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Outdoors Outpost
Fire in the Hole
Wednesday, March 13, 2013 • Posted March 15, 2013

During the Christmas holidays, my three sons and I got together with some friends and did some shooting. That’s how we recreate in Texas, being as how shooting is our number one sport. Not that folks don’t do that in other states, but here in Texas we do it right.

We went to a friend’s hunting cabin, which is situated next to a stock tank, where there are probably still turtles living, but only the ones that have learned to keep their heads down. The surviving turtles in that tank have figured out they have to pop their heads up and take a quick breath, and then get back under water quick. They end up with lead poisoning if they spend too long breathing, since turtles are notorious for eating all the fish in a tank.

There were probably a dozen of us there that day, and about 50 guns, which is typical. The calibers present ranged from BB guns all the way up to at least one .300 Winchester Magnum rifle. When my friends and I do some shooting, we like to have options. It gets boring shooting one gun, or one caliber, all afternoon.

There is a tank dam on the opposite side of the tank from the cabin, which makes a nice berm to stop bullets. Consequently we generally set targets, such as soup cans and tennis balls and such, in front of the tank dam. This causes us to have to walk all the way around the tank to set targets up, which is inconvenient, but less inconvenient than walking straight through the tank, which is about five feet deep in the middle.

On the occasion in question I happened to have a pound of Tannerite. Or maybe it wasn’t actually Tannerite, but something similar which performs pretty much the same as Tannerite. And if there’s anything that will liven up an afternoon of shooting, it’s Tannerite.

Now, Tannerite, for those sheltered souls who might get hold of this column, is a substance that explodes when shot with a medium to high caliber rifle. It comes in various sized containers, but the one pound jar is pretty common. A pound of Tannerite is a little bigger than a standard jar of mustard, but is a lot more fun. Not that shooting a jar of mustard doesn’t have its attractions, but it lacks volume. A pound of Tannerite produces approximately the same number of decibles as half a stick of dynamite.

A pound jar of Tannerite looks like it’s full of those little white styrofoam balls that leak out of bean bags in your living room, and then give you all kinds of trouble when you try to clean them up, because they’re full of static electricity, and they stick to everything, especially you. I don’t think the stuff in Tannerite is styrofoam, but that’s what it looks like.

Also in the jar is a small plastic packet of gray powder. While the little white balls and the powder are separated, they aren’t explosive at all. Which is probably why it’s legal to buy and sell and transport. The substances, which I believe are aluminum (for fuel) and ammonium nitrate (an oxidizer) are not regulated, because they aren’t the least bit dangerous. Not by themselves, anyway.

But when you pour the gray powder in with the white balls and shake the jar, you have a substance that’s explosive under the right circumstances. Those circumstances are: at least 100 yards from wherever I’m at. Please. Because a pound of mixed Tannerite is pretty loud. It’s also illegal to transport when mixed, without a special permit, commonly known as a Stupid Person’s Permit.

I mixed my Tannerite and set it on the tank dam, and shot it with the .300 Win Mag, and it worked as advertised. Rattled the windows of the cabin, and woke up my friend’s parents, who came outside and objected, although no one present could hear what they were saying.

Although I’ve enjoyed Tannerite for years, I’ve never written about it before. It’s a lot of fun, and I figured if any of the People In Charge found out about it, they might decide to outlaw it. Which would rain on my parade.

But they’re trying to do that now, anyway. Not because it’s fun, but because it’s suspected of causing fires. There have been several brushfires near shooting ranges lately, mostly in the northwest U.S., and some are blaming Tannerite, and similar substances. Personally, I’m skeptical.

Having been to quite a few shoots over the years, some of them involving machine guns and mortars, I’ve watched a lot of Tannerite explode, and I’ve never seen it start a fire yet. I don’t believe it will, although I’m planning some experiments using Tannerite and gasoline, just to make sure. I might also try Tannerite and flour, which is extremely flamable, although no one is threatening to ban bread.

But I’m no expert, and some exploding targets, depending on the type of components used, might be causing the fires. Obviously, someone needs to try all the exploding targets on the market, and get a handle on this thing. And I’m volunteering for the job. Someone has to do it, after all, and my friends and I have a great place to do the research.

We just have to make sure we don’t do it during naptime . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who always carries ear plugs, just in case. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or

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