Well-known hunter Craig Boddington’s new bear spray video for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee does a real disservice to hunters. By participating in an infomercial for bear spray, Boddington has dealt a blow to hunter safety.
A report shows that of 83 incidents in 2011 when people in the lower 48-states were charged by grizzlies, 31 incidents (37%) involved hunters. Instead of providing hunters with useful information on how to use their firearm for self-defense during a surprise encounter with grizzly, Boddington gives hunters meaningless statistics from research on bear spray use by hikers, biologists, and other non-hunters.
The new bear spray video shows Boddington–a lefty–with his rifle slung over his right shoulder. A can of bear spray in a holster is clipped with a carabiner onto a backpack strap on his left shoulder. This makes it easy for Boddington to get to his can of bear spray. But what if he wanted to shoot an elk? The can of bear spray dangling from his left shoulder strap would be in the way when Boddington raised his rifle to his left shoulder. Bear spray carried on a shoulder strap would be a pain in the butt and a distraction in numerous shooting situations. No hunter in his right mind would carry bear spray, a water bottle, a camera or anything else on his shooting shoulder. That’s crazy.
In the video, Boddington needs two hands to get the bear spray out of its Velcro holder. He also uses two hands to spray, which is the proper technique. When people spray one-handed, the “recoil” from the aerosol propellant can cause the can to spin upward and then people spray the sky, the clouds, and the tree tops, not the charging bear. Bear spray guru Chuck Bartlebaugh insists that people must use two hands to deploy bear spray.
If a hunter carries his rifle using the cradle carry, trail carry, ready carry, or elbow carry, he won’t have two hands free to operate bear spray. So bear spray is only an option for hunters with a rifle slung over their shoulder.
A 1983 U.S. Forest Service report from Alaska on Safety in Bear Country said, “Because there is almost no possibility of a slung rifle being brought into action during a short-distance confrontation, rifles carried in bear country should not be permanently equipped with slings.”
In a Field & Stream article on how to use a rifle sling correctly, Rifles Editor David E. Petzel joked that hunters carrying a rifle slung over their shoulder have probably saved more animals than PETA. The problem is that it takes too long to bring your rifle into action to shoot a deer or elk, let alone a charging grizzly.
Given Craig Boddington’s vast experience with hunting big-game, and dangerous game, it’s amazing he was conned into doing a bear spray infomercial on how to use bear spray with a rifle slung over your shoulder. Although the video clearly shows Craig Boddington using bear spray with a rifle slung over his shoulder, the October 29, 2013 Billings Gazette omits this fact and reports that Boddington is shown hiking in Montana with bear spray in a holster and a rifle in hand.
According to Craig Boddington’s new bear spray video, bear spray stopped bears 92% of the time, and prevented injury 98% of the time. These statistics come from BYU professor Tom Smith’s 2008 research on Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska, which analyzed 72 incidents from 1984-2004. But just one incident involved a hunter, and that hunter was “stalking a wounded bear.”
The purpose of stalking a wounded bear is to kill it, so who stalks a wounded bear with bear spray? Maybe two hunters went after a wounded bear, one hunter with a rifle and one with bear spray. Maybe a hunter stalking a wounded bear got charged and mauled and lost his rifle in the melee, then used bear spray. Who knows?
The one thing that’s clear is it’s truly deceitful to suggest Efficacy of Bear Deterrent Spray in Alaska proves bear spray is an option for a hunter carrying a rifle when he has a surprise encounter with a grizzly. In a Sports Afield article, Tom Smith said a hunter with a rifle in hand facing a charging grizzly would have to be out of his mind to try using bear spray. (Bears, guns, and safety: fascinating findings from a new study on bear attacks, by Anthony Acerrano, Sports Afield. Sept/Oct 2012)
It seems unlikely Craig Boddington read Tom Smith’s bear spray study and got all the relevant details. Most incidents involved curious or non-aggressive bears. In two cases, curious subadult polar bears approached biologists in a truck watching the bears feed on a whale carcass. When the bears got close–bear spray has a maximum range of 30 feet–the biologists sprayed the bruins. If people used guns in situations like this, it seems likely guns would have at least a 92% success rate, and 98% of people who used guns would be uninjured.
Only 10 people used bear spray against charging bears. The injury rate for those people is not provided in the study. Nor does the study include cases when people facing charging bears did not have time to use their bear spray. That increases the success rate for bear spray but proves the adage, statistics are meaningless.
In all likelihood, Craig Boddington was played by the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee. Still, agencies belonging to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee have teamed up with the Sierra Club to promote bear spray for hunters. That puts Craig Boddington in bad company. The top priority for the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee and the Sierra Club is preventing grizzly bear deaths, not hunter safety.
To promote hunter safety in grizzly country, Craig Boddington and his fellow hunting writers need to provide hunters with information on how to use their firearm quickly and effectively when facing a charging grizzly.