Field Notes: Inside look at UDAP’s world of bear spray

Photo: Courtesy of UDAP
In August we visited our partners at UDAP to learn more about how bear spray is made.

By Kim Davitt, Development Director

It’s not every day that you get to see how the sausage is made. Or to be more accurate—how the bear spray is made. Working in wildlife conservation brings us to all kinds of interesting places, but usually outside in a field or forest, not a factory. It was extra unique and special, therefore, to visit with our partners at UDAP Bear Spray and tour their facilities this past August.

Located just a couple hours from the recreation and grizzly hub of Yellowstone National Park, UDAP’s facilities in Butte are a good reminder of what it takes to stay safe in bear country. And a good reminder of how many different people and products contribute to that goal.

UDAP is one of Vital Ground’s business partners. In addition to donating a portion of their proceeds to our habitat protection efforts, UDAP also contributes to coexistence efforts by manufacturing the world’s hottest pepper spray, giving recreators in bear country an effective and non-lethal self-defense option.

Celebrating 30 years in business the company, founded in 1994 and a supporter of our conservation work since 2021, knows firsthand the importance of this tool. Its founder, Mark Matheny survived a grizzly attack thanks to a friend who finally deterred the bear using a small can of personal pepper spray. The harrowing experience stuck with Mark, eventually leading him to found UDAP to make improvements to the sprays and holsters available at the time, including adding a tie to the safety clip and designing holsters that allow for a faster discharge.

As we saw in August, the company is still committed to this goal. Under the leadership of owner Mark Matheny and general manager Tim Lynch, their team continues to expand UDAP’s distribution, both to major retailers and local stores across the US, while also investing in more sustainable packaging. Sent along with each bear spray order, UDAP includes a 32-page UDAP Bear Safety Tips booklet along with a pamphlet co-designed with Vital Ground to educate customers about grizzly conservation and conflict prevention.

In his 23 years with the company, Tim said he has seen a lot of growth. As UDAP’s website explains, “There are more people than ever recreating, hunting, fishing, and enjoying the wild lands of North America and elsewhere around the globe…With bear populations on the rise, the need for a reliable and effective bear deterrent is as important as ever.”

UDAP effectively meets this need. Their employee-built warehouse-style buildings host an incredibly sophisticated assembly line, allowing their small team to push out astonishing amounts of product. The process surprisingly evoked memories of my summer job at a winery—fill the container, force on a lid, label and repeat.

An Important Tool in the Conservation Box

Like appreciating fine wine, there are important considerations to using bear spray properly that are not always common knowledge. For instance, bear sprays generally expire after four to five years and each brand performs in slightly different ways. UDAP’s high-volume sprays are designed for short powerful bursts, not the six-second deployment of some other brands.

“Unfortunately, there is an ever-increasing amount of conflicting information about the proper use of bear spray,” says UDAP. “It is critically important to recognize that not all bear spray products perform in exactly the same manner.”

This is why UDAP commits itself as heartily to bear safety education as it does to producing its array of sprays and accessory products. Reading the specific use instructions on the label and then practicing help ensure you will be prepared to effectively use the spray in the unlikely case of a bear attack.

At its core, UDAP and many of our other partners recognize that living and recreating in bear country comes with risk but that those real dangers should not stop us from enjoying these beautiful places or from protecting the right of grizzlies to share this landscape with us.

As we together innovate and collaborate toward increased coexistence, our collection of tools is growing and improving. From electric fences and drones to range riders and livestock guardian dogs and, of course, bear sprays like UDAPs, residents and visitors to grizzly country are not alone or unequipped to protect both themselves and wildlife.

The reality of this work is rarely extraordinary. It is often the small, mundane and daily acts that cumulatively build a buffer so every person and animal on this landscape can have the space they need to live and thrive. In UDAP’s factory their contribution is the repetitive fill, force and label, as well as a deep commitment to spreading bear awareness, that empowers their customers to make our shared landscapes safer.

After my August visit, I headed out on my annual solo backpacking trip. I attached my UDAP container to the chest strap of my backpack and felt secure enough to travel into a wild, unknown landscape.

 

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