Thursday, May 09, 2024

Review: A Device for Refilling Practice Bear Spray (How to)

Image of grizzly bear  by Troy Nemitz, used with permission.

In 2014, John Gookin, Tom Smith, and Alison Williams published a paper in Human-Wildlife Interactions titled:  A Device for Refilling Practice Bear Spray Canisters. The paper shows how to build and use the device.

This correspondent has long maintained bear spray has a valid place as a means of protection against bears. Bear spray does not appear to be as effective in stopping bear attacks as handguns. This does not mean it is not useful. Bear spray can work effectively as a device to haze bears which are merely curious. Bear spray is generally a better deterrent than shouting or arm waving. There are a significant number of places where bear spray can be carried and firearms are forbidden by restrictive government edicts, such as in Canadian national parks. Even in wilderness outside of Canadian national parks, a permit to carry a handgun for defense of self and others is extremely restricted and difficult to obtain. Obtaining permission to possess long guns is not as restricted, but still requires much more paperwork and effort than bear spray. A significant number of people are not comfortable with firearms and are not willing to expend the time and resources to become competent with them.

One of the major disadvantages of bear spray is the expense of practicing with the product.   A simple can of bear spray costs $40 to $60, as checked online.  Inert training cans run about $20. Practice with actual bear spray is not advisable, as inadvertent contact with the spray produces unpleasant results.

About a decade ago, John Gookin invented a device to refill practice cans so that practice could become cheap and easy. He coordinated with graduate student Alison Williams and bear biologist Tom Smith to publish a paper entitled: A Device for refilling practice bear spray. The paper is online. From the paper:

This device for refilling inert bear-spray canisters can be readily built for >$40 with materials from a local hardware store. It will allow users to refill practice canisters hundreds of times, thus, saving money that can be used for other wildlife management needs. Using materials listed here, the device can be constructed in <1 hour. Refilling a spent canister can be done in <1 minute.

It is as necessary to practice with bear spray as with any defensive system. Bear spray, for many reasons, is not as intuitive as using a handgun. With 150 years of cartridge handgun evolution, and literally life and death incentives for improvement, handgun safeties, holsters, grips and sighting systems have been optimized for fast, sure and accurate presentation and use from a holster.

This is not the case with bear spray. More training in accessing spray cannisters, releasing/removing the safety, and aiming the spray, is necessary. Failure to effectively draw, remove the safety, and deploy bear spray can have dire consequences. T.J. Langley was severely mauled in Yellowstone Park, in part because he could not get the safety off.

Caught in the vise of a female grizzly in Yellowstone National Park last month, Langley, of Seattle, assumed he was going to die.

His fingers had found the can of pepper spray held snug in his chest harness, but he couldn't get the safety off before the bear charged.

I congratulate John Gookin for inventing a system to allow economic practice in drawing, removing the safety, aiming, and activating bear spray canisters.  Tom Smith and Alison Williams deserve considerable credit for their part in writing and publishing the paper on how to make and use the device.

©2024 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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