Montana woodsmen use bear spray to fend off "magnificent" grizzly

Grizzly bear roaring
(Image credit: Getty)

Two men from the University of Montana have described how they used bear spray to successfully fend off an attack from a "magnificent" grizzly bear

Alan Townsend, Dean of the Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, and Scott Ferrenberg, Associate Director of Lubrecht Experimental Forest, were traveling back from a trip near Upsata Lake when they were surprised by a bear in a copse of trees. Both are experienced woodsmen, but say they were careless.

"We were making complacency mistakes," Townsend told Missoulian. "Both of us are very experienced in the outdoors doing this kind of thing. We were walking quietly along game trails, looking for signs, and getting a little too cavalier in thinking the combination of midday sunshine and being down in the more open part of that country was lower risk."

The bear appeared suddenly and charged at Townsend, who was a few yards downhill of Ferrenberg. Townsend had a pistol and bear spray to hand, but in the heat of the moment he couldn't decide which to use, and when he tried to grab the spray, the binoculars around his neck prevented him accessing it immediately. 

Luckily for Townsend, Ferrnberg was able to run in with his own bear spray, and release a cloud of it by the animal's head. The spray worked, and the bear immediately turned and fled.

The two men were struck by the bear's speed, and its size. “You have all these things that run through your head, thinking this is not good – damn that’s a magnificent animal,” Townsend said. “It was an absolutely beautiful bear.”

How bear spray works

Bear sprays contain high amounts of capsaicin, similar to regular pepper sprays, but at a much higher concentration. When released, the aerosol temporarily incapacitates the bear by irritating its mucous membranes, giving you time to escape.

When hiking, you should always keep your bear spray where it can be easily accessed, ideally in a holster on your belt or chest. Always make sure the safety pin is in place to prevent accidental discharge, and take it into your tent when you turn in for the night, being sure to keep it within easy reach.

For more advice, see our guide how to use bear spray.

Cat Ellis

Cat is the editor of Advnture, She’s been a journalist for 15 years, and was fitness and wellbeing editor on TechRadar before joining the Advnture team in 2022. She’s a UK Athletics qualified run leader, and in her spare time enjoys nothing more than lacing up her shoes and hitting the roads and trails (the muddier, the better), usually wearing at least two sports watches.