Exactly What Is Tannerite?

What is this Tannerite stuff that people keep talking about? Aren’t explosive substances illegal or something?

For starters, Tannerite is a brand of exploding target. You shoot it and it goes boom. You can see the obvious appeal.

Oh, and before we have to say it elsewhere… we aren’t lawyers, there is no legal advice to be found here, and it’s on you to check with your county sheriff and/or law enforcement office and make sure you don’t need a special permit to use it. This is just a discussion about Tannerite, its uses in target practice, and publicly available information.

That said, it gets a bit more complicated than that. There are a number of brands of binary exploding targets; Tannerite is just one brand. However, colloquial language being what it is, people have taken to referring to any exploding targets of the same type as “Tannerite” even though Tannerite is a specific brand.

It’s just like how some folks refer to any soft drink as “Coke” even if the highly fructosed beverage in question is not made by Coca-Cola or referring to extruded polystyrene foam as “Styrofoam,” even though it’s only actually Styrofoam if it’s made by DuPont. Technically speaking.

The form of the target is the same regardless of brand. Tannerite and all other brands are binary explosives, meaning they have to be mixed together in order to be set off. If you buy a canister, you’ll look inside and see two packets, each containing a powder.

As you find it on store shelves, the mixture is inert. That’s why it isn’t a big deal to sell it to us civilians.

Typically, the mixture is of a fuel – typically a mixture of ammonium nitrate and ammonium perchlorate – and then an oxidizing compound, usually aluminum powder. Inside the target container, there will usually be separate containers for each compound.

In order to activate them, the two powders must be mixed together. At this point, they are still fairly inert, as the compounds selected for use in binary reactive targets are often proofed against electric sparks or fuses. Instead, the mixture must be struck with sufficient force (e.g. the force of a high-velocity bullet) to initiate the reaction and thus the KABOOM!

Some chemical engineering does go into making Tannerite targets and off-label brands, of course. One key aspect is that sufficient energy must be delivered into the target in order to induce the desired reaction. Hence, they are all rifle targets as even shotshells don’t create the requisite velocity and energy. A hammer blow won’t work either. They are also designed to be flameproof within reason, specifically so that use of a fuse or an electrical spark won’t ignite them.

Typically, you need a round with something like 2,000 fps of muzzle velocity to do the trick, so .223 will work but .22 LR won’t.

This is a good thing, as they are also – therefore – long-range targets. You should be far away when shooting at them, and since you have to use a rifle to set them off anyway, you can be and therefore don’t have a good excuse if you get real close and injure yourself.

What about the United States ATF, though? Aren’t explosives illegal?

The thing about binary targets is that they are inert until the powders are mixed. At that point, they’re treated as an explosive. Therefore, don’t mix the compounds until you’re just about to use them. In fact, you can even buy the components to make your own… so long as you don’t mix the powders. Basically, they’re totally legal to buy and own as far as the ATF is concerned.

For now, anyway. Tannerite and similar compounds have been used in a number of crimes (and a few incidents merely involving improper use) so they could conceivably end up getting prohibited if someone uses it. Bump stocks have been in the gungrabbers’ crosshairs after the Las Vegas shooting; the right incident involving Tannerite or something like it and it could conceivably get prohibited.

But for everyone else? That’s another matter.

Generally, the use of Tannerite and other binary targets is prohibited under federal law by federal land agencies in the Western states . While most are formulated to be nonflammable (they blow up but don’t create flames) not all are. Tannerite and similar targets have been implicated in a number of wildfires (several every year, in fact) and as a result are typically verboten on US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

There has been some discussion over the years about whether allegations about exploding targets and wildfires are true. Newspapers don’t always give out all the facts and correlation isn’t causation…but Occam’s razor would seemingly dictate that an explosion that took place right before a fire started in a particular area is most likely what caused said fire. We don’t know for sure, but darned if it doesn’t look like that was what happened.

State laws get a little more complicated. Make sure you look at your state and local laws before using Tannerite brand targets or another brand name of binary explosive target.

Safety is paramount. Eye and ear protection is a must when using exploding targets (not to mention firearms). Binary explosives are sold in 1lb and 2lb sizes for the most part, and the rule of thumb is 100 yards of distance per pound of mixture.

It’s also recommended you just blow up the target, and place it a few feet off the ground if possible. Avoid use during the hot, dry parts of the year and near any other flammable substances such as dry vegetation. In other words, this stuff blows up, so please don’t be stupid.

comments

  1. avatar jwm says:

    Boom is fun.

    1. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

      Indeed, thermobarics even funner.

  2. avatar Gulfcoaster says:

    “Typically, the mixture is of a fuel – typically a mixture of ammonium nitrate and ammonium percholate – and then an oxidizing compound, usually aluminum powder.”

    Are you sure about this??

    I am pretty sure the aluminum powder is the fuel and the ammonium nitrate is the oxidizer.

    .

    1. avatar 16V says:

      What the “ate” suffix stands for…

      8th grade chem, or some simple research is beyond this ‘author’.

      1. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

        Correct, the “ate” suffix typically denotes the presence of oxygen atoms in a compound.

        1. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

          The aluminum powder is also an oxidizer, as aluminum oxide is the ‘shell’ surrounding the aluminum particles…

        2. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

          “The aluminum powder is also an oxidizer, as aluminum oxide is the ‘shell’ surrounding the aluminum particles…“

          Technically, the aluminum powder typically has oxidized (the outer layer which gives it the dull gray colour). However calling it an oxidizer in the sense of providing significant amounts of O2(regarding explosives) is a bit of a stretch in this one’s opinion. Most oxidizing compounds for this purpose are in a high energy and thus slightly unstable state like nitrates, chlorates and perchlorates. Granted, the term oxidizer merely means capable of donating oxygen atoms to a chemical reaction, but context is important. After all, how often does one see magnetite (Fe3O4) on steel cause explosions and fires? No doubt possible, but highly unlikely due to its low energy and stable state.

          Disclaimer: Esoteric Inanity is aware that compounds such as Sodium Hydroxide and Calcium Hypochlorite are oxidizing agents that exist in a less than high energy but still stable state. All info provided is merely this one’s rather myopic opinion/conclusion. Grain of salt and all that.

    2. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

      Yes, Aluminum is only a fuel. Ammonium nitrate and ammonium perchlorate however, are both oxidizer and fuel. The ammonium acts as a fuel while the nitrate/perchlorate portion as the oxidizer. Both of these compounds are explosive on their own, but typically stable enough that a high power blast cap or primary detonant is required to initiate them. Even when detonated the blast will be on a subpar magnitude when compared with other high explosives due to a poor balance of fuel to oxidizer ratio.

    3. avatar Yarbles says:

      You are partially correct.

      The ammonium perchlorate is the oxidizer. The ammonium nitrate is fuel.

      The aluminum powder acts as catalyst and fuel.

      1. avatar SoBe says:

        Yup, someone finally got it right! 🙂

      2. avatar uncommon_sense says:

        Are we sure that ammonium nitrate is the fuel in this reaction?

        Isn’t ammonium nitrate the oxidizer in ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel-oil)?

        Isn’t potassium nitrate (extremely similar to ammonium nitrate chemically) the oxidizer in black powder (potassium nitrate, sulfur, and carbon)?

        1. avatar Kenneth says:

          While you’re on this subject, is everyone aware that one can make better black powder than one can buy, simply by leaving out the sulfur? One needs to leave it in for flintlocks, as it lowers the ignition temperature, making it take a spark easier, but modern percussion caps are hot enough that sulfur is unnecessary.

      3. avatar Clark Adams says:

        Nope. The ammonium compounds are oxidizers. They can detonate (under very specific conditions) but the reaction will be hugely underfueled. Aluminum is only the fuel for these mixtures and has no catalytic effect. All it does is react with all of that oxygen the ammonium compounds are bringing to the table.

  3. avatar Mark N. says:

    Not recommended for use anywhere in California, and use will probably be prosecuted by local authorities if used on non-federal land.

  4. “Hence, they are all rifle targets as even shotshells don’t create the requisite velocity and energy.”
    They make a handgun target too that works with .22lr and shotguns.
    https://youtu.be/yZWolM5jTvU

    1. avatar Jeremy D. says:

      No shoes, no shirt, no problem

      1. Never an excuse not to carry.

    2. avatar 16V says:

      Even the Tanneritw site will tell that .17hmr and .22wmr do sometimes work, and if it’s a long bbl, more likely than not.

      Facts are not the strong suit of current writing…

      1. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

        In Esoteric Inanity’s experience, .17HMR never fails to initiate ammonal (when mixed in a proper ratio of 1:32 fuel to oxidizer). .22WMR is a bit erratic without the addition of a sensitizer like KClO4.

        Regarding Tannerite mixtures of NH4NO3+NH4ClO4+Al+Ti, Esoteric Inanity is uncertain……

      2. avatar TomC says:

        “not a strong suit of current writing”

        Yep, TTAG is sounding more and more like TFB

      3. avatar LarryinTX says:

        Only fired one shot at an explosive target, .17 HMR, worked real good except no one had read the damn instructions, we weren’t supposed to use the whole thing in one blast, it had a half-dozen little packets it was supposed to be loaded into. If we had read that, we might have even noticed that we were supposed to be 100 yards back from just one of those little packets, rather than 25-30 yards from the whole shitaree! Me? Somebody says “shoot it”, so I rest the .17 on the seat of an ATV and pop one off. Holy shit. Private land, they had built a wood framework for setting junk on to shoot at it. This blew the whole framework to shit, and half the tree holding it was missing, I was real happy I was behind the ATV, the guy who owned the land and the exploding target thought it was awful funny.

  5. avatar Bob Johnson says:

    Don’t know what exactly what set it off, but two workers were putting out a fire at the game lands range in Pennsylvania and there was an unexploded “Tannerite” target in the fire. One worker may have hit it with his fire rake and boom! Both had to be taken to the emergency room due to the damage to their ears. Luckily that was it and the doctor said their hearing would come back. Yeah, but what about any permanent damage. Knuckleheads at public ranges.

    1. avatar TomC says:

      Some chemical reactions are endothermic (they require outside energy to sustain the reaction), other reactions are exothermic (they give off energy, usually as heat,) which makes the reaction self-sustaining. Many reactions require a catalyst or initiator to begin or sustain the reaction.

      Heating most chemical mixtures makes them more likely to react.

      Tannerite et al are mixtures that are generally stable at common temperatures, but when heated they are much easier to initiate the reaction. While Tannerite et al won’t explode if you simply apply a flame, heating the entire mixture to the temperature of a fire could be enough to set off the reaction and short of setting off the reaction directly such heat would make the reaction MUCH easier to initiate. So in the situation you describe, the mixture might have gone off from the heat of the fire alone, or might have been so sensitive that it was initiated by a impact much less than would normally be required.

    2. avatar LarryinTX says:

      There’s a video around somewhere that has a machine gun shoot honoring a recently departed member of the group, whose cremated ashes were on a pyre with god knows how many cannisters of exploding targets, in compliance with his last wishes. A couple hundred yards distant, of course, no fair firing semiauto. So like 50 guys open up with everything from an Uzi up to an M2, several seconds of raucous noise before BOOM!, and there’s nothing there any more. Pretty cool.

  6. avatar Marty says:

    All groups of people have idiots within, and that includes shooters. Yes, there have been wildland fires directly attributed to exploding targets. I know of two in my state. After retiring from law enforcement and moving out of Kalifornia, I became a wildland firefighter and for twelve years I helped fight wild fires. The idiot shooters previously spoken of, decided it would be fun to shoot exploding targets during “red flag warning” days, days which were extreme fire hazards. Two different incidents, two different groups of shooters. Two different extended attack wild fires, meaning it took multiple agencies multiple days to being the fires under control. We all know more often than not, we shooters are very responsible folks. In these cases, these shooters were not acting responsible, and it will be because of incidents like these that the rest of us will pay the price. Exploding targets will become illegal everywhere except private property. And even on private property, if a wild fire starts due to these exploding targets, and firefighters have to respond to get it under control, the least the property owner can expect will be to have to pay the costs of the responding agencies. On the chance the fire gets out of control, the costs could easily go into millions of dollars. Nuff said.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      I’m not a big advocate of more laws, but if you’re saying these explosives are legal to blow up somewhere besides on private property *right now*, I would agree to a prohibition on that. The thought never crossed my mind. Let’s go down to the city park and blow some shit up!? Maybe on a beach, with strict controls.

  7. avatar Geoff "Mess with the bull, get the horns" PR says:

    “As you find it on store shelves, the mixture is inert. That’s why it isn’t a big deal to sell it to us civilians.”

    That’s kinda over-simplifying it a bit. Acetone and hydrogen peroxide are also sold over the counter, and when mixed make the very nasty unstable explosive acetone peroxide…

    1. avatar 16V says:

      TATP, a favorite of IED makers and suicide bombers everywhere…

      1. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

        Best used for improvised blast caps (HMTD even better as it is less shock sensitive). Anyone using Mother of Satan as a primary has something direly wrong in their head.

        1. avatar 16V says:

          Something wrong in their head? You do realize suicide bombers are (insert appropriate perjorative) blowing themselves up in the name of an 8th century horny warlord, no?

          Just sayin’…

        2. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

          “Something wrong in their head? You do realize suicide bombers are (insert appropriate perjorative) blowing themselves up in the name of an 8th century horny warlord, no?

          Just sayin’…“

          Point taken.

      2. avatar LarryinTX says:

        According to a recent TV show, TATP is a favorite because dogs can’t smell it.

    2. avatar Texican says:

      Typically, explosives are used to put out oil well fires. The only time I’ve seen fire with Tannerite is when it is used with an accelerant and a source of ignition such as a road flare. A lot of youtube videos attest to that. Probably what happened in the cases where a wildfire was started.

  8. avatar alex says:

    Tannerite or the myriad of other binary explosive targets are very similar to ANFO. ANFO is Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil. ANFO is used a lot in mining because it’s cheap and stable. Diesel, kerosene or other fuels are added to ammonium nitrate and then loaded into drill holes. The mixture is then set off with timed blasting caps. Don’t be stupid with the stuff.

    1. avatar Marty says:

      Isn’t that the explosive used in the Oklahoma City Federal Building? The same as explosive targets? Yikes.

      1. avatar alex says:

        He used a similar mixture, but used a couple tons. Most explosive targets are about a pound.

        Explosive targets, like firearms, are only dangerous when used incorrectly.

        1. avatar Marty says:

          My sentiments exactly.

      2. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

        To this one’s knowledge McVeigh used a compound called ANNMAL(Ammonium nitrate, Nitromethane and Aluminum). The addition of nitromethane and Al rather than fuel oil, provides a more balanced fuel to oxidizer ratio and significantly increases the brisance of the explosive by an order of magnitude. Thus making it comparable to dynamite.

        1. avatar Marty says:

          I really don’t know. At the time, I remember the feds saying it was fertilizer and fuel , I think, diesel, but that was a long time ago.

        2. avatar Esoteric Inanity says:

          “I really don’t know. At the time, I remember the feds saying it was fertilizer and fuel , I think, diesel, but that was a long time ago.“

          Many don’t understand the various differences between TNT and Dynamite let alone ANFO, ANFOAL and ANNMAL.

          Some good source reading if interested:

          https://www.nytimes.com/1997/12/02/us/experts-testify-on-composition-of-bomb-in-oklahoma-city-blast.html

          https://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h2048.html

          https://www.hsdl.org/c/18-years-since-the-oklahoma-city-bombing/

        3. avatar Marty says:

          Thanks, I will.

        4. avatar 16V says:

          AFAIR, it was a homebrew of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, nitromethane (racing fuel), and Tovex, with a dozen bags of ANFO thrown in for good measure.

          McVeigh didn’t seem much for chemistry, the nitromethane was a bit of a stretch as it was. Cite to point me to?

        5. avatar GS650G says:

          McVeigh used racing fuel, several barrels worth

  9. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    I love Tannerite. Great fun after Halloween, drilling holes in pumpkins with a hole saw, just big enough for the Tannerite jar to fit, then hitting them from 100 yards with a .223. Pumpkins can be purchased pretty reasonable on November 1st.

  10. avatar Marshall says:

    Tannerite is a patented compound. Patent US4093478 provides information on the design of the material. Tannerite also contains a small amount of a zirconium compound that likely was added to adjust the sensitivity to the desired level. However, I don’t think the name of the zirconium compound mentioned in the patent is correct based on other reading I have done. From my knowledge of explosives and training as a PhD chemist, I would define the role of each component in tannerite as:

    1. Ammonium Nitrate (combination fuel/oxidizer),
    2. Ammonium Perchlorate (oxidizer),
    3. Aluminum Powder (fuel),
    4. Zirconium Compound (sensitizer)

    Marshall

  11. avatar 22winmag says:

    Good grief, there are clowns here trotting out the government’s version of events for OKC as fact?

    Later investigations indicated McVeigh had previously tried to blow up a tree stump on Nichol’s property and couldn’t even do that successfully.

    PATSY PATSY PATSY!

    Other than that, I fully expect the author to post a video of himself self-flagellating in order to repent his confusion over what’s a fuel and what’s an oxidizer.

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