I carry OC Spray daily, all the time, even though I always carry a handgun. I have taken OC Spray training from different instructors who specialize in it as I consider it an integral part of civilian oriented self-defense. OC Spray fills a completely different defensive role than does the handgun. The pistol is a tool for dealing with lethal threats. OC Spray is a tool for dealing with “less lethal” threats. Different tools, entirely different tasks, and both exceedingly important. I believe that OC should be carried by the self-defense practitioner that has a high level of combatives skill and always carries a gun. OC Spray is not a replacement for a firearm or for hand skills. Rather, it is a tool that fills a specific role in the overall personal protection plan.
My goal with this article is to provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the main concerns with the adoption of OC Spray into your defensive carry toolset and plan. I suggest that you seek out training on the use of the tool, as training in the use of any emergency tool is a must to have competence in its use. The intention here is to offer an explanation of the primary considerations on OC Spray carry and employment through written explanation and video demonstration. My intention is to provide a comprehensive first step towards adopting and efficiently using defensive spray, so please share this resource with those you know who are interested in doing so.
Simple Assault VS Deadly Assault
Per the tracked annual crime data kept by the FBI, every year over eighty percent of reported assaults are “simple assaults.” That means that the assault involves an unarmed aggressor who is acting violently, perhaps putting hands on another or threatening to do so, but does not pose what is legally viewed as a deadly threat. The fact is, legally, a simple assault usually does not justify a deadly reaction. If an aggressive drunk shoves you in a parking lot, are you justified in shooting or stabbing him? A proportional retaliation, such as a controlled strike, a choke hold, or certainly a dose of OC Spray, is likely justified against such an assault where a lethal force response is not. This is the reason for carrying a less lethal tool.
So, you may argue that you have significant hand skills and combatives training, why would you need OC Spray? Well, I would submit that spray is no substitute for those skills, but rather, a tool that may foster the ability to not go to contact with an adversary. I realize that many people are quite confident in their hand skills and may not bat an eye at the idea of tuning up someone that deserves it. However, ask yourself, do you want the blood, saliva, and pathogens of the street element on you? Or, perhaps, in you, if you sustain a cut or abrasion? I would suggest that in a world filled with Hepatitis B, HIV, and a host of other dangerous diseases that transmit through bodily fluids, avoiding contact with an aggressor is ideal, if possible.
Effectiveness of OC Spray
Perhaps it goes without saying it, but OC Spray is not one hundred percent effective. What tool is? It will dissuade most individuals from pressing an attack, but not always. Being prepared to further escalate your own defense is a must, but OC Spray is simply another level of force that can be used for the appropriate response to a less lethal assault. It most often does impose an involuntary closing of the eyes, so most of the time there is at least some advantage to be had by employing it on an aggressor. A majority of people will be dissuaded by the pain and break contact, ending hostilities. However, there is a minority that will fight through the effects of OC and ignore it completely, so spray is only a tool in the defensive toolbox, not a magic talisman.
Consider Form Factor and Manipulation
Realistically, any OC Spray dispenser that is suited for carry is going to be small. Large riot size canisters, or even “duty size” options that are sized to be worn on a police officer’s belt, are generally too large to carry in everyday clothing. Therefore, smaller options are in order. My favorite two options for EDC are the POM OC unit and the Sabre Red MK6 unit. These both have tried-and-true formulas that prove effective based on the experience of top OC Instructors who have used them for real. They also both use a “flip cap” safety mechanism that is ideal. I recommend avoiding any dispenser that uses a safety that turns side to side as they notoriously fail. Flip top safeties are the safest and the most intuitive to use under stress. The POM unit is considerably smaller than the MK6, though it provides good range, and it is my carry unit of choice. However, either of these dispensers are good to go.
There are a number of options designed specifically to be kept on key rings, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as carrying your keys in hand while in transitional spaces puts the OC right in your hand. The only one of these keychain specific options that I can recommend is the ASP Defender series of units, which are shaped like, and can be utilized as, a kubatan striking implement. The downside to these units is that they are range-limited to only a few feet (although they have a cone pattern that makes getting hits easier) and their safety mechanism is secure, but more difficult to use under stress than are flip top canisters. Still, these are good OC units and I carried one for many years.
View the video for further discussion on form factor and manipulation:
Consider Spray Pattern
The afore recommended POM and Sabre Red MK6 units both employ a “stream” pattern. The other option to consider is a cone spray pattern. Streams provide further range and they are quite resistant to blow-back in windy conditions. Cone patterns have less range and blow back easier, but they are much easier to hit the face with as they launch a widening aerosol pattern. Cone pattern sprays also effect the respiratory system more than the stream pattern, which relies primarily on effecting the eyes. Both options have their benefits and downsides and both are totally viable. However, I personally prefer a stream as I have had cone patterns blow back on me when outside in windy conditions.
Per the recommendation of the leading instructors in the OC world, foam and gel type spray patterns/types should be avoided as they seem to be delayed in taking effect. While there may be certain roles that these options fill, for civilian self-defense and everyday carry I recommend sticking with a stream or a cone shaped pattern from a proven formula and device. With any device that you choose for carry, be sure to test it so that you know exactly how it performs. How much range does it have, how well can you hit a target, and how much blowback can you expect in less-than-ideal conditions? You need to thoroughly test your dispenser of choice.
View the video for a demonstration of spray pattern:
Another consideration is which hand you will use to deploy it; gun hand or support hand? There are benefits and down sides to each. I prefer to use the dominant hand so that I can use my flashlight with my support hand, similar to the ability to use the light with the handgun, if needed. Many feel more comfortable using the support hand to deploy spray so that the dominant hand can go immediately to the gun. In either case, it is important to practice dropping the spray and getting it out of your hand if you must transition to the gun.
View the video for a demonstration of these considerations:
Carry and Deployment
Like any other emergency tool, OC spray is only useful if it is carried in a way that it can be quickly and efficiently deployed in the face of a threat. Putting a canister of OC in a purse or backpack is unsound as it will be inaccessible when needed. Logically, in the waistband or in a pocket are the options that facilitate quick access. A unit that is attached to your keys can be held and carried while in transient locations. I find that a dispenser unit with a clip (like my preferred POM unit) clipped to the pocket is the most reliable and fastest carry location.
View the video for a demonstration of carry and deployment techniques:
The Distant Eye Jab Applied
OC Spray is best utilized in a preemptive capacity. This does not necessarily mean it must be deployed before the conflict begins, but it is best deployed before the aggressor makes physical contact with you. If locked in a clinch with an attacker you probably don’t want to deploy spray at that point as you will be wearing it as well. Again, spray is no compensation for hand skills. Spray is best deployed as a pre-contact, preemptive, strike to diminish the attacker. Preemptive attack is always a hazardous legal area as assaulting someone with hands or pepper spray will land you in considerable trouble if it is not justified. However, if you can articulate as to why you were certain that you were about to be physically assaulted, thus you used spray to protect yourself, you are using the tool for its intended job.
A particular preemptive strike that is taught by a number of combatives oriented self-defense instructors such as Craig Douglas and Kelly McCann is the “eye jab.” This is not a punch to the face with a closed hand, but it is a strike with an open hand, fingers in a claw-like pattern as if holding a ball, and it is directed at the eyes. The purpose of the strike is to disorient the aggressor. The reality is, this strike is unlikely to do serious harm to the eyes, but it is very disorienting as the eyes are sensitive and there is a lot of shock value in this strike. Th eye jab is an excellent preemptive strike to use on an aggressor that is at contact distance and winding up to launch a physical attack on you as it buys you the opportunity to follow up with further blows, or perhaps just escape the situation. Chuck Haggard, the preeminent authority on defensive OC Spray use, refers to defensive spray as an eye jab in a can.
View the video for an overview of the distance eye jab concept: .
Aiming and Application
While not terribly complicated, there are techniques that must be implemented to successfully use OC Spray in a violent encounter. The product needs to be fired accurately at the face, so targeting should be practiced. A stream pattern is best employed by walking the stream into the eyes from the side. A quick side-to-side motion of the ocular cavity is usually what is needed. A cone pattern is much more forgiving of accuracy and the pattern can be swiped from the chest upward to the top of the head, giving a full blast that will hit the eyes and be breathed in. Traditional styled dispenser units should be fired with the thumb on the actuator, not the index finger. By using the thumb you gain a more natural aim and you maintain a stronger grip on the device. Also, utilizing the thumb is a much more natural motion for lifting the safety and quickly firing the spray.
View the video for an overview of aiming OC Spray:
Be prepared to move when deploying spray as it is important not to make contact with the aggressor. The benefit of the spray is to minimize that contact, but once the aggressor is wearing the spray you don’t want to make contact and get it on yourself. Lateral movement and taking the aggressor’s flank is usually the best option. Simply make space and stay away from the attacker if possible. Do not backpedal as that results in falling down and you don’t want an attacker, covered with pepper spray, coming down on you. Move laterally to avoid the aggressor. If the attacker can make contact due to proximity, use techniques to get on his flank rather than deal with him straight on as the spray on his face will now be a threat to you. A shoulder-drag then a shove-away, or similar, are good techniques for this.
View the video for an overview on evasive movement:
Transition to Lethal Tools
Finally, as mentioned above, it is important to practice dropping the spray and drawing the gun. If the spray fails and the threat goes from aggressive to lethal (for example, by pulling a knife or gun after getting sprayed) the threat morphs to deadly, so a lethal response is likely the only option that will work. At home in dry practice, or even at the range, use an inert spray and practice spraying, then dropping the dispenser to immediately draw your gun, as such a plan B may materialize in real life.
View the video for a demonstration of weapon transition:
A Note on OC Spray Training and Practice
Ideally, you should get into a class that teaches the employment of OC Spray from a good instructor. Any decent class should focus on force-on-force scenarios while deploying the weapon. Even if you don’t get into a class, do some force-on-force practice with a friend using inert spray canisters. All of the devices suggested here have inert cartridges available that contain only water and can be safely used on training partners. Like any other defensive tool OC Spray demands training and practice.
That is my guide for the adoption of OC into your defensive carry if you are a concealed carrier. Carrying your lethal force tool is important, but having a tool for the more common simple assault is equally important, and is actually more likely to be necessary.
This is probably the most thorough explanation of OC spray I’ve read. I carry POM and Sabre Red clipped in my pocket, depending on my attire. When I see women carrying OC spray in their purses or clipped to their keychains, I ask what they know about using the spray. The usual response is very little. They treat it like a lucky rabbit’s foot. Simply having it attached makes them feel safer.
My experience is the same, most people who do carry it don’t consider deploying it at all. If the spray is at the bottom of a purse it might as well be on the far side of the moon. Anyone that carries spray should take training that focuses on the whole MUC paradigm and using it within that encroachment. But it is impossible to get the average gun owner to take serious training, we can expect even less from the average person who buys a canister of OC Spray on Amazon.
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Great point about average gun carriers. Theirs is an even bigger rabbit’s foot.