To prove bear spray is a better choice than a firearm for self-defense in grizzly country, bear spray advocates often rely a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service “fact sheet” titled Bear Spray vs. Bullets: Which offers better protection? After carefully scrutinizing the document, a few words of caution are in order.
First of all, who wrote Bear Spray vs. Bullets? The author is not identifed. The fact that someone was not willing to put his or her name on the document is troubling.
Bear Spray vs. Bullets claims that based on investigations of human-bear encounters since 1992 by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service law enforcement agents, “persons encountering grizzlies and defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50% of the time. During the same time period, persons defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries. Canadian bear biologist Dr. Stephen Herrero reached similar conclusions based on his own research–a person’s chance of incurring serious injury from a charging grizzly doubles when bullets are fired versus when bear spray is used.”
How many human-bear encounters did U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agents investigate? Five? Ten? Fifty? Bear Spray Vs. Bullets doesn’t say. The number could be so small it’s statistically insignificant. When you check the bibliography and notes for Bear Spray vs. Bullets to find out for yourself how may human-bear encounters were investigated . . . there’s no bibliography or notes. That’s problem #2.
Three, there’s no publication date on Bear Spray vs. Bullets. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agents investigated human-bear encounters from 1992 to . . . 1995? 1999? When? A Google search reveals that Bear Spray vs. Bullets appears to be part of a series of fact sheets on “Living With Grizzlies” done by the U.S.Fish & Wildlife Service in 2003.
What were the circumstances when bear spray was used, vs. the circumstances when bullets were used? Bullets are most commonly used by big-game hunters who accidently surprise a nearby grizzly and get charged. This is a life or death situation, and few hunters are trained to cope. In contrast, biologists with state and federal agencies often use bear spray to shoo away curious or food-seeking bears from campgrounds or cabins or homes. Is Bear Spray vs. Bullets comparing the use of bear spray and bullets under the same circumstances? We don’t know, and that’s problem #4.
Five, Dr. Stephen Herrero published a study on Field Use of Capsicum Spray As A Bear Deterrent in 1998, but it does not include any data on firearms vs. bears. No amount of searching finds a hint of evidence that Dr. Herrero did research on firearms vs. bears. It appears there was no verifiable data available on firearms and bullets when Bear Spray vs. Bullets was written.
Six, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service grizzly bear recovery coordinator Chris Servheen is in charge of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee recently dropped claims that bear spray is more effective than bullets. From 1999 to 2009, an Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee “Bear Pepper Spray Position Paper” claimed, “No deterrent is 100% effective, but compared to all others, including firearms, bear spray has demonstrated the most sucess in fending off threatening and attacking bears and preventing injury to the person and animal involved.”
Now, the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s IGBC Bear Spray Recommendations no longer compare bear spray to firearms: “No deterrent is 100% effective, but bear spray has demonstrated success in fending off charging and attacking bears and preventing, or reducing injury to the person and animal involved..”
Why did the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee stop comparing bear spray to firearms? Because there’s no data on firearms. Bear spray vs. bullets is a hoax.