Don’t Shoot… Spray!

Since Sarah Palin’s Alaska first aired this fall on The Learning Channel (TLC), I’ve been watching the show with a kind of morbid curiosity. I expected the worst, given the former governor’s extreme anti-wildlife stances such as gunning down wolves and bears from planes to boost game herds. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Palin promoting wildlife for the most part. That was, until Kate came along.

Sarah Palin speaks to the crowd at the Restore America's Honor rally held at the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 2010 in Washington, D.C.

On a recent episode, Palin and special guest Kate Gosselin (of ”Kate Plus Eight” fame) decide to take their families camping. In preparing for the camping trip, Palin takes Gosselin to a training course to learn how to deal with bears in the wild.

Palin’s advice? Grab yer gun!

“If you are unarmed and you’re out in the wilderness, and perhaps you’re with children camping, well you’re putting yourself and your family in danger if you are not armed, if you are not prepared for a predator,” says Palin, before heading off to the shooting range for target practice.

As a bear aware educator in Missoula, I spend a lot of time fighting against fears and misconceptions about bears. Bears are big creatures that can be scary, which is part of the reason grizzlies had been wiped out in the lower 48 by the beginning of the 20th century. So I could only watch in horror as Palin perpetuated one of the biggest whoppers of them all.

First, serious bear encounters are still extremely rare—even more so in Montana than in Alaska.

Second, when recreating in bear country, guns are not the only way that a person can protect herself or her family. In some cases, taking a shot at a bear has even been shown to do more harm than good.

Understanding how to recreate in bear country without attracting bears and being aware of bear behavior is the best way to avoid encounters with bears in the first place. However, in the chance encounter with a bear, bear spray provides an effective, nonlethal method of protection that can often increase chances of survival.

It’s unfortunate—and potentially tragic—that the show made no mention of bear spray, especially considering TLC’s ability to reach a wide audience that may be learning about encounters with wild animals for the first time. Instead, Palin seemed intent on instilling fear in any mother with children who’s planning a trip into bear country. I imagined thousands of families planning a summer vacation to Yellowstone, where guns are now allowed, believing that the only option to protect their family while hiking or camping is to carry a gun at all times.

The truth is, when used correctly, bear spray is a highly effective way to deter a bear, and in some cases much safer for both the bear and the person being attacked than shooting a gun. As stated in the USFWS’s fact sheet on bear spray:

Law enforcement agents for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have experience that supports this reality—based on their investigations of human-bear encounters since 1992, persons encountering grizzlies and defending themselves with firearms suffer injury about 50 percent of the time. During the same period, persons defending themselves with pepper spray escaped injury most of the time, and those that were injured experienced shorter duration attacks and less severe injuries. Canadian bear biologist Dr. Stephen Herrero reached similar conclusions based on his own research – a person’s chance of incurring serious injury from a charging grizzly doubles when bullets are fired versus when bear spray is used.

Though it’s probably best to take everything Palin says with a grain of salt, her encouragement for gunning down bears is both reckless and wrong. And in the lower 48, where grizzly bears are still protected under the Endangered Species Act, it’s also illegal to kill a grizzly bear unless your life is in immediate danger. More often than not, taking a shot at a bear will only provoke it. Correctly using bear spray, on the other hand, has the best chance of preserving life on both ends of the nozzle.

This blog originally appeared on For more information on using bear spray, visit the Center for Wildlife Information.

12 Responses to “Don’t Shoot… Spray!”

  1. Anne

    What else would you expect from a woman who thinks it’s ok to shoot down wolves from the air like fish in a barrel??? This writer is right on target – with a non-lethal form of deterrent.

  2. Kathy

    Oh, another reason for me not to like Sarah Palin. I have only watched one episode of “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” – the one where her daughter Piper was making bear growling noises while a mother bear was trying to teach her two cubs how to fish. All I could think was “shut up kid”. Then my education about bears was greatly enhanced this past weekend while watching “Expedition Wild” with Casey Anderson. Bears have to be TAUGHT how to get food – it’s not instinctive.

    The disservice Piper Palin and Sarah Palin (for not telling her daughter to SHUT UP) did to those bears is a gross invasion of their space. Sarah was talking all about how when in the wild you have to respect the animals since you’re in their space. But she sure didn’t practice what she preached.

    Now she’s preaching shooting a bear. Well in that same show, Casey showed how perfect a shot one must be to stop a bear that is charging a human (and of the three people he interviewed for the show – they all said “it was a mother bear doing what instincts told her to do, protect her cubs”). Bear spray is far better and you don’t have to be a perfect shot to stop a bear from charging. Besides, you don’t leave the cub(s) orphans because you shot the mommy bear.

    People, remember, if you’re where a bear can attack you, more than likely you’re in their space not the other way around. So respect the bear, you weren’t invited.

  3. No Name

    You should not even go on sacred Indian land. That land is now put aside for wildlife, so let them live there in peace.

  4. scott martin

    By any chance… Did ANY OF THIS make it to sarah’s ears. I mean that if she is so grossly wrong about how to act around bears. Wouldnt you mention it to her?. Being the expert and all. Isnt it your duty to help the gov of alaska instead of taking cheap shots? I agree with you, but I’m no expert, so getting an audience is out of the question. But I’d like to think that for the benefit of the population. I’d get her that little tid bit of info..

  5. linda

    regarding Scott Martin’s post…it doesn’t matter if this got to Sarah Palin’s ears, she doesn’t have a brain or heart.

  6. Teresa Haller

    I don’t hate anyone but I wouldn’t walk across the street to see or hear Palin. Her hunting morals are what turned me off to her completely. She has no heart when it comes to hunting especially by way of an airplane. That is such a sadistic, cruel & inhumane thing to do to ANY animals. I witnessed one video that just crushed me showing wolves hunted by airplane. They wouldn’t always be killed right off and suffered an ungodly death which NO ANIMAL deserves. Any one who hunts in that manor is a disgusting individual. These are God’s creatures and should be treated with respect. If you hunt you should have to eat the kill so as it doesn’t die in vain. Lots of hunters like Palin are into hunting for so called sport. I can’t say as a Christian what I really think of most hunters. This spray sounds like a good invention and I hope that it’s widely used instead of killing the poor creatures.Leave animals alone and let Nature take it’s course. It always worked in the past until MAN decided that most animals are in their way and it’s just easier to kill them. God Bless and protect Mother Earth and God’s creatures.

    • Florence Thomas

      I agree that we should protect God`s creatures. It saddens me to see helpless animals mistreated. Animals do not belong in a circus, lab,or a puppy mill. Wild anomals belong in the wild protected from people who love to kill and call it sport. Sarah Palin would get my vote for a #1 enemy of animals.

  7. Florence Thomas

    Sarah Palin is a person who is cruel to animals. I would hate to see her elected to any public office again. A chunk of ice must be where her heart should be.

  8. Maryl

    So sad that our “news” must include oddballs like Palin who are now in with the in-crowd of right wingers and mid to left “gawkers.” Like a bad accident don’t stop and look just turn away and go if you can’t help.

  9. Robb H

    If I remember correctly, hunting from ANY motorized vehicle within a twenty-four hour time limit of being on said vehicle, has been illegal since the seventies. Surely, one of you geniuses thought to look it up.

  10. ArthurSchiller

    Robb, if one takes your comment as written, you seem to be saying that if someone takes a motorized vehicle to an area to go hunt (which would include planes, helicopters, cars, ATVs, etc) that they either have to wait a full day to begin hunting, and stop hunting a full day before they leave, or walk or bicycle to and from their hunting grounds. I doubt there are such restrictions on hunitng, so could you rewrite and clarify? That being said, the aerial hunting program referred to briefly in the article is actually a state-government-sanctioned-and -encouraged activity that’s been around for more than twenty years, so either you recall incorrectly, or an exception was made to the law, or there were never any successful legal challeges to said activity.
    (Side note: insulting the intelligence of others – which you’ll notice I did not do with you – is not a viable way to encourage a productive dialogue.)

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