U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- In the United States, some governmental authorities are strongly pushing the use of bear spray over other methods of protection against bear attacks. From the Montana Hunter Ed Course:
In sudden encounters, bear spray has proven to work. Bears sprayed with bear spray often stop attacking and, as such, are less likely to inflict serious injury. Use a firearm only as a last resort and only if bear spray is unavailable. Always use your bear spray to help a hunting partner who is being attacked. Misdirected bear spray is survivable; bullets are not. Bears wounded with an arrow, knife, or firearm may intensify the attack, and killing a bear charging at full speed is difficult at best. If you shoot a bear in self-defense, leave the scene as soon as it is safe, and report the incident to Fish, Wildlife & Parks immediately.
The implication seems, if you are armed with a firearm, put it down and use bear spray instead! This is problematic advice at best. The advice ignores the possibility that bear spray will intensify an attack. It ignores the possibility a person attacked will only have 2-3 seconds to react.
Bear spray has NOT been shown to be more effective than firearms in stopping bear attacks.
The studies on bear spray were never done against aggressive bears. In this interview with Tom Smith, one of the principle authors of the most cited bear spray and firearms studies, Tom clarifies the issue. He says the methods are not comparable. He says bear spray has not been shown to be effective against aggressive bears. From outsideonline.com:
I asked Tom Smith if it was valid to conclude that the studied effectiveness of bear spray in brown bear charges is just 33 percent. “That’s what you would conclude from that data,” he says, before going on to point out that the sample size is very small. “Importantly, protracted mauling did not occur,” he says. “Whether that’s due to the spray or simply due to the vagaries of bear attacks is an open question.”
The Trouble with Numbers
Thirty-three percent is very far from that 98 percent efficacy rate so widely cited. And it’s an especially problematic number if we accept that firearms can be demonstrated to have a success rate of between a 76 percent (in a worst-case scenario, as presented in “Efficacy of Firearms”) and 96 percent (as is the case in Alaska’s DLP data or that compiled by firearms writer Dean Weingarten).
The Government of Svalbard, Norway, has strict requirements for protection against bears. People are not allowed to leave the town without adequate protection, because of the large number of polar bears in the vicinity, and the constant potential for attack. The governor of Svalbard does not recommend bear spray. The governor of Svalbard prohibits the use of bear spray as a protection against polar bears. The Governor requires people to have appropriate firearms in their group. From Svalbard, Norway;
Regulations on firearms and other devices to protect against polar bears:
3.2.Bear repellent spray/ pepper-balls The use, trade and import of bear repellent spray and pepper-balls for protection against polar bears in Svalbard is prohibited. The Governor of Svalbard is currently looking into the regulation of bear repellent spray and pepper-balls for protection against polar bears.
The governor of Svalbard requires firearms of adequate power to protect against polar bears. Here are the requirements:
2.Types of firearms
The acquisition, use, trade and import of rifles for use as protection against polar bears is permitted in Svalbard, pursuant to the Firearms Act and Firearms Regulations.
2.1 Rifles used for protection against polar bears shall have a minimum calibre of .308W or 30-06 (7.62 mm). Rifle bullets shall be expanding, with a minimum bullet weight of 11.5 g. The required impact energy shall be 2,700 J, measured at a distance of 100 m.
For reasons of precision, range, functionality in cold conditions and stopping power, the Governor of Svalbard recommends the use of rifles as the primary means of protection against polar bears, rather than other types of firearms.
Hiring out rifles is permitted. For more detailed conditions regarding this, please refer to Section 4.2.2. Shotguns
The acquisition, use, trade and import of shotguns for use as protection against polar bears is permitted in Svalbard, pursuant to the Firearms Act and Firearms Regulations.
2.2 Shotguns used for protection against polar bears shall have a minimum calibre of 12, and should have a magazine permitting a minimum of four shots (automatic or pump-action shotgun). The use of slugs (shotgun ammunition comprised of one projectile) is recommended for protection against polar bears.
However, the Governor of Svalbard warns that most magazine-fed shotguns tend to have problems with icing and condensation, and require more preventive maintenance work if they are to function in difficult conditions. Because of this, combined with the fact that shotguns have less precise sights and a limited range, the Governor of Svalbard recommends the use of rifles as the primary means of protection against polar bears.
The Governor of Svalbard advises against the use of double-barrelled shotguns for protection against polar bears, because of the number of available shots.
It is prohibited to hire out shotguns for protection against polar bears.
2.3. Handguns/revolversHandguns for competition and practice can legally be used in the field for protection against polar bears, provided that the Governor of Svalbard has granted a special permit for this.
This combination of usage purposes shall be stated explicitly on the firearm permit and may only be granted upon application to the Governor of Svalbard. This permit may only be granted if the applicant meets the requirements for documented activity in an approved shooting association.
Handguns for which an applicant is seeking a permit for use as protection against polar bears shall have a minimum calibre of 44. Ammunition to be used for protection against polar bears shall have a minimum weight of 15.5 g and a minimum muzzle energy of 1,200 J.
In English measurement, that is 885 ft-lbs, with a minimum bullet weight of 239 grains. Full power .44 magnum loads, .480 Ruger, .454 Casull, .500 Smith & Wesson and .460 Smith & Wesson would qualify. Some .41 magnum loads would qualify.
Those who would carry a pistol for protection in Svalbard need to show they have participated in organized pistol training four times in the last year, before they can be approved.
The Governor also reserves the power to grant handgun permits for bear protection to trappers who are Svalbard residents, and in special cases. It is not permitted to rent handguns for protection against polar bears.
Another writer about protection from polar bears in Svalbard has something to say about bear spray. From Spitsbergen: Svalbard, Franz Josef, Jan Mayen, 3rd Brant travel Guide, by Andres Umbreit
Be properly armed
.. ; and then there’s the hiker with the pepper spray (ask the bear to attack against wind direction, please, or serve yourself nicely peppered with the wind blowing in the same direction from which the bear attacks). I am grateful for all these ‘alternatives’ as good entertainment stories and some of these ideas may even be useful in addition to a firearm. But there is no substitute for a big-bore firearm (see pages 132-7).
The same source says that in the previous 50 years, no properly armed person was injured or killed by a polar bear. They specifically exclude the case where a group armed with a .22 pistol and a flare gun were attacked. One person was killed, another seriously wounded.
Statistics support this: no properly armed person has been injured or killed by a polar bear in the last 50 years in Spitsbergen. There have been casualties, indeed, but all victims were unarmed or inadequately armed – here are some of these stories.
In 1998, an academic study of bear attacks was done in Svalbard. The study found, from 1971-1995, 77 bears had been killed in serious confrontations with people. Three bears escaped. 10 people were injured. Of those, four died from their injuries. None of those who were injured or killed had an appropriate firearm. From Man and Polar Bear in Svalbard: a solvable ecological conflict?
From 1971 to 1995, approximately 80 bears were involved in serious bear-human interactions. Of these, 77 bears were killed and 3 escaped after having injured people. During the same period, 10 people were injured, 4 of them fatally, in 7 separate interactions, each involving a single bear. None of the victims carried an appropriate firearm.
The attitude of Svalbard authorities is clear: being armed with an appropriate firearm, knowledge of how to use it, (and an understanding of bear behavior) is the best protection against polar bear attacks.
About Dean Weingarten:
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.
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