So pen launcher bear bangers have apparently been around for quite a while, the training video for Truflare looks like something from out of the 90's, but they don't appear to be very popular, and I don't hear many people recommending them as an alternative to bear spray, despite the fact that they're much cheaper than bearspray.

The smaller flare cartridges below are classic red signal flares, the larger cartridges are the bear bangers, which have a delayed explosive charge that makes a really loud bang.

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I'm familiar with bear bangers that you fire from a shotgun, but those are different, they're actually a large rubber wad that you shoot the bear with, so the bang is the impact the shot makes when it hits the bear. These pen launcher bear bangers get shot in the air, so the bang is the noise from the explosion.

Aside from being a lot smaller and lighter (and cheaper), these seem to me like they could potentially be a lot more effective than bear spray, especially considering you could choose to aim the banger at the bear in desperate situations, and it would be effective from a greater range, and could be deployed against more than one bear at a time.

How effective are bear bangers compared to bear spray?

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    I'd think that one reason for their lack of popularity is that in many places (much of western US, for instance), it seems as though they would only replace your bear problem with a forest fire problem.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 29 '15 at 18:39
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    @jamesqf - It's a sad world we live in if people are more afraid of liabilities than they are of getting mauled to death by a bear.
    – ShemSeger
    Apr 30 '15 at 18:36
  • 2
    @ShemSeger Being mauled to death might be worse than going bankrupt, but bear bangers aren't your only option to avoid attack.
    – Karen
    Apr 30 '15 at 18:57
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    @ShemSeger: So instead of getting mauled by a bear (the odds of which IIRC are much lower than e.g. getting hit by lightning), you're willing to set a fire that might well kill a number of people?
    – jamesqf
    May 1 '15 at 6:29
  • 3
    Powder charges are considered a significant fire risk virtually everywhere in the world by virtually all authorities. The burden of providing evidence to the contrary is on you. Jul 24 '16 at 4:53

Bear bangers and bear spray are designed for slightly different situations.

Bear bangers are intended to use when a bear is still a ways off, but is showing no signs of leaving, or is wandering towards you. The idea is to scare the bear off before he gets close enough that you need to be seriously worried. They generally shoot a few hundred feet. Looking through online forums, there's some suggestions that they are illegal in at least some National Parks, but I didn't find any specifics. But if you are planning on taking them with you, I'd recommend contacting whoever is in charge of the land you are hiking on, and asking if they are legal. Since they work with an explosive charge, there's also a fire risk (relatively low, but if it's a dry environment, the fire risk will still be high). They are louder than things like bells and shouting, but the principle is the same.

Bear spray is for close encounters. By the time the bear is close enough for the spray to be effective, it's obvious that the bear is behaving aggressively. According to http://www.centerforwildlifeinformation.org/BeBearAware/BearSpray/bearspray.html, bear spray should be used when the bear is 25 feet away or more, and should be sprayed for at least 6 seconds (enough to deter even a determined bear). Most of the sprays I read about claimed to shoot 30-35 feet. I'd guess that distance is in ideal conditions- warm, no wind. Bear spray is intended as a last resort, once its clear that noise is not making the bear back off.

In short, bear bangers are meant to work as a deterrent, much like bells or shouting. Bear spray is meant as a defense, for use once you are already in trouble, and the bear is clearly behaving aggressively and is close.

Edit: A note on bells, since their effectiveness is being questioned in the comments. A quick internet search shows that their effectiveness is low, and probably varies geographically and with species: Alaskan bears were observed ignoring it, Sierra bears were slightly less likely to attack a group with bells. Maybe because the Sierra bears are more likely to run into hikers wearing them, and hear them as a warning sign, while in Alaska, there's a lot fewer hikers, so it's just an unfamiliar, unimportant noise. But since the bells are cheap, and no one's reported evidence that they increase bear attacks, I'd still be willing to use one. If anyone finds evidence that they really work do work as a dinner bell though, I'll be very quick to change my mind.

http://www.backpacker.com/survival/bears-and-the-34-blend-in-34-theory/, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01490408409513035, http://www.backpacker.com/news-and-events/news/trail-news/do-bear-bells-really-work/

  • 1
    For the record, bear bells are a hoax. They're a placebo and a gimmick for tourists, it gives them a false sense of security and makes the retailer an easy buck. Inorganic sounds are more likely to attract a bears curiosity, this includes gunshots (from a distance) and whistles (like trying to impersonate a gopher or some other rodent, bears eat critters that whistle). Everyone in my neck of the woods refers to bear bells as "dinner bells."
    – ShemSeger
    Apr 30 '15 at 19:12
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    A favorite bear joke in the Rockies: Q: How do you tell the difference between Black bear poop and Grizzly bear poop? A: Black bear poop is smaller and swirled like a DQ ice-cream cone and has lots of berries in it; Grizzly poop is in bigger piles with lots of vegetation and often smells like pepper and has bells in it...
    – ShemSeger
    Apr 30 '15 at 19:12
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    The potential legality issues, and use as a measure before bear spray becomes necessary is likely the answer.
    – ShemSeger
    Apr 30 '15 at 19:22
  • I can see how bells might work if a bear has learned to associate the sound with a human presence, but that makes it a learned behavior, so they'll only work on bears that have previously encountered humans with bear bells. Parks Canada officials flat out tell visitors that they don't work as a deterrent against wildlife, your voice is the best deterrent. Only time I use bear bells when hiking is when I put them on my dog, so I can hear where he is in the woods, and so other hikers don't mistake him as a black bear (which seems to happen a lot, and it's hilarious every time).
    – ShemSeger
    May 1 '15 at 15:49
  • The info I gathered on bear bells (from official park ranger sources in the US, sadly don't remember which ones) is that the bells serve exactly one purpose: they let the bear know that you are there, so they aren't surprised by you. Bears actually don't hear very well, about the same as humans do. So when you're walking, say, near a noisy creek you can walk around a corner and stumble upon a bear without either of you realising....
    – fgysin
    Sep 13 '18 at 7:39

The previous answer fits with the Alberta Parks advice regarding bears — they suggest carrying both noise makers and bear spray, with noise makers being used for bears still at distance. They include air-horns as options.

Bears' response to any stimulus is dependent on many variables - not the least of which is the species of bear and its relative experience with humans.

In Ontario I've treed a black bear by shining a flashlight into its eyes - but I wouldn't want to rely on that as a go-to deterrent.

In Northern Ontario cottage country, black bears prefer to avoid humans and will usually make themselves scarce at any human noises. So noise makers are likely to be effective.

But, of course, even with black bears, they're complex living creatures and their behaviour will change with experience. A sick or hungry bear can be unpredictable, as is one with cubs. And bears who have acclimatized to raiding human garbage dumps can become possessive and aggressive around the garbage site. Any of these cases could result in atypical behaviour.

In Alberta, the recent wild fires will have created significant ecological stress on all the wildlife, and so it wouldn't surprise me to see atypical behaviour from bears in the areas surrounding fire sites.


Bear bangers seem like a great option.

The "bang" should cause a would-be attacker to flee the area.

The risk of fire is exceedingly low. Explosives are commonly used in firefighting because they suck the oxygen out of the area around them. That removes a piece of the fire triangle... removing the fire.

  • Welcome to the site! Do you have any sources to support your answer? Particularly your comment on risk of fire. Using explosives to put out fires works by using a large enough shock wave to starve an existing fire. I believe others are more worried about any sparks from the bangers landing into dried leaves and the like.
    – Malco
    Sep 28 '17 at 16:59
  • Bear bangers were banned this summer because of potential fire danger.
    – ShemSeger
    Sep 28 '17 at 19:15

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