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In Svalbard, the arctic archipelago administrated by Norway, anyone leaving Longyearbyen is required to carry a rifle for their own safey. For grizzly bears, Wikivoyage recommends that Bear repellent spray (a very strong pepper spray/mace) is considerably safer than carrying a rifle. This answers says the same thing.

Polar bear
From Wikimedia commons

I'm no hunter and I would hate killing any large mammal (or even small non-mammals). Is the statement about the safety of sprays vs. rifles accurate for all kind of bears? Don't bears run so fast that by the time they're within the range of sprays, they're already so close that it's more or less too late to defend oneself?

(Note: I've only hiked in Europe, and nowhere I've been are any dangerous animals apart from humans)

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Q: Which is better to have if you are attacked by a grizzly: a 10-gauge or a hollow-nosed .45? A: The 10-gauge, because you can use it as a club when you run out of ammo. In the wild West, a knife was reportedly preferred to a gun because a knife doesn't run out of ammo. Of course, neither will it save you, but... – JonathanHayward Mar 19 '13 at 18:39
Polar bears are to grizzlies as grizzlies are to brown/black bears. – Kate Gregory Aug 8 '13 at 1:07
Statistics don't tell the whole story. I'd still rather have a powerful firearm. A spray is one shot and you're done. If it doesn't work, the bear will kill you. With a firearm, while the bear is still at a distance, a warning shot into the ground or over its head should scare most of them off before they get close, which is what I'd prefer. If it still gets close, I still have a second chance to kill or wound it. – Don Branson Aug 8 '13 at 1:09
@KateGregory - I've heard that black bears mostly won't mess with you if they know you're there. Grizzlies will kill you and eat you if they're hungry. With polar bears, you're the first food they've seen in weeks. 8) – Don Branson Aug 8 '13 at 1:13
@DonBranson: statistics do tell the whole story. With a firearm, you have several individual shots where you need to accurately place a round at a rather small, possibly fast moving target, which is no easy feat. With the bear spray, you have 7-10 seconds of continuous spray which means you can see where it's going and home in on your target, which is something even young children are capable of doing. The bear spray is statistically better because it is vastly easier to use successfully. – whatsisname Aug 8 '13 at 3:37
up vote 8 down vote accepted

US Fisheries and Wildlife (with black and grizzly bears) suggests that bear spray is statistically more effective.

A 2008 study by Smith et al included two polar bear encounters where the bears were successfully deterred with bear spray.

However, in polar bear country you have other considerations, as the Nunavut visitor information says

Pepper spray may work on polar bears but has not been thoroughly tested. Be aware that pepper spray may not work when it is cold or wet.

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@DonBranson That is certainly possible. But then there are better options than firearms for noise alone, such as noise flares, which are both lighter to carry, and easier to transport and purchase due to looser regulatory limitations. – Nisan.H Mar 3 '13 at 2:23
@DonBranson I've seen them sold as Bear Bangers, but I'm not sure if that's an official name. In Canada, MEC carries these, for example… – Nisan.H Mar 3 '13 at 2:55
The obvious downside to a noise flare in comparison with a big gun is that when the first attempt at scaring the bear is not successfull, with a rifle you still have a chance? – zoul Mar 4 '13 at 7:34
@zoul that's assuming you're successful at stopping the bear with the gun... which is not an obvious outcome. – Nisan.H Mar 4 '13 at 8:32
Personally, I believe the statistics that say a bear spray is actually more effective than a rifle, so I will go for bear spray in a close encounter, and a noise flare in a distant encounter (e.g. scare a bear away from destroying your camp and gear, once you got some distance between it and yourself.) I don't wish to carry the weight of a rifle large enough to be effective against a bear, nor have to go through the regulatory hoops of owning one, but that's a personal preference. – Nisan.H Mar 4 '13 at 19:06

Instead of carrying bear spray, noise flares, and/or a rifle, how about carrying bear spray (primary) and a large caliber pistol (backup at close range)?

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This is a wise plan. – whatsisname Aug 8 '13 at 3:31

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