Strategic Use of Defense Sprays in Self Defense

You’ve just read that one of the keys to protecting yourself is recognizing a potential threat and knowing when it becomes an assault. That moment is when apprehension becomes fear; when your own instincts scream at you, “Act! Now!” At this moment, you must be ready to act quickly and precisely. In this section we’ll discuss exactly how to use defense sprays to prepare you as best we can, how to escape a hostile confrontation.


One of the keys to effective use of defense sprays is timing. Exactly when you bring a spray to bear on an assailant can be critical to the outcome of a situation. First, make sure the spray is readily available and, second, through practice, learn how to use it quickly and accurately. Now, when faced with a potentially threatening situation, it’s only a matter of when you decide to react. The timing of defense spray use is controlled by three things: prior awareness, the distance involved when the assault actually takes place, and whether or not your movement or physical capabilities are restricted by the assailant. There are several other special factors, but those will be covered later. The first timing factor is prior awareness, which was covered in the last section. An un- anticipated assault will be covered shortly. Just remember, that if you have any forewarning at all, it will probably be very short, and you may have only seconds to react. Under these circumstances, timing is critical! Timing refers to exactly when you unclip the spray and raise it up to spray the assailant. In situations where you see the assault coming, DON’T pull the spray out immediately to threaten the assailant. To repeat, DO NOT pull the spray out until you’re ready to use it! Do not threaten with it! Showing the spray before you shoot, tells the assailant what you’re going to do and gives him the opportunity to prepare for and react to it. And what’s worse, he may have his own weapon. Showing him your spray may cause him to brandish his weapon and escalate the situation to a far more dangerous level. Many of today’s criminals carry weapons “just in case.” When you pull out your spray, be ready
to use it! The more swift and unexpected your countermeasure, the more successful your defense will be.

Shooting the Spray

There’s much more to using a defense spray than just pointing and shooting. Remember, don’t raise, point, and shoot the spray until you’re ready to fire, until the assailant is in range and you know the spray will hit him full in the face and incapacitate him. The objective is to surprise and stop him before he has a chance to react or think. When you’re ready to shoot the spray, go into a slight crouch with your weight evenly balanced on both feet, if you have the chance. Thrust your non-shooting hand straight out in front of you. At the same time shout “STOP” as loud as you can. As you’re doing this, raise your hand holding the spray to eye level, approximately six inches in front of your chin, aim over your outstretched arm and hand, and shoot at the assailant’s face. Shouting “STOP” creates a slight diversion, but more importantly, it focuses your energy. Raising your arm outstretched toward the assailant may cause his immediate attention to be focused on that hand, not the one with the spray. This gives you time to bring the spray to bear and shoot before the assailant can react. Never thrust your shooting hand out in front of you toward the assailant. He may react quickly and hit your hand aside or grab it. As you shoot, back up, continuing to do so until the spray has affected the assailant.

Most sprays emit a wide enough pattern so that they don’t require precise aiming. However, if you need to make an adjustment, do it calmly but quickly. Don’t wave the spray around like a fire hose. That does nothing but waste the spray, causing much of it to hit empty air. Aim, shoot, see where you’re hitting and, if need be, correct your aim quickly while spraying. You should shoot the spray for 2 to 3 seconds. A good, solid medium duration spray around the head and shoulders should do it. After shooting, the assailant will normally stop within a second or two, blinded and virtually helpless due to uncontrollable coughing spasms. Once he’s disabled, stop spraying. Continue backing up and concentrate on getting away. Obviously you may not have time to shoot the spray in such a “textbook” way. You may not have time to do anything but bring the spray up and start shooting. If that’s the case, don’t worry about aiming correctly, or even correcting aim. JUST SHOOT!

Retreat and Escape

The whole purpose of using a defense spray is to stop your assailant immediately, disable him so he can no longer hurt you, and give you the opportunity to escape to a safe place. DO NOT attempt to hold the assailant for the police. In fact, get as far away from him as you can. DO NOT move toward the assailant in any way since you could be affected by the spray, which then could incapacitate you. The best way to escape is by backing away from the assailant as you’re shooting, or immediately after. Do not turn your back on him! Obviously, you need to see where you’re going, but don’t turn your back and run away until you’re at a good distance and the assailant no longer presents an immediate threat. If the assailant attempts to follow you or the first spray wasn’t enough, you must be ready to spray him again. Once you’re a safe distance from the assailant, turn and run quickly
to the nearest safe place, preferably one with people who can help you. Once you reach a safe place, be forceful in your request for help. A command of, “Call the Police now!” will usually do it since people can sometimes be hesitant to help or get involved. DO NOT WAIT! And do not go back to where you left the assailant. He may still be in the area.

Special Circumstances – Multiple Assailants

When faced with multiple assailants, you should use a circular or semicircular spray pattern technique that provides a protective barrier. If the assailants are in front of you, spray the one nearest you directly. His sudden reaction may stop the others when they see the agony he’s going through. As with a single assailant, immediately begin retreating or backing up, never taking your eyes off the assailants, remaining ready to spray anyone else foolish enough to pursue. Retreat and escape to safety as previously described. However, if multiple assailants travel and strike in packs, for protection and dominance. Usually when one or two of them are stopped, the rest will stop as well. If multiple assailants keep coming toward you, even after stopping one of them, put out a 180 degree arc of spray to your front while continuing to back up. You must fight the natural urge to turn your back on the assailants and run. You cannot disable them as well, or as effectively, if you’re running away. The idea is to force the assailants through the spray to get to you. Keep in mind this defense works best at a range of six to eight feet. Any shorter distance and they’re too close. The successful use of the 180 degree spray tactic also depends on the type and range of your spray. Test spray your unit to determine its range and spray pattern. Again, don’t wave the spray around like a fire hose. Lay down a solid, continuous barrier of protection quickly but thoroughly. There’s an exception to the single and multiple assailant tactics just described. If your assailant(s) attack you at a run, your first, and best instinct, is to run as well. But while you’re running, pull the spray, aim it behind you,and shoot. This tactic again forces the assailant(s) through the spray to get to you. Use this only as an emergency measure, however, and only spray when you know the assailant(s) are in the effective range of your spray, usually 8 to 10 feet. Otherwise you’re simply wasting the spray.

Immobilized Victim Situations

The other special circumstance you may be faced with is being grabbed by an assailant before you have a chance to react as previously described. This would typically be the case if you were suddenly attacked from behind or from another direction. The key factor is whether or not you have the freedom to retreat or use the spray on the assailant. In this situation, your best chance is to draw the spray, assume the ready position with your hand on the spray. Take a deep breath, close your eyes and create a fog with the spray to surround you and your assailant. This is the only advantage you have.

No Retreat Situation

There are certain situations where immediate retreat is impossible. The two most common are when there are multiple assailants that have surrounded you, and when you are trapped or cornered with no avenue of retreat. If you find yourself surrounded by multiple assailants you must do two things immediately. First, assuming the assailants are within range, disperse a full 360-degree circle of spray at head level, again creating a barrier the assailants must pass through to get to you. This may break up the pack quickly, or it may not. In either case, your second step is to quickly find the best escape route, and immediately take it since your life may depend on it! In order to do this you may have to target one of the assailants with the spray, spray him, and push past him quickly. This calls for a forward attack with the spray, which means you’ll be entering a spray zone where you’ll be affected. To lessen the effects, take a deep breath, close your eyes briefly, and plunge through quickly. Once you’ve broken out of the circle, face the assailants, ready to spray again if necessary, and continue to back up until you can escape and get help. If you are cornered, the procedure is very much the same as when you’re surrounded. Spray the assailant(s), Hold your breath and close your eyes, and run the moment you see the assailant disabled. When using any tacticwhere you have to enter the spray zone, you will be affected by it. Ignore the effects as much as possible so you can escape and get help. As long as you don’t take a full breath of the spray, and it has only incidental contact with your eyes, you’ll be able to function well enough to escape and get help. In this scenario is that you know what’s going to happen and the assailant doesn’t. In essence you force him to breathe in the spray while you’re not. If done successfully, the assailant will either release or relax his hold on you. The moment he does, break free from him, turn and spray in a controlled manner as you retreat and escape. If the assailant grabs and immobilizes your arms and you can’t get the spray out, fight to free your shooting hand. There is one exception! Don’t fight immediately if the assailant has a weapon. This will be covered in greater detail shortly. A special note: in an enclosed area, such as a car, the spray will fill the space instantly. You must get out of the car to be affected as little as possible. If the assailant has forced you into his car, do not use it to escape. If you have sprayed the inside of your own car, don’t attempt to drive away in it unless absolutely necessary. You’ll be affected by the residual spray and driving could be very hazardous. If this is your only means of escape, roll the driver’s window down to ventilate your car. Drive to the nearest place of safety such as a restaurant, bar, convenience store, or even a residence with a light on; anywhere where there’s going to be people.

Date Rape

Use of a defense spray to prevent date rape is done much the same way as any other assault. The only difference is that you must first recognize what is happening, then verbally attempt to stop the man’s behavior. Once you say “Stop!” in a forceful way, and he doesn’t comply, you have every right to stop the continued aggressive behavior with a defense spray. Even in situations which seem non-threatening, you must have the spray available to you. If you need to retrieve it from a purse or jacket pocket, it is a good idea to rehearse a reason in advance to avoid finding yourself unable to get to the spray when you need it. When you shoot, do so quickly with surprise. Then, as with any other defense measure, leave quickly.

Use of Defense Sprays Against Knives

One situation that requires considerable judgment involves assaults with a knife. The rule of thumb is this: if you are at least two of your arm’s lengths away from the assailant, use the spray as you normally would. Whatever you do, don’t move toward the assailant for any reason. You must keep a gap between the two of you of at least 4 to 6 feet. If the assailant is within arms length of you, he can slash out with the knife and strike much faster than you can react! The moment you see a knife, back up, quickly, and continue backing while you use the spray. Don’t stop to take aim unless the assailant stops. A person with a knife has but one thing in mind when he attacks – to close the gap! He must do this in order to hurt you with the knife. If you don’t give him a chance to close that gap by stepping backward, then laying down a spray barrier, you’ll probably be able to keep him from continuing the assault. DON’T EVER TURN YOUR BACK ON AN ASSAILANT WITH A KNIFE! You must know where that knife is and how far away it is! As with a gun, if you are surprised by an assailant with a knife, particularly from behind, don’t use the spray immediately. If an assailant has a knife next to your body don’t make any sudden moves or attempt to spray the assailant; not as long as the knife is within striking distance.

Use of Defense Sprays Against Guns

There are circumstances when you absolutely should not use the spray immediately, even though it’s instantly available to you. If you are confronted by an assailant with a gun don’t suddenly pull the spray out, as he may think it’s a weapon and shoot you! Don’t make any sudden moves when facing a firearm. Do what you’re told! If that means giving up a purse or wallet, do so! (Exception: If an assailant tries to force you into an isolated area or into a car at gunpoint, run away! You have a 98% chance of survival if you run, compared to 50% if you go with the attacker.) Don’t expose your hand by showing the spray or threatening the assailant with it! That doesn’t mean, however, that you must not look for an opportunity to use the spray. If the assailant puts the gun down to assault you or attempt rape, then use the spray; but only if you feel you have a good chance of escaping the situation without being hurt. Although it’s risky, you just might be saving your life. If the assailant lets his guard down, puts the knife or gun down, or steps away from you, use the spray swiftly for maximum surprise. This can involve significant risk and you must determine if your life is in danger.

Special Notes

In all cases of an attack from the rear you must know if there is a weapon involved! Don’t spray the area in a panic. The assailant may be affected by the spray, but if he’s close enough he may strike with the knife or shoot the gun. A special note to women about rape attempts. If you are assaulted with a weapon, a gun or knife, at close range, keep in mind that, at some point, the rapist may be preoccupied with the rape itself. He may assume your fear will keep you in line. Let him continue thinking that and at the first opportunity get the spray and disable him, so you can escape. JUST BECAUSE THE RAPIST DOESN’T USE A WEAPON AGAINST YOU INITIALLY, DOESN’T MEAN HE WON’T LATER. HE MAY ATTEMPT TO SERIOUSLY HURT OR KILL YOU AFTER THE ACT ITSELF. DON’T GIVE HIM THAT CHANCE! Finally, keep in mind that an assailant in the act of striking you may not have enough control to keep you from breaking free. If you can, break free at the first opportunity and use the spray. Also, if you feel at any time that the assailant isn’t going to let you go or let you live, you must attempt to get away using the spray, even if the assailant has a gun or a knife.

Post Assault Considerations – Police Involvement

Once you’ve escaped from an assailant, get to safety as quickly as possible. CALL THE POLICE IMMEDIATELY! There are several reasons for this. First, there’s a good chance the assailant will be apprehended, particularly if you’ve sprayed him with an OC spray with dye. This is important because it takes the assailant off the street, at least temporarily, and it just may prevent a second assault; either on you or someone else. A second assault, on you? Yes! While many assaults are crimes of opportunity, some are the result of premeditated planning on the part of the assailant. He may have been watching you, your routines, your residence, etc. He may have been stalking you specifically. While this isn’t something we like to think about, it is nonetheless true in some cases. By getting the police, involved you may just deter the assailant from coming after you again. If, in the assault, the assailant gets away with your purse or wallet or anything else which can identify who you are and where you live, you must get the police involved. If they don’t apprehend the assailant and he gets your wallet, checkbook, keys, etc., YOU MUST ASSUME HE WILL BE COMING TO YOUR RESIDENCE, OR WILL ATTEMPT TO STEAL YOUR CAR! As you can see it is very important that the police become involved immediately. Avoid the temptation to go back after the assailant yourself! That’s not a job for you or your friends. It’s a job for the police. Let them handle the situation and give them your complete cooperation.

Spray Replacement

You should test spray your defenses spray unit once a month. Spray it outside, downwind for a brief “spurt” then release. Note how far the spray goes and see if it’s as full as it was when new. If the range is less than 3 to 4 feet or the spray seems to be thin or weak, replace it immediately. Do not rely on it! Most sprays, even ones that have an indefinite chemical shelf life, can lose their pressure over time, much the same as a fire extinguisher. If you use the defense spray against an assailant, replace the unit immediately. In the excitement of the assault, you may not realize just how much was sprayed. If you have to use it again, there may not be a sufficient amount of chemical or pressure to do the job. Most units cost between $10.00 and $20.00 dollars, which is a small price to pay for the peace of mind knowing the unit is new and ready to protect you once again.

Residential Defense

Use of a defense spray for residential protection is considerably different from its use for personal defense. The biggest difference is the inability to retreat and escape. While this is possible and necessary in some cases, most residential defense relies on providing a barrier to prevent intrusion.

Storage of Defense Sprays in the Residence

Where you keep defense sprays within your residence should be determined by the type and layout of the residence, the number of residents, location and number of access points, the likely points of entry, and any other security measures in place. The type of residence you live in is a key factor. An apartment, for instance, with only one door and two windows on a second floor is much easier to defend than a ranch-style suburban home with three or four doors and several windows at ground level. Consider the landscaping, which often times provides concealment of an intruder. Another factor is the number of residents and their age. If children are in the home their safety must be considered in the tactics applied to deal with an intruder. If all members are adults, they need only to have the knowledge to properly protect the residence. The two primary locations that should be considered for storage of the defense spray are by the bedside, where it’s readily accessible, and by the main entrance or entrances most likely to be targets for intrusion. You will need to determine the best locations to store the defense sprays based on your own evaluation. Wherever you decide to store the spray, it should be kept out of sight and, if at all possible, out of the curious hands of children. Often a door unit can be kept high on a closet shelf and a bedside unit can be kept either in a nightstand drawer or on a closet shelf. If neither of these storage places is suitable, consider attaching the unit to a wall or door frame with Velcro* or other attachment device.

Residential Tactical Use

The primary purpose for having defense spray for protection in a residential setting is to create a barrier to prevent the intruder from getting inside. There are two types of barriers with two different and distinct functions. The interior barrier is created by spraying into an area of entry just prior to retreating to a “safe room” inside the residence. The door and window defense is similar to personal defense on the street. It is used on an intruder when he is entering, or is already in the residence.

Interior Barrier Defense

This defense is used if you become aware of an intruder still outside, in the act of breaking in, or if he is already in the residence. In order for this spray defense to work it is necessary to have a “safe room,” an interior room such as a bedroom, bathroom, or a closet that can be securely locked and will resist break in by the intruder. It should also have a phone to call the police. If a break in is in progress or is imminent, spray the entry area the intruder must come through, then retreat to your safe room. If there are children or others in the residence, gather them together in the safe room with you. Once there, be ready to spray anyone who breaks through the door. Don’t go from your safe room for any reason as you don’t know whether the intruder is armed, his mental state, or his intentions. Inside the safe room, don’t wait directly in front of the door, but rather to the side of it, ready to spray anyone who enters.

Door and Window Defense

The big difference between door and window defense and an interior barrier defense is the amount of preparation or warning time. The only time you should use a spray defense to stop an intruder from coming through a door or window is when the intruder is already in and you’re in imminent danger. A good example would be waking up to find an intruder climbing in through your bedroom window or actually in the residence. The tactic you should use for window defense is similar to that of spray defense during a personal attack on the street. However, you will not have a place to retreat. If you catch an intruder coming through a window, or if he’s already in the residence, spray him directly in the face, then get out of the room, either to a another room or to a hallway. Shut doors behind you if possible. If the intruder comes through the door, spray him again and leave the house. The exception to this is if you have children or other residents in the residence that must be protected. In that case retreat to a position where you can defend them from the intruder should he press the attack. Use any means available to you to warn the others and facilitate their escape. Spray defense at a door is much the same as at a window, as you directly spray the intruder as he enters the residence. Don’t try to open the door suddenly, spray the intruder, then shut it again. Like the street assault, you want the spray defense to take the assailant/intruder by complete surprise. If you spray an intruder and surprise him as he comes in, the chances are good he’ll immediately run away. If the intrusion takes place at night do not turn on the lights if the intruder is inside. If he’s still trying to break in turn the lights on. This will probably scare him off which is exactly what you want. The best form of preparation for defending against an intruder is to rehearse what you should do in various situations. This rehearsal can be very effective, particularly if you find you have to use a spray defense in the dark. It’s very important to include all residents in the procedure and practice drills. As mentioned previously, the best type of spray to use for residential defense is a large fogger type. Their range is usually about 15 to 20 feet, and they emit a fine mist, remaining in the air for several minutes. Living in the residence for the next few hours maybe uncomfortable, even after you’ve washed the area down and aired it out. But that is far better than becoming a victim of a violent assault, which has effects that can last a lifetime.

Travel Considerations

Use of a defense spray while traveling is basically the same as any other residential situation. The only real difference is lack of a prepared safe room. This problem is easily remedied by using the bathroom of your hotel or motel room. In most rooms calling the police is easily done on the room phone. Dial 911, not the hotel or motel switchboard! If you’re traveling in an RV or motor home, the door defense applies. Let the intruder know you’re aware of him and spray him if he manages to break in. This is if you’re in an RV park and hooked up to the facilities. If you’re not hooked up, just drive off!


Neither the best spray available, nor extensive knowledge of tactics can substitute for two invaluable necessities: carrying the spray wherever you go and practicing it’s use. Go over in your mind all the scenarios you can think of, and plan how to handle these various scenarios. When you read of a personal assault in the newspaper, figure out what you would have done using the defense spray to protect yourself in the same situation. The main thing to remember is that there’s a difference between simply having the spray with you, and being ready to use it at a moment’s notice. The difference is one of attitude, and of preparedness. Being prepared includes knowing that you would be the next victim. It is the conviction that your health and well-being, your very life in fact, could depend on being able to successfully protect yourself in a hostile confrontation. Defense sprays are only tools. The best defense you have is your knowledge and your attitude, and having the determination to survive an encounter. It’s an attitude that says, “I refuse to be a victim!”

By Doug Lamb


One Response to Strategic Use of Defense Sprays in Self Defense

  1. stewart says:

    your guidelines are not only relevant to using the spray but also useful self preservation guides

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