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.