Bear Safety Part 3: 
Products for Bear Defense

Story by Melissa Norris

As fishermen in Alaska we have the need to carry bear defense in various scenarios. When we are fishing and hiking in the backcountry of our great state, there are any number of modes of transport that we could have used to get there—wheel- or floatplane, boat or ATV. We could be on foot, four-wheeler or using packrafts to explore untouched waters. 

Each of these plans require tailoring your bear-safety devices to the situation. As previously stated, the most important advice we can give is to make lots of noise and carry bear spray in the field, but in some cases you may want more extreme backup. Here is a look at some of the popular product choices intended for bear safety, especially for use in Alaska.

Whistle: Likely all outdoor retailers in Alaska sell a basic whistle you can use to scare off bears, in addition to getting the attention of your buddy downriver who can’t hear you yelling “bear” over the rushing river. A whistle is cheap, lightweight, easy to carry and easy to use and everyone should have one.

Bear Bells: Some Alaskans make jokes about finding bear bells in bear scat, but it is another way to make noise and alert bears to your presence in their personal space, so if you forget to loudly chant “Yo, bear,” you are still making bears know you are in the area when moving around.

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Counter Assault is the go-to brand for bear-behavior author Tim Rubbert.

Bear Spray: Quality bear spray is the most critical piece of gear for anglers in bear country. Statistics show bear spray is more effective than a handgun in a bear attack. Most likely you’ll have to get off several well-placed rounds to put down a large, charging bear while you are under major pressure and duress. It is just easier to deploy bear spray. We all know that pepper spray meant for personal defense is not what we mean by bear spray. It is the 1% to 2% Capsaicin product specifically labeled as bear spray that you’ll want. Higher levels of the active ingredient could result in spray malfunction. There are several brands on the market.

I recently interviewed experienced hiking enthusiast and bear country-awareness professional, Tim Rubbert, and he has confidence in Counter Assault bear-deterrent spray. He has had to use it twice and each time it has saved his or a friend’s life. He’s not about to change brands now. They were the first to market and are proud of their distance and spray time. Tim smartly carries two canisters of bear spray because if he has to use one on a bear he still wants another can to get out of bear country safely.

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Another great brand, Frontiersman Bear Spray, shoots the maximum distance at 35 feet with their 9.2-ounce canister.

Another bear spray that is popular in Alaska is Frontiersman Bear Spray made by Sabre Red. Their spray shoots the maximum distance at 35 feet for their 9.2-ounce canister. I recommend buying the set that includes the practice can so you can get used to unholstering and spraying long before you are in a life-or-death situation.

Firearms: Most people do not want to shoot a bear, but they still want to carry a firearm to protect themselves as a last resort. Most anglers don’t want to tote a rifle or shotgun around for the day but they are generally considered more reliable stopping power on bear. Bear attacks happen at short distance almost all of the time so a handgun might be the more logical choice.

For a bear protection handgun many turn towards a .44 Magnum, .357 Magnum, .500 S&W or .454 Casull. Others prefer a lighter weight gun that allows you to get off more shots in a shorter time period to help stop a bear. It comes down to personal preference and skill level. 

Of the highest importance is choosing bullets that are tough enough to take down a bear. There are rounds on the market made specifically for bear defense. The commonalities are heavyweight, hard-cast, non-expanding bullets to penetrate thick skin, bone, fat and muscle to get to a vital organ. It often means a bullet weighing 300 grains or more and a flat-nosed style.

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Custom-made leather chest holsters by Diamond D Custom Leather is a popular choice amongst Alaskans.

The shot itself is likely most important. You’ll be shooting under extreme stress. Aiming for the correct portion of a bear’s skull to penetrate, or for the heart, are two options for taking a bear down quickly. Practice is key to acquiring the skill. For easy access of your firearm you’ll want a holster like the ones made in Alaska by Diamond D Custom Leather. Their leather chest holsters are extremely popular because they are comfortable, well-made and ideal for anglers to be hands-free while fishing or rowing. It is wise to practice drawing your handgun out of your chest holster and practice shooting with one knee on the ground as though you are aiming at a charging bear.

BearSafety3_WildWestGuns.jpgThe Alaskan Co-Pilot by Wild West Guns is a modern, big-bore, takedown lever-action rifle that fits under the pilot’s seat on a bush plane.

If you can carry a 10- or 12-gauge shotgun you might be better off, or a rifle meant to do the job. For pilots flying around Alaska to fish and hunt, the Alaskan Co-Pilot by Wild West Guns is a modern, big-bore, takedown lever-action rifle that fits under the pilot’s seat on a bush plane. It can be chambered in a variety of large calibers that help it perform as the ultimate survival weapon for backcountry frequenters. 

BearSafety3_Fence.jpg The Pentagon Electric Bear Fence made by Counter Assault

Electric Bear Fence: Counter Assault makes the Pentagon Electric Bear Fence that is pretty affordable at $300. It encloses a 189-square-foot area, puts off 8,000 volts and weighs about 16 pounds. It adds an extra element of safety on float trips, remote camping trips and for hunting. It can be used to surround tents or gear. The bear fence is not intended as a substitution for smart food storage and clean up on your remote camping trips, but rather as an added piece of insurance to help you rest easier.

Being prepared is the best deterrent for getting attacked by a bear. The products mentioned are meant to improve your survivability of the situation. It is a rare occurrence but it can happen to people who are wandering outdoors, mainly when bears are surprised by your presence and it scares them into acting defensively. Check out the final part in this series where I discuss what to do if you are attacked by a bear so you can be prepared in the event of this rare and overwhelming experience. 

Bear Safety Part 1: Know How to Act in Bear Country

Bear Safety Part 2: Q&A with Tim Rubbert

Melissa Norris is Publisher of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines.