Another Bear Spray Failure (Warning: Graphic Images)

Another case of bear spray failure occurred in Montana on September 4th at about 8 a.m.  The bear charged through bear spray to get at Tom Sommers. Sommers was unable to get the safety off his spray can and dropped it as the bear closed with him. He then accessed a pistol, but was unable to shoot before the bear swatted his hand down. As the bear attacked him, it stood on his hand/gun, so he could not shoot.


(Tom Sommers) And partner Dan both pulled out pepper spray. Dan sprayed but Toms spray didn’t work so bear came after Tom. Tom ran behind a tree, bear kept coming. apparently bear chased Tom around tree twice, Tom got his pistol out turned to shoot, bear knocked his hand down. Tom hit ground. bear bit through thigh then put toms head in his mouth. while head in mouth tom tried to shoot bear in neck but bear stepped on hand /gun. Tom said he could hear his skull cracking. thought that was it. Dan shot bear at 2 feet with pepper spray. that’s all it took. bear ran off and tom shot at it but said he couldn’t see anything from all the blood and pepper spray in his face. 4 hours later after several hours on back of mule he is alive and in hospital. great spirits. was laughing. hope I did his story justice.

Some interesting things to note about this failure of bear spray to prevent the attack. Tom would have had time to use his pistol if he had not fumbled with the bear spray first. He almost had time to use it, twice, even after wasting 3-4 seconds with the bear spray.  It was only after the bear was sprayed at extremely close range (2 feet) that the bear stopped the attack. Then Tom fired a shot. Whether it was the spray or the shot or both that kept the bear from returning is uncertain.  From

“The bear just flat-out charged us,” said Tom Sommer, as he recovered in a Montana hospital on Tuesday afternoon. He said it closed the 30-foot (9-meter) distance in 3 or 4 seconds.

The attack on Sommers is reminiscent of the attack on Todd Orr that happened in the same area less than a year ago.  In that bear spray failure, the bear also charged through a cloud of spray. Todd Orr also relied on bear spray instead of his pistol, and was unable to use the pistol while the bear was mauling him. Orr was alone when attacked.

Both Orr and Sommers yelled at the bear to “let them know they were there”. It was the wrong decision in both of their cases.  Both bears attacked when they were yelled at. Both men sustained severe injuries to their head that required dozens of stitches. Both were fortunate to survive.

Sommers injuries after his attack


Orr recovering in the hospital after his attack.

There are numerous flaws in the “studies” that show bear spray to be effective.  A skeptical article by the Bear Attack Examiner, Dave Smith, tears apart the idea that studies have shown bear spray to be more effective than firearms.

 A thorough review the research on firearms and bear spray reveals that it’s not possible to make a legitimate comparison of bear spray to firearms, and that Smith’s research on bear spray and firearms is flawed and biased.

The Bear Attack Examiner goes on to show selection bias in the study by Tom Smith.  All 269 incidents used to classify gun defenses were incidents involving aggressive bears, while less than a third of the bear spray incidents involve aggressive bears.   Dave Smith goes on to write:

A far more significant problem is that the results of Tom Smith’s study on firearms are inconsistent with the results of a 1999 study by Miller and Tutterrow on Characteristics of Nonsport Mortalities to Brown and Black Bears and Human Injuries from Bears in Alaska. Miller & Tutterrow examined more than 2,000 incidents from 1970 to 1996 when people killed bears in defense of life of property, and less than 2% of the people involved reported injuries. Instead of offering a meaningful explanation for major differences between the two studies on firearms vs bears, Smith and Herrero claimed there were no previous studies on firearms vs. bears.

Bear spray can be a useful tool. It is good for conditioning non-aggressive bears to avoid humans. The claim that it is more effective at stopping bears than firearms is unwarranted. Smith explains the advantages of bear spray.  From

Lighter than a gun; requires less training; no risk of an accidental, fatal shooting; and no real skill required for use.

“So fine, go to bear spray,” he said, “but realize you’re giving up something.”

There is simply not enough evidence to conclude – as some have – that bear spray is more effective than a firearm, Smith said, and the attack on Johnson at Pogo Mine underlines that. Smith is deeply critical of government officials for suggesting bear spray might be more effective than a firearm.

He is of the belief that it was only a matter of time before the growing faith in bear spray got someone killed. He’s not alone.

Bear spray has had a number of spectacular failures. It has had numerous successes.

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.  Gun Watch

Editor’s Note: As a person who loves the outdoors and has the utmost respect for the animals that call it home, I rarely blame the animal for attacking intruders.  This is most evident in California with the continual sprawl into the mountain lions habitat and the occasional attack that follows.

With that being said…when interactions DO occur…your life may very well be on the line.  I have seen people shrug off pepper spray and mace.  Why we assume that a wild animal who feels it has a reason to attack you in the first place will just tuck tail and run I have no idea.  If you choose to go that route, that’s on you and I hope it works out.  But with a firearm you get several deterants wrapped into one.  First, the loud crack of the gun firing may stop an attack, second the muzzle flash helping with matters to drive off the attacking animal.  And finally, in the wild where Darwin’s law is paramount, guns can KILL the threat before it kills you.  Regrettable, but as much as I love nature and the animals within, I love breathing just a little more.

Food for thought.

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