Exploding targets, an increasing wildfire problem

Star Exploding Targets, flames
A screen grab from a video endorsed by Cabela’s demonstrating a Star Exploding Target. We added the arrow and the “Flames” text to point out that flames are visible following the explosion.

Originally published October 11, 2012, updated February 6, 2013

Targets that are designed to explode when shot with a rifle have become more popular in recent years, emerging as an increasing threat to our wildlands. The problem is, they sometimes start fires in spite of claims by the manufacturers saying they are safe.

The military has been using them for at least 20 years when training marksmen to hit targets hundreds of yards away, since it can be difficult to see if a target was hit at that distance. When struck with the bullet from a rifle, the explosion and smoke are easily seen and indicate that the shooter hit the target

They are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed at the site by the target shooter. After they are combined, the compound is illegal to transport. The manufacturers claim that the only way they can be detonated is by striking them with a high-velocity bullet fired from a high-powered center-fire rifle. At least one company has recently started offering targets that will explode when hit with a much less powerful .22 caliber rim-fire rifle.

While the manufacturers claim they can’t start a fire, the screen grab (above) from a video shows flames in the grass just after a target advertised by Cabela’s and manufactured by Star Exploding Targets, explodes. The video is below, however we expect that eventually Cabela’s and Star will remove it from YouTube. The flames are visible three seconds into the video at the bottom left.

In a quick search, we found numerous reports of wildfires having been caused by exploding targets in a 5-month period. The dates below indicate when the information was published.

  • June 17, 2012, Colorado. The Springer Fire in Park County on the Pike National Forest burned 1,045 acres. It was caused by exploding targets.
  • June 13, 2012, Idaho. Four wildfires were caused by shooters using exploding targets up to that date in 2012.
  • June 15, 2012, Washington. A small fire near the mouth of the Grande Ronde River was apparently started by someone shooting at exploding targets.
  • June 16, 2012, Utah. The 300-acre Little Cove fire was caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • June 29, 2012, Utah. A fire investigator said eight wildfires in the previous three weeks were caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • July 2, 2012, Nevada. A five-acre fire in Elko was caused by shooters using exploding targets.
  • August 19, 2012, Oregon. Five shooters were cited for starting a 35-acre fire using Tannerite exploding targets.
  • September 6, 2012, Washington. The Goat Fire burned 7,378 acres 3 miles southwest of Pateros, WA. It was started by exploding targets. Forest Service officials previously said two smaller fires — a 120-acre blaze in Mud Creek Entiat and one on Deadman Hill near Cashmere — may also have been ignited by exploding targets.
  • October 7, 2012, Pennsylvania. Two state Game Commission workers suffered injuries including burns, temporary blindness and hearing damage when an illegal exploding target blew up while the men attempted to put out a fire at a gun range in Pike County.
  • October 11, 2012, California. A 364-acre fire was started by shooters using exploding targets. A news report (see video below) shows two pounds of the explosive being used to blow up a car.
  • October 19, 2012, Utah. Two men have been charged with starting the Dump fire near Saratoga Springs, Utah that burned more than 5,500 acres and cost $2.1 million to put out. About 2,500 people were forced to evacuate. Investigators say the men were shooting June 21 when they hit an explosive target that started the fire in vegetation.
  • October 23, 2012, Nebraska. Three men have been charged with starting a fire by using exploding targets in Nebraska, and starting the Spotted Tail fire that burned 83 acres south of Chadron October 23.

This is a total of 24 fires that were either confirmed or suspected to be caused by exploding targets since the first of June, 2012. And these are just the ones that we were able to find using Google.

In most areas in the western United States exploding targets are illegal to use if there is a law or temporary ban on open fires.

One of the primary manufacturers of the targets is Tannerite. The company has a patent on the devices and has said the fires are caused by other companies infringing on their patent and adding an additional incendiary component in order to produce a more spectacular explosion.

At an online forum for firearms enthusiasts, The Firing Line, some of the posters decry the lack of wisdom of target shooters who start fires with exploding targets. A person using the moniker “g.willikers” wrote:

It seems that we gun owners have two enemies. Those who would deprive us of our gun rights. And those who throw those rights away.

Others on the forum suggested some alternative targets that can produce an impressive display when hit with a bullet, such as:

  • A milk jug filled with water
  • Potatoes
  • Pop can filled with water
  • Fresh cow pie

UPDATE October 12, 2012:

Ken told us about this news report that appeared on television in southern California October 11, 2012, explaining and demonstrating the hazards of these explosive targets. They use two pounds of the explosive to blow up a car, and Chief John Hawkins of CAL FIRE provides his point of view on the problem.

Typos, let us know HERE, and specify which article. Please read the commenting rules before you post a comment.

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

11 thoughts on “Exploding targets, an increasing wildfire problem”

  1. I manufacture exploding targets and can tell you that if the targets are mishandled they can produce a fire. We advise our customers not to shoot our targets on dry grass or tender. While the exploding target DOES produce a very short (milliseconds) burst of fireball, it usually does not produce any sort of fire. As with all products, it’s important that you read all the instructions and follow them carefully before using our product.

  2. Living within a NF in Colorado, I can vouch that there are an incredible number (like 1/2 or more) of extremely irresponsible shooters regularly out on public and private land practically any time it is not actual blizzard conditions (or a big FB game on TV) that target these explosive devises plus anything else they can scrounge or put together. The bigger the display of fire, noise or shrapnel the better!

    The responsible shooter is pretty much overwhelmed in that the others seldom use a legitimate range with well-cleared areas or rules. Local rangers or sheriffs either claim there is little they can do or just look the other way. It has gotten much worse in recent years either as they get chased out of other areas or simply just more of these @$$-h@le jerks.

  3. I did a rough query of peers today.. and best I can tell, there have been at least 6 fires locally this year that could have been started this way. Seems BLM “open shooting” areas are most at risk due to limited patrolling and enforcement.

    San Diego County has asked BLM to end their policy of “open shooting” on BLM administered public lands in their county.

  4. There is nothing safe about explosives in the hands of the untrained, in- experienced or impaired. Tracer ammo has been starting wild fires for years.
    This adds a much more dangerous twist to things. I do not think that comerical or public shooting ranges would ever allow this type of material.

    Someone, somewhere will combine this stuff with a container of flamable liquid and get a very big bang, big fire and perhaps big burns.

  5. Seems to be a widespread problem.


    Exploding targets become startling trend in IE

    REGION: Authorities warn about illegal target explosives

    RivCo Officials Send Warning To Culprits Shooting At ‘Explosive Targets’

  6. Another good tool for the random Arsonist. While and avid supporter of the 2nd Amendment, this is not a good idea….

  7. All good choices, I would add a reminder to pick everything up after – well, maybe not the cow pie

    1. Right, Uncle Louie, about picking up the debris. At one point in my career I was a Fire Prevention Technician and was responsible for patrolling a large section of National Forest that had an area frequented by target shooters which I drove past frequently. After the shooting area became popular, it was basically destroyed. Everything within sight was riddled with bullets. Trees were killed and there was a huge amount of garbage that was left behind. It basically became a garbage dump… a terrible way to treat public land.

      Some target shooters are responsible citizens and are good stewards of the land. But not all of them.


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