If you choose to use a weapon as a tool for self defense, you must learn how to use it properly. If you don’t it’s worse than useless because it will tend to give you a false sense of security. So let’s talk about how it works, how to choose and purchase, and how to most effectively use pepper spray.
Pepper spray, also known as OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) is an inflammatory chemical that causes temporary blindness, tearing coughing, choking and burning sensations. It can be incapacitating. When you use pepper spray there is always the possibility of blowback. If you have asthma, heart or respiratory problems you should probably use a different self defense tool. Pepper spray, when properly used can be very effective. However, it may not work on 10-15% of the people. It’s a great self defense tool but it is far from perfect.
Choosing the best pepper spray can be a very confusing ordeal. The first issue is size. Different states have different limitations on how large the pepper spray canister can be. South Carolina allows pepper spray canisters up to 1½ ounces, plenty large enough to do the job. The next question is strength. This is measured in a variety of ways and this is the biggest area of confusion. Typically, you’ll see an OC percentage rating. Anything over 15% should be good. Police departments typically use OC in the 17% range. Another rating you may see is the Scoville heat units. A good pepper spray will be rated at 3 million SHUs or better.
If that’s not confusing enough, you’ll have to choose between ballistic stream, cone fog and foam. Foam may be good for indoors but the bad guy can scoop a handful of it and throw it back at you. Cone fog allows you to spray a fog 8-10 feet and if you’re shaking with the adrenaline rush of fear you will still be able to aim well enough. It is a bit indiscriminate and blowback is more likely, especially in windy situations. If you use fog indoors you will suffer some of the consequences although not as much as the bad guy. You should also expect to need to evacuate the room for at least 30 minutes after use. Stream spray will typically spray a red stream 6-15 feet and allow you to aim a steady stream at your attacker. It works quickly and, of the three, works best if there is any breeze. Which to choose? I recommend the ballistic stream style as it has the greatest range, the least chance of personal contamination. And it works best in the widest range of situations. If you’re in doubt, buy one of each and test your comfort level with each by spraying at an outdoor target. As far as brands go, Fox Labs is the brand I recommend. They sell a high quality and dependable product. You can buy pepper spray from gun stores and sporting good stores but why not purchase online and get exactly what you want?
The best spray is useless if you don’t know how to use it. The first consideration is that it must be available. Key chains and purses are a good choice if you always carry the same purse or keys and keep the spray in the same location. The glove box of your car is a bad location. It may explode on a hot day. It must be quickly and reliably accessible. Most pepper sprays come in a leatherette case and have a safety feature that requires the trigger to be rotated 90 degrees before you can spray. To make those safety features work for you, you’ll need to break in the leather so the top will open easily and stay open. Simply working the leather back and forth will break it down enough. Then, place the canister back in the case so that the spray opening is pointing away from the leather. Too many women carry pepper spray that is aimed toward the leather rather than the opening.
Before you ever use pepper spray for self defense, you need to be proficient with its use. Try both stream and cone and practice using both forefinger and thumb to spray. Determine how you are most confident. Decide where you’re going to carry. Practice bringing your spray from concealed, to ready, to shoot. For added realism, try this drill. Have a friend move away from you quickly and without warning. As soon as they begin to move, retrieve your pepper spray and bring it to the ready position. How much ground did they cover? That’s your minimum safe distance. You can shrink the distance by having your hand on the spray or even have the safety cover flipped open. Adjustment according to circumstance. If you test fire your pepper spray, you’ll know its range. If you have a partner help you determine your reaction time, you’ll know the distance a bad guy can cover while you move from concealed to presented. The bad guy may continue his forward momentum and you’ll realize how quickly and decisively you will have to act. Once you’ve practiced you’ll know just how prepared you need to be.
When using pepper spray, the most important issue is whether or not to actually use it. I’d recommend making the decision before you purchase. When you raise pepper spray and aim at an attacker it should not be to scare or deter him but to spray him. The advantage of a concealed weapon is surprise. Once it’s out and aimed the surprise is gone. An attacker can raise an arm in front of his face and effectively shield his eyes from the effect. That’s not helpful. “Draw your weapon” only when you are prepared to use it immediately.
Aim for the face. Pepper spray works when it gets into the eyes and nose. It may help to aim at shoulder height and quickly raise it to the eyes. You should see the stream and be able to adjust your aim accordingly. You’ll know you’ve hit your target when his eyes snap shut. Don’t stop spraying until that happens. If he turns and runs away, keep the pepper spray ready and call the police. If there is little or no effect, continue to spray. Once his eyes shut, move laterally so that he doesn’t know where you are. Side to side movements will confuse him. It’s hard to imagine something worse than an attacker, eyes shut, mucous streaming from his nose, grabbing you in a heightened state of rage. As soon as it works, MOVE.
Once safe, call the police. Tell the dispatcher your exact location, give your name and briefly describe the events. You can help the police identify the attacker by giving a good description. They will ask you to identify:
Distinguishing marks – tattoos, scars
Hair or hat
Eye color (glasses, alert, normal, droopy)
Method of escape (car color, license number, direction)
It can be very difficult to remember physical details in a stressful environment. Here’s a tip – start by comparing him to the person you know who looks most like him. It may be much easier to tell the police, “He looks like my uncle Jim but a little taller and heavier. He has more hair and it’s wavy.” If you’re starting with a known reference point you may have better success. Try this technique the next time you meet someone new.
You should be prepared for the possibility of suffering from the effects of pepper spray. It won’t all get on the bad guy and some of it may blow back on you. You may be mildly contaminated and the effects shouldn’t last beyond 45 minutes or so. However, you may get a bigger dose than you planned on. Relax. Painful as it may be, it’s better than being attacked and there are a few simple things you can do to minimize the effect.
First, remove your contact lenses and contaminated clothing. Do not reuse your contacts. Soak a cloth in milk and apply it to the area that is burning. The fats will absorb the capsaicin. Alternately, you can mix some Dawn dish-washing detergent with cold water in the sink and immerse your face for 15 seconds. This will break down the capsaicin oil. Do not rub your skin and especially not your eyes. This will make things worse. Or you can carry a couple of Sudecon Decontamination Wipes with you. They are inexpensive, simple and easy to use.
Ideally, you will carry pepper spray as part of your personal safety plan and never need it. If you do, you’ll be prepared, use it properly, call the police with a good description and be prepared to testify to put your attacker in jail so he can’t repeat the crime any time soon.