Dive Bar Cartoon

Bear Spray Stories Part 1: The Golden Grizzly Award

Alaska, Bear Spray Stories, Travel Cartoons

The other day I was having a drink with a park ranger, a man who drove tour buses in Denali for 30 years, and a veteran of the Alaska tourism industry. The conversation turned to bear spray, and the three of them recounted four of the funniest stories involving bear spray that I had ever heard.

Dive Bar Cartoon


I was so amused by the stories, I decided to turn them into cartoons. This starts a four-part series called Bear Spray Stories that I plan to publish over the next several weeks.

Before we get started, some of you are asking: “What is bear spray?”

Bear spray is a form of pepper spray used to minimize injury due to bear-human conflict. In simpler terms, it is mace for bears. The photo below demonstrates bear spray in action:

Bear spray demonstration

Using bear spray is a last resort and should be done only when the attack is imminent.  Even if used correctly, it is next to impossible not to get some of the noxious pepper sprays in your face. As you will find out during this series, it can be used to save lives, but also leads to accidents, some of which are hilarious. Hilarious, that is, provided you are not the one getting napalmed.

Without Further Ado:

Story No. 1: The Golden Grizzly Award

Back in the day, the bus drivers in Denali National Park used to give out a dubious award known as the Golden Grizzly Award to the driver who made the biggest screw up each year. Like Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, one year a park ranger broke down barriers by winning the award. Here is how he won.

It was a cold and rainy day in Denali. As passengers were getting on the bus after one of the last stops of the day, a Hoary Marmot approached the bus. This was exciting for all the passengers.

Bear Spray Accident on Tour Bus

Bear Spray Marmot

However, no one was more excited than the marmot, because he suddenly found a cozy and dry refuge under the idling tour bus.

This created a problem for the driver because he couldn’t leave with the marmot under the bus and there were multiple places for the rodent to hide in the undercarriage.

Bear Spray accident on tour bus

He yelled at the marmot trying to get him to flee,

Park Ranger looking under bus

but the marmot would not leave.

All the cold, wet, and tired passengers became grumpy and started complaining to the driver.

Bear Spray Bus Accident in Denali

Just when things were getting out of control, a savior in the form of a park ranger came along.

Bear Spray Cartoon Accident

Park Ranger Cartoon with Bear Spray Park Ranger Cartoon with Bear Spray

The ranger then crouched

Bear Spray Accident in Denali

and blasted a full can of caustic pepper spray under the bus.

Bear Spray Accident in Denali

If you remember, the bus was idling, so the pepper spray was sucked into the intake vents and blown into the vehicle, thus napalming all the tourists.

Bear Spray Accident in Denali

In what can only be imagined as a scene of terror, panic, and confusion, the tourists (most of which were elderly) began to scrum towards the front of the bus to escape the gassing.

Bear Spray Accident Park RangerThe tourists piled outside – coughing, gagging, choking – and stood in the sleet and cold, most likely berating the ranger with a slew obscenities. A rescue bus had to be called in to take the passengers back home because obviously, the bus was no longer usable.



Bear Spray Accident Park Ranger

And that is how the first non-bus driver made history and won the Golden Grizzly Award.


Have you ever accidentally been gassed by pepper spray? 

Is this story accurate? Were you there? Do you have anything to add? 


Links to the other bear spray stories:

Part 2: Almost killed by puppies

Part 3: Tear Gas

Part 4: Marinated Meatballs

Part 5: Attacked by “Grizzlies”


Posted by

Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~ planetbell1@gmail.com

37 thoughts on “Bear Spray Stories Part 1: The Golden Grizzly Award”

  1. Adventures in Kevin's World says:

    I take it from your cartoon you were drinking with John Allen? (don’t you love my take-away from this? You write a funny story with good cartoons, and I ask if the mustache man is John Allen).

      • I was the driver of the marmot incident. The ranger was the bear tech. The day was actually sunny and a passenger on the bus, an elderly woman,had only one lung.some of the passengers jokingly put their hands around their throats as they were exiting the bus. It was a classic fuck up
        Phil from Boston

      • YES!!! This is awesome. I am glad that you found the post. It is funny how stories get distorted over time and through different tellings.

        So it was a sunny day. Did they have to call out a different bus or could you continue?

  2. What a fantastic story. And a great excuse to make cartoons. Can’t wait to read about the other stories.

    I have carried bear spray but never used it. I often wondered if I would have the patience to wait for a bear to get within range. A friend told me there was no chance – he would empty it at the first sign of trouble.

    • This was a story ready made for a cartoon.

      As you will see in a later story, it can be used to save lives, but I have always been skeptical of it since I know of about a half dozen times when people have had accidents with it and shot themselves or others (or a bus load of others). If you use it, you also have to have the presence of mind to aim correctly and not shoot it in your own face.

      • I don’t know how reliable the stats are but I have read that when bear spray was used in an altercation with a bear it was more effective than guns.

      • That I would believe. With a gun, your aim better be nearly perfect because a bullet probably won’t kill a bear first try. The pepper stray at least doesn’t need to be as accurate and you can blind the bear allowing you to get away.

        Either way, I love seeing bears but enjoy it most from my car or if on food, with a fat, slow person between the bear and me.

  3. Yes and you only need to carry a .22 if going in the Bush with others. The .22 is to shoot one of them in the foot and you can leisurely walk away.

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  7. Hehe. We’ve carried bear spray, never had to use it.

    I have heard stories of people spraying other people, but never one like this. I also heard someone used it on a mountain lion and it worked.

    • Just wait ’till part four, which I need to draw soon, btw. I have heard about a dozen stories of bear spray being used, and all but one were an accident.

      • I do not. Most places I go either don’t have a lot of bears, or are in open tundra where I am unlikely to surprise a bear. I did once have a bear walk out of the trees right into the trail in front of me. My wife took off running, and I followed suit. The bear kept on going and didn’t pay attention to us.

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  9. Bear spray is a larger can of capsicum pepper spray. Food, if you will. For training, we got sprayed in the eyes, had to fight off an attacker, and then hold one eyelid open long enough to identify the weapon as a knife of a gun, and then radio for help. If you spray, say a bear, who has a super sensitive nose, it is very effective, but you must be careful because if it’s windy, it’s like pissing in the wind. The bear, or human can still harm you, but scat out of the way as they won’t be able to see or smell for about 20 minutes. It’s possible the tourists felt residual in their throats!

  10. It took place in 2001 near the savage river on a sunny day. There was an elderly woman on board the pepper spray filled bus who only had one lung!A couple of passengers departing the bus jokingly put their hands around their throat to pretend they were choking.I am from Boston, so when I put the call in to dispatch , my accent made the call sound distorted and I caught endless grief for that

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  14. So that is BJ, John Allen, but who is the ranger? I’m guessing they are in the spike.

    • I do not know who the ranger is – I think the cheap beers made me forget. We were actually in a dive bar in Anchorage, the Buckaroo Club.

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