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Montana stuntman develops backpack bear spray

It may sound contradictory, but the people taking the biggest risks are usually the most safety conscious.

Take Billy Lucas, for example. For 30 years, the 57-year-old former Marine has been a Hollywood stuntman — part of that acting as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stunt double in films like “True Lies” and “The Terminator” series of films. So the fact that Lucas brainstormed a design for a new way to deploy bear spray from a backpack actually makes sense. He is very aware of ways to mitigate danger.

“There are no bragging rights in getting hurt,” Lucas said. “Safety is a primary concern, especially in my business.”

He got the idea shortly after moving from Los Angeles to Montana, while reading a newspaper story about a man being killed by a bear. Then he had his own encounter with a bear while fishing with friends and admitted to being spooked.

So Lucas read up on other bear attacks and noticed that when people dropped into defensive positions — lying face-down and covering their necks — they were still very vulnerable.

Lucas said the idea of a reserve parachute gave him the idea of a backpack-based bear-spray canister that could be discharged much like pulling the ripcord on a parachute. He paid an engineer to design the first prototype out of aluminum before deciding that was too heavy and going to plastic.

After three years in research and development, Lucas approached Butte-based bear spray makers UDAP Industries with his invention.

“When he showed up he had a working prototype” said Tim Lynch, general manager for UDAP, who was so impressed that he shot a video of the backpack to show to the company’s founder, Mark Matheny, the bloody face of the bear-spray business. After reaching a licensing and distribution deal, last April UDAP unveiled its Bear Attack Pack ($149) that can accommodate spray canisters of different sizes and be lashed onto a variety of backpacks.

The backpacks are made to be a secondary or last defense — used in addition to a handheld bear spray.

Lynch said he sees the device as a valuable backup for hunters, who while dressing game can be blindsided from behind by a territorial bear looking to claim a big game kill. He said an Alaskan study showed that in the majority of bear-human encounters, the person had only 1.8 seconds to react. That’s barely enough time to pull the trigger on a bear spray canister in your hand, so a backup seems like a good idea.

“This is designed to get that bear off your back,” Lynch said. “It’s not to replace spray, but in addition to it. This is sort of a backup, like a reserve parachute.”

Although no one wearing the Bear Attack Pack has ever tested the product in an actual mauling, Lucas compared it to the person who made the first reserve parachute.

“Hopefully it will work, but you won’t know until you need it,” he said. “And I hope I will never need it.”

The Back Attack Pack is deployed by a ripcord attached to the front of the backpack.