Many people here in Alaska have bear spray, but wildlife officials say it's important to know how to use it before you go out in bear country.

Bear spray is a deterrent made of red pepper oil. It inflames the eyes and upper respiratory system. If used properly, it can effectively deter
an aggressive bear.

Eric Stuart, with the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, says practicing can make all of the difference when you only have seconds to react to a bear. If possible, practice firing with a canister containing inert ingredients.

While on the trail, experts say you shouldn't carry bear spray somewhere it's not accessible, like in a pack or on your bike. It needs to be on you and within immediate reach, preferably secured in a holster.

Before you go out it's important to rehearse preparing to deploy the bear spray, particularly removing the safety. Remove the safety clip by placing your thumb in front of the curved tip of the safety clip, then pulling the clip back towards you.

To spray bear spray once you've removed the safety, depress the trigger with your thumb. Spray comes out in a cone-shaped fog, and should be used only at close range. Blasts should last 1 to 2 seconds, and be aimed slightly downward in front of a bear’s head. Most cans only contain about 7-9 seconds worth of spray.

If the bear continues to approach, spray it again. Monitor the bear’s activities and do not turn your back on the bear for any reason.

Pay attention to the wind. Try to shoot downwind. The spray’s force can overcome some wind but you may be affected by even a small amount of the spray, making it difficult for you to function. 

After a bear retreats, continue to watch it and leave the area promptly. Do not run. If the bear does not retreat but does stop advancing, move away slowly, always keeping an eye on the bear. Keep your spray ready in case you need to give it another blast.

Stuart says it's important to remember bear spray is your last line of defense.  

"You want to travel in groups, make noise, be aware of your surroundings and learn more about bears so you know where they're going to be and how they are going to behave," Stuart said. 

If you want to become more bear aware, the Anchorage Bear Committee and partner groups will be holding classes this summer.

Bear and Moose Aware Clinic: June 12, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at REI

Bear Aware for Families: June 13, 7 p.m. at Campbell Creek Science Center

Bear and Moose Aware Clinic: July 10, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at REI

Bear Aware Booth at the Teddy Bear Picnic: July 13, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Eagle River Commons

Bear and Moose Aware Clinic Aug. 14, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at REI

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