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Lessons from the Field-Accidental Discharge of Bear Spray! 

By September 22, 2023September 23rd, 20234 Comments
Amy Ray after bear spray accident


I had the opportunity to disconnect from technology and enjoy the beauty of nature on a summer pack trip. Planning this year’s adventure felt like a vacation, as I am experienced in packing and preparing for the wilderness. As the go-to for advice, I was happy to share my expertise with the guests. Months of preparation went into ensuring we had everything we needed for the trip, and nothing brought me more joy than sharing this outdoor experience with other women. I hope to inspire confidence in them and be viewed as a capable leader for the journey ahead.

Great Beginnings

After arriving in Cody, Wyoming, we take the time to get to know each other. We share stories of our eagerness and thrill for the upcoming horseback ride. As a precaution, we advise guests to purchase a can of Bear Spray before heading into the wilderness. I carry mine on my belt and provide instructions on using it if necessary. We all know the saying, “Better safe than sorry,” and our guests’ safety is paramount to me.

We had a fantastic trail ride into camp—minus one ornery horse, who decided to trot a lot against the rider’s will. It was an overcast day, and we came prepared with our rain gear. The rain picked up, and we stopped along the trail to suit up to keep as dry as possible. It was a steady rain and, thankfully, not a downpour. Our ride into camp was about three hours long. The scenery of the Bridger Teton National Forest will take your breath away.  

Once we saw camp in the distance, we were ready to take a much-needed break from riding. There are always a few groans and moans when dismounting after the long ride. We quickly took care of the horses and helped unpack mules. A tarp is laid on the ground to collect all the duffle bags for the ladies to pick up and take to their tents. For me, this is where things went wrong.  

Things Go Wrong

When we began to sort our gear, I picked up my duffle bag and tossed it over my shoulder (this bag has backpack straps); it landed directly on my bear spray! The immediate swooshing sound alerted me. I looked down at my right hip; bear spray was violently coming out of the can. My first reaction was to yell, yell RUN! I pulled the can from the belt holster, dropped it on the ground, and ran in the opposite direction. Thankfully, no one else or any horses or mules were in the line of fire.  

I had taken the brunt of it all over my arms and hips, and I had a faint burning sensation around my mouth. My arm was a dark red color like someone had painted me. The guides quickly stepped into action and had me go to the creek to wash for 15 minutes. I failed to recognize that the water temperature was below 50 degrees. It felt as if I were taking a polar plunge. The cold water made it difficult to wash the entire recommended 15 minutes. I did my best to splash my arm and face to ensure I was getting it off. The red on my skin was from the ice-cold water, not the pepper spray.  

As I returned to camp from the river, I gathered my duffle and reached inside it for a bottle of Gatorade. Once at my mouth, about to take a much-needed sip, I felt a new burning sensation. The bear spray had contaminated everything inside my bag. I had also recontaminated my hands when I opened the bag. Knowing that everything I touched would spread the pepper spray a second time, I removed my rain pants, changed my shirts and pants, and left the duffle bag alone. I am thankful my camping gear was not in that duffle bag. 

Lingering Impact

I am a seasoned backcountry hunter and camper. I can’t imagine what that would have been like for one of our guests on their first adventure in the wilderness. We made light of the situation and continued our chores around setting up camp for the night. After using a small amount of Dawn dish soap from the camp kitchen, I washed the affected area twice in the cold river. However, I experienced a constant, mild burning sensation lasting several hours. Since I wear contacts, I made sure not to touch my eyes. My contacts are ok for weekly wear, so I chose to sleep with them and not chance more contamination.

Later in the evening, we settled in for the first night of sleep. Before settling for the night, I needed to get my goose-down packable jacket from the contaminated duffle. The coat keeps me warm when I sleep. As I got comfortable in my sleeping bag, I put my hands in the jacket pockets, but after a few minutes, I felt the burning sensation again. The bear spray had contaminated my coat! This stuff was on everything! Bear Spray is an oil-based spray that coats everything in its path! 

I spent the entire trip without removing my contacts. I used every wet wipe I packed to wash my hands, arms, and face. We all joked about wishing to google a remedy for neutralizing bear spray. The one reason we like going off-grid is to escape the noise of life, including internet searches.  

Contaminated Gear

Did I do all the right things? Maybe, maybe not. Isolating gear was a first step. I followed by washing as much as I could under the circumstances. As a precaution, I packed the bag in a garbage bag for the ride out of camp. Once in town, it was tossed in a dumpster. I did not want to be responsible for someone at TSA to feel the burn! Nor did I want to come in contact with it again. It seemed like the right thing to do. That bag will be missed. 

Tips For Accidental Discharge of Bear Spray

After we regained cell service, we searched for instructions on handling an accidental bear spray discharge. Here are some tips we found.  

1-Stay calm and move away from the area. 

2-Keep your eyes and mouth closed. Do not touch your face with your hands.  

3-Isolate any contaminated gear. 

4-Blink rapidly if hit in the face. For washing out eyes, tilt your head back and use a steady stream of water. Wash for 15 minutes.  

5-Avoid hot water, as it can intensify the effects. 

6-Cleanse your skin. Wash with dish detergent if possible.  

7-A Saline solutions can help wash your eyes. 

8- Use Tear-Free baby shampoo on your face and eyes. 

9-Seek medical attention if necessary. Consult a healthcare professional if you experience difficulty breathing, excessive swelling, or pain.   

These general tips and guidelines do not replace professional medical advice.

What items should be on our packing list? I suggest including alcohol wipes, baby shampoo, and dish soap. It’s essential to be prepared for any situation.

It brings me joy to share my experiences with others. Taking women into the backcountry fills my cup. Witnessing the smiles on their faces as they overcame their fears is the reason why I enjoy what I do. During the trip, the women formed solid bonds and learned valuable lessons. I discovered that bear spray is a highly effective means of self-defense when exploring the wilderness, but it must be handled with the utmost respect and care.

For More Information

 I found decontamination wipes on These will be a great addition to my pack. : (6 ea.) Sudecon Pepper Spray Decontamination Wipes – Blowback/Overspray : Sports & Outdoors

Learn more from BUSHCRAFTPRO.COM What To Do If Sprayed By Bear Mace (

To learn more about safely using Bear spray, visit

BearWise helps people live responsibly with bears

To join us on your next adventure, visit Sisterhood Outdoors – Women’s Hunting, Fishing, Shooting Group.



  • Donna Van Blaricom says:

    My hubby encountered a bear on his hunting path while deer\gun hunting. He wanted the bear to see him first. He made himself look bigger by raising his arms above him and gave out a growl. The bear ran off the path into the trees. Another time while I was bowhunting in the same area I heard a noise coming from behind me. It sounded like heavy breathing. I waited for it to pass not moving to look behind me in my ground blind. That was a scary experience!

  • Robyn McDonald says:

    Amy, Thanks for sharing this! You’ve caused me to think about how I can try to keep an accidental discharge from happening. I’ve carried bear spray when hiking, hunting and biking, for over 10 years. I always keep it within arms reach and use the safety carry case with it. I have never really seriously thought about what to do in an accidental discharge situation. Thanks for the links and info you provided!! I’m sharing this with others!!

  • Ronda Johnson says:

    Great story always expect the unexpected.

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