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Using Bear Spray to Deter Mountain Lions

Women using bear  spray

EPA Approved Bear Spray May Help Deter a Mountain Lion

In a large portion of Montana, bears and lions inhabit the same areas. Carrying, and knowing how to use, bear spray can help help deter an aggresive enounter with large predators. Bear spray may help to deter an attacking lion. Recently, an FWP mountain lion biologist and field technicians used bear spray to successfully turn away an attacking lion.

What is Bear Spray?

Bear spray is a one-to-two percent concentration of oleoresin capsicum and related capsaicinoids, a mixture produced when burning compounds, which naturally occur in hot red peppers, are extracted. This irritating substance causes the membranes of the eyes, nose and lungs to swell. The result is a temporary, but nearly total, loss of sight and a restriction in one's ability to breathe. The product is designed to turn back an attacking grizzly bear, or to shorten the length and severity of an attack. The EPA regulates bear sprays and requires it be packaged in at minimum a 7.9 ounce size can.

Until now, there was no evidence on how bear spray might affect a mountain lion and whether it would diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.

Effective Use of Bear Spray

Here are what Montana's wildlife managers say are the minimum requirements for the effective use of bear spray to deter mountain lions.

Minimum Spray Distance

Bear spray goes out about 25 feet. If the user sprays a cloud 25 feet out and a lion is moving in from a greater distance, it could meet the cloud of active bear spray ingredients. However, mountain lions are less likely to charge so they may work their way around the initial orange cloud. Some experts suggest that even the sound of the spray coming out of the can and the appearance of the orange cloud of capsaicin may be enough to deter a mountain lion that is simply curious or confused about whether what they see is prey.

Minimum Duration of Spray

Wildlife experts recommend a canister that contains six-seconds of spray. A burst of two to three seconds will create a cloud of orange. It may be necessary to spray a second burst if the animal retreats and returns, or if the first cloud disperses in the wind.

Minimum Contents

A can of bear spray should contain a minimum of 7.9 ounces of a one to two percent solution of oleoresin capsicum and related oils. The can must be carried in a quickly accessible location such as a hip or chest holster or hand held as bear managers do when walking through an area with a known population.

Other features that impact how the bear spray works including the weather, and in particular, the wind's ability to move and disperse the orange cloud of active ingredients. Learn which bear spray to purchase and how to use it to deter bears specifically. Learn more

First Hand Account

Montana mountain lion researchers' experience using bear spray to deter a female lion with kittens

FWP Lion Researcher Rich DeSimone

Rich DeSimone, an FWP mountain lion researcher, had an experience where bear spray spared an experienced lion hound and most likely protected two FWP lion researchers from a 120 pound radio-collared female lion. Read the story