Bear Spray

These are two popular brands of bear spray and contain around nine ounces of spray. I prefer the larger 10.2-ounce size and often carry two cannisters.

I was standing well off the side of the Going to The Sun road in Glacier National Park working on a photographic composition several weeks ago. Suddenly, I smelled a strange odor and at the same time began to cough uncontrollably. I knew instantly what had happened. I turned and noticed a couple just closing their car trunk and heading across the road. Once on my side, I asked them if they had discharged bear spray. The fellow immediately pointed to his companion and exclaimed, “she did it!” Apparently, she had knocked off the safety getting out of the car and then bumped the trigger, releasing a short burst that carried across the road to me.

Bear spray is a generic term for a defensive weapon developed to help deter bear attacks. It is derived from hot red peppers and the active ingredient that bears find so disagreeable is capsicum. Bear spray is regulated by the EPA as a pesticide (humorous if you ask me) and the maximum allowed concentration is two percent capsicum.

Does bear spray work? Let me give you a personal experience with a similar product developed for law enforcement work. At one time, I was trained as an instructor in the use of what we call pepper spray. Each instructor was sprayed with the stuff for a better understanding of what to expect from it. That was a memorable experience. The pain and incapacitation were almost instant and despite repeatedly dunking my head in a bucket of water, the effect lasted for about 15 minutes. In short, it worked.

Carrying and knowing how to use bear spray in grizzly country is beyond prudent. However, the spray will deter any animal attack from mice to moose and after watching the U-tube video of the jogger’s encounter with a momma mountain lion 2 weeks ago in Utah, I have resolved to carry it all the time, grizzlies or no.

Here are the basics to remember with bear spray:

·        It is a loaded weapon. Treat it with respect. Don’t just toss your can on the backseat and pile other gear on top or set it in your windshield where the heat might cause it to explode. Experts recommend that you put the cannister in a closed container for transport, especially if in the cab of the vehicle. Be sure the safety is always engaged.

·        You cannot do as one father did, and apply bear spray to your child like insect repellent. It doesn’t work that way. Don’t spray on tents either as it might actually attract bears.

·        Practice. You can purchase inert cans of spray or use an expired can (a can “expires” after four years) to see how far it will spray, how the spray behaves in wind and how long a can lasts. A large 10.2-ounce can should give you about eight seconds of spray.

·        Practice drawing it from the holster and removing the safety. If a bear charges, you have an average of about two seconds to deploy the spray so speed counts.

·        Give your can a shake or two whenever you use it to ensure contents don’t settle.

·        If attacked, spray in front of the bear so it will run through a wall of spray. The spray pattern doesn’t require pinpoint accuracy. That is one reason it is better than a firearm.

Some experienced hunters still argue that bullets are better than bear spray. However, a publication from the US Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that research on bear attacks proves, “a person’s chance of incurring serious injury from a charging grizzly doubles when bullets are fired versus when bear spray is used.” Stick with bear spray. It could save your life.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho