations also include biology information, tips on identifying both black and grizzly bears and a limited number of free bear spray.

In Billings, I’m Orlinda Worthington.

Similar events are scheduled in Missoula, Florence, Helena and Butte both in-person and virtually, beginning September 19.

To find a Bear Aware event near you visit fwp-dot-mt-dot gov.

If you already have bear spray, check the expiration date. The canister can lose its pressure after time.

FWP says the shelf life of most bear spray products is 3 to 4 years.

Orlinda Worthington hosts “Morning Edition” weekdays on YPR. She brings 20 years of experience as Montana television news anchor, producer, and reporter.