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How To Comfortably Carry Bear Spray In The Backcountry

Read on for some options to keep your bear spray on hand and easily accessible.

How To Comfortably Carry Bear Spray In The Backcountry

Frantically trying to pull my pistol as my horse leapt under me, I thought,“This is how I’m going to die.”There wasn’t time for anything else as the large grizzly erupted from the timber and charged me, another guide, and our two elk hunters. Frightened men and horses crashed together as the grizzly ate up the ground between us.

Regardless of personal feelings about the pandemic, one can’t argue it’s been good for Mother Nature’s attendance as more and more people find solace outside. With record-breaking turnouts across National Parks and the West’s public lands, it’s no surprise that human- bear encounters are rising as well. Grizzly bears make up most negative human-bear interactions due to their aggressive nature and willingness to attack in defense of a food source or cubs. Bears are packing on the pounds any way they can before the big sleep and they’re at their most aggressive when in a state called hyperphagia—defined as an abnormal appetite for food—just before hibernation. Naturally, this coincides with many Western state’s hunting seasons, when avid outdoorsmen and women are heading afield.

if you stop to call, glass, rest, or eat, make sure your spray is on hand. attacks can happen when you least expect them.


While most backcountry hunters carry some form of bear protection, spray has been widely used since its inception in the mid-1980s by nature lovers everywhere. Developed to have a longer effective range and spray time than personal defense sprays, it can be bought at any sporting goods store or online for $35 to $55 per canister.


While the maximum range of spray differs by manufacturer, independent studies have shown spray to be effective on an aggressive or charging bear from 4 to 10 feet. In one 2008 review, an independent researcher found the aerosol propellant to stop“undesirable behavior”in 92 percent of cases. The same study found in 71 instances of bear spray deployment, three people received minor (non-hospitalization) injuries and not one received major injuries. Further, the review showed only 10 of the 71 people were affected by the spray themselves.

When in camp, especially when in the presence of food, make sure to take your bear spray off your backpack or chest rig so it can be easily ready to deploy.

Easily available and highly successful means there’s no excuse to not have one (or more) canisters along on your next hunt. Read on for some options to keep your bear spray on hand and easily accessible.


Commonly carried vertically on your pack’s hip belt and under an arm. Some hunters prefer under the dominant hand while others prefer the“cross draw”approach, reach- ing across their body under their non-dominant hand.


Pros: Easily accessible and no need for extra gear or attachments.

Cons: This method can interfere with a rifle or bow sling and can loosen the belt or strap it’s hanging from, requiring adjustment throughout the day. It can easily be forgotten if you take off your pack for a stalk.


Some hunters prefer to clip their spray directly to the sternum strap of their pack or go so far as to fasten a holster to a shoulder strap on their non-dominant side for a cross draw.


Pros: Easily accessible and minimal interference with slings or shoulder straps. Not as easily forgotten or misplaced due to its central location.

Cons: The holster can fall off if not terminally fastened to the pack strap, and generally, at inopportune times. It can get in the way while sitting and glassing.


There are two ways I utilize my harness to carry spray. I use the strap to keep the canister under my non-dominant hand for a cross draw. Secondly, several harness manufacturers now make holsters that fasten horizontally under the binocular pouch, keeping it at a hunter’s fingertips while afield. This has become my favorite method as my spray won’t fall out or adjust its position, eliminating the need to search around in the dark for a loose canister.


Pros: Out of the way, easy to grab and next to impossible to forget if left in its attached holster.

Cons: If using the shoulder strap method, the spray can shift and become hard to reach, needing readjustment throughout the day.

Back in the meadow, the old boar slammed to a stop heart-wrenchingly close to the other guide and me. The bear glared, turned back to the trees, and put precious distance between us. I ushered the hunters behind me, still trying to palm my pistol while the other guide slid out of his saddle with a shotgun.

Aggressive bears tend to pursue so we painstakingly inched our mounts back down the trail. Not sure if he’d made his point yet, the bear turned at us and came again. A chorus of shouts, then cursing slowed him as he slid to a stop outside of our self-proclaimed “red zone.” As he turned for the timber once more, I gathered the loose horse and hunters and, with the other guide covering us, we made our retreat. A game warden later told us an elk had been killed and left by a hairpin turn in a trail where the bear claimed it—effectively shutting down the popular route for a week as he took on any perceived challengers for his food source.

Spray cans come with holsters. Both the soft and kyDeX version work well, although the kyDeX version offers an easier draw.

My own encounter put into stark reality the chaos surrounding the brief moments of a charge; while sidearms certainly have their place, I’ve never since counted on one as my sole bear deterrent. Carrying spray, along with a sidearm gives, you ample protection against bears.

Familiarize yourself with your can and its safety system and practice getting it out quickly and under stress. The odds are low you’ll need it, but an ounce of prevention, a pound of cure, and all that. Learn bear behavior and safe camping methods and go explore and hunt the wild places confidently—just don’t forget your bear spray.

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