Bear Safety Rule #1: When it comes to bear spray, don't spray yourself instead of a bear.
IT WAS JUST before 7am that a bewildered local Big Sky couple opened their door to two frantic twenty-something strangers, faces covered in mucus, tears, and an orange spray-paint-like substance.
It was my friend Callie and I, and we needed help. We had violated rule number one of bear safety: when it comes to bear spray, don’t spray yourself instead of a bear.
We’re we really those people?
Unfortunately, we were.
It all started with good intentions. My friend Callie, whose name has been drastically changed in order to protect her reputation in our small town, and I headed out for a morning jog on the Reflector Trail with bear bells and bear spray in tow. In a town where wildlife sightings are frequent, it was the responsible thing to do.
But at the crest of a hill about a mile from the main road, we stopped to wonder what we would actually do should we come across a bear. How do you use bear spray? It was then that Callie showed me. By accidentally spraying the stream directly into my eye.
“Holy --- !” I was blinded. Tears, snot, and spit began streaming from my face. My skin and eye felt as if flames had ignited there, melting off my flesh.
Callie, having escaped the direct spray stream, had still been engulfed in a noxious cloud of burning peppery fumes when she accidentally hit the spray button. A mile away from a stream or civilization, we needed water. Fast.
Unable to open my eyes and reeling from the pain, I grabbed onto Callie and she guided the way swiftly down the path. We hit the road and started blindly running towards the nearest house to knock on the door and ask for help, yelling a steady stream of curses and things like “This better be funny tomorrow!”
About a half mile down, Callie suggested she run ahead for help.
“No! We need to stick together!” I insisted. No flipping way was I letting her leave me blind, burning, unarmed, and cayenne-seasoned on the side of the trail where bears may still be lurking in the bushes. We needed to get to water as fast as possible, and we kept running – sprinting really – towards civilization. “I’ve never run a mile this fast in my life!” Callie yelled. At least we were getting our morning workout in.
It was then that our rescuers got an early-morning knock on their door and we rushed to the hose, letting the freezing water hit us full force – flushing out our eyes, noses, and mouths and attempting to wash away the burning sensation. Our generous rescuers brought us soap, towels, and Tylenol as they watched us drench ourselves in their yard and try to explain ourselves amidst cries of “I am so sorry! Thank you so much! This burns so bad!”
The burning was relentless, and stemmed from the spray’s key ingredient, Oleoresin Capsicum, an oily residue from hot cayenne peppers. It’s the same thing you would keep in your purse to spray at a mugger in New York City, but much more concentrated. After all, it’s for use on a giant bear.
Instead, it was used on me, and I assure you my pale skin is much more sensitive than the thick coat of a Grizzly.
Still, even through the pain I was starting to think of this as somewhat educational. I now knew not only how to use bear spray effectively, but how it feels to be the bear. Aim for the eyes and there’s no wonder it would give you time to escape a bear attack - the stuff is debilitating. That is if, unlike me, you actually came in close contact with an aggressive bear. While sightings are common, attacks are not.
After twenty minutes of hosing down, the burning had subsided just enough to return home, half of my body on fire and half shaking from shock and freezing water. I took a luke-warm shower and applied aloe, then sat on the couch with nothing to do but wait out the pain before going, tail between my legs, to my 10am work meeting. I had become the ignorant hiker cliché, and sitting alone on my couch I realized I might never live down the ridicule. It was the culmination of my wildly informative, if somewhat accidentally hands-on, research on bear safety. Results? You are your own worst enemy.
While often we do have our own cool videos to go along with blog entries, there was no fricking way was I about to reenact my bear spray incident for the cameras. Luckily, a quick youtube search found lots of other people are... check out these crazy videos of people getting bear-sprayed!
While checking out people getting maced in the face is far more entertaining, this instructional video might help you avoid conducting your own accidental bear safety experiment.
Buy your own bear spray at Big Sky Sports, then take a guided hike on Lone Peak.
Which is more dangerous to come across in the Montana wilderness? I'd venture to say option #1.
Now picture me as this bear...