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By Jim Waddell

Most shooters know about Tannerite.  It’s a target that explodes when shot by a high velocity bullet.  The size and decibel level of Tannerite’s boom is dependent on the amount detonated, so the idea of whether or not it’s dangerous (or just how dangerous) is subjective.

I’m writing from California, a state not known to be friendly to anything that has to do with firearms, munitions or like substances.  To me it’s a minor miracle that the stuff is still legal here.  No doubt the only reason it is legal is because the legislators are so preoccupied creating more frivolous gun laws that Tannerite has flown under their radar, at least for the time being.

Wikipedia has a long and drawn out explanation of the chemical makeup of Tannerite but I’ll spare the details other than to say it comes in two separate packages.  It’s not capable of exploding unless the two parts are combined and even then it can only be detonated by a high velocity projectile striking it.  The velocity isn’t specified but it has to be a varmint or big game caliber bullet. Shotgun projectiles and .22 rimfires is not sufficient to set it off. 

Just over a year ago my pal Julio, who’s a semi-retired police officer, was at our local gun club with a buddy doing some work with handguns.  Julio noticed a fellow club member and a guest were setting up to shoot at the 110 yard rifle range.  Beyond the dirt berm we use as a backstop runs a river with the usual undergrowth and thickets.

As Julio and friend were banging away with their pistols they heard an explosion that scared them out of their socks.  They looked up to find a plume of smoke coming from the target area of the rifle range.  The club member looked at Julio with a sheepish grin on his face and said, “Tannerite.”

As they were all looking downrange, a filthy and shirtless adult male that looked like he had just walked out of a prison tattoo shop suddenly emerged from the thicket next to the target area and screamed, “I give up, don’t kill me, dammit, don’t kill me!!”

As the guy was waving his arms and begging for his life, the sportsmen heard loud engine noises and screeching tires.  They looked up to see several police vehicles come tearing around the corner of the clubhouse and come to an abrupt stop.  As the cops all jumped out of their cars, two of them saw the inked man screaming his surrender to anyone who would listen and ran down to the target area.  One of the other officers recognized Julio and asked what the boom was.  When Julio said Tannerite the cop started laughing so hard he almost went to his knees.

The police officers and sheriff’s deputies had been searching the area around the city park that’s adjacent to our gun club for this suspect who they described as a wanted parole violator.  They were after him for that plus other felonies he had recently committed.

As the officers returned to their cars with the bad guy in handcuffs they heard him mumble something to the effect that if the cops were going to start using hand grenades, he was going to quit putting in for parole and just stay in “The joint” where it was safe.

Note the door flying toward the shooter.

This isn’t the only instance where Tannerite became a local celebrity.  In 2008 in Red Wing, Minnesota a man was fined over $2,500 for setting off an explosive device after he detonated 100 lbs of Tannerite that he had placed in the bed of a dump truck.  He shot the Tannerite with a .50 BMG from a distance of 300 yards.  The blast was felt at the Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant roughly 5 miles away.

In 2013 a man was killed by shrapnel in Fillmore County, Minnesota after Tannerite was shot at a bachelor party.  Someone had placed it inside some metal objects.  The local sheriff said Tannerite was not used according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Last year in Georgia a man severed his leg after shooting at a riding lawnmower filled with 3 lbs. of Tannerite.  A piece of shrapnel flew 30 yards and took his leg off below the knee.

Some of these stories are similar to red-neck jokes we see on the internet but they’re not funny.  Last and certainly not least happened just a couple of months ago south of Tucson.  A Border Patrol agent was shooting at Tannerite targets when he accidentally ignited a brush fire.  This little brush fire became what is known as the “Sawmill Fire,” that ended up burning 46,000 acres.  At the time, winds had been gusting to 40 mph which caused the fire to jump a state highway and it threatened the historic Empire Ranch and the surrounding 42,000 acre Las Cienegas National Conservation Area.   The cost to fight this blaze exceeded $5 million.

There are other documented stories of Tannerite causing injury and death including one by suicide in Oregon.  So far ATF has regulated Tannerite but it’s still legal to sell and purchase.  This story I wrote about at our gun club had a happy ending, at least it was for the law abiding community but there are far more instances where the outcome wasn’t so pleasant.

I really think it’s just a matter of time before this stuff is banned completely. Until then have fun and be ever so careful.