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)

  • 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
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    Polar bears are to grizzlies as grizzlies are to brown/black bears. – Kate Gregory Aug 8 '13 at 1:07
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    @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
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    @KateGregory. A grizzly and a brown bear are the same animal. – Michael Martinez Nov 4 '14 at 23:18
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    @MichaelMartinez, it's a regional usage. In most of the continental USA the "brown bear" is just a color variation of the North American black bear. In Alaska its more complicated. Brown bears (Ursus arctos) have several sub-species: Kodiak bears (Ursus. arctos middendorffi), and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horribilis) being the most well known. – Charles E. Grant Jan 10 '17 at 21:28
up vote 14 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
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    @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 mec.ca/AST/ShopMEC/HikingCamping/HealthSafety/PRD~4007-144/… – Nisan.H Mar 3 '13 at 2:55
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    @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
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    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
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    Aside from the wet and cold environment working havoc on the spray a difference could be that polar bears are hunters moreso than grizzlies. It's more likely to want to eat you rather than fighting you because you startled it (on a wide open snowy plain) and it wants to protect itself. This might warrant a different approach, although I am not knowledgable enough to even guess at what kind of an approach. – Monster Aug 10 '17 at 9:06

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)?

  • This is a wise plan. – whatsisname Aug 8 '13 at 3:31
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    I doubt there's any handgun made that can stop a 1500 lb (700 kg) polar bear with one shot, and one shot is all you're going to get. – Carey Gregory Jan 11 '17 at 0:45
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    People do hunt elephants with .50 handguns. Sure, those are well aimed shots, but there are much worse options for trying to hurt a bear into breaking off its attack than large caliber handguns. – Monster Aug 10 '17 at 9:01

We carry both, a handgun (.45) and bear spray in black bear/grizzly country. A warning shot recently stopped a black bear from (bluff) charging LONG before it was within range of the bear spray. I deployed the bear spray as well, but it was carried sideways 10 feet by the wind and the bear would have to been much closer for it to be effective. Had it charged again, or for real (not bluffing), bear spray should be more effective, as it builds a wall in front of you, and is much easier to deploy and aim than a gun. Luckily, I never had to test it's effectiveness at close range.

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    Note that the question is about polar bears, not black or grizzly bears. – gerrit Aug 14 '17 at 16:36

A difference on the side of the rifle would be that polar bears live in more open environments, so they're easier to see coming. A difference on the pepper spray side could be that these open plains can be windy, limiting the range and precision of the spray. So I figure the different approach might have more to do with environmental factors than bear specific ones.

Shooting a gun may require practice to improve your accuracy.

You don't require any training for bear spray. But the problem is that it may not work on very low temperature and you cannot use it in high winds because you may risk to hurt yourself.

Another option may be to use a stun gun of which electric discharge MAY scare the bear away even from further distance.

I wasn't in an environment where polar bears are present, but I know that these methods might work for brown bears.

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    How does a stun gun scare the bear from a discance? – paparazzo Jan 10 '17 at 23:14
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    Polar bears are a very different matter than brown bears. No comparison. – Carey Gregory Jan 11 '17 at 0:44
  • @Paparazzi, because of the electric coil, the sound and light from the discharge. I heard people saying that it worked and I personally tested with huge (100-120kg) vicious sheep dogs. – Adrian Ber Jan 11 '17 at 8:06

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