Man killed by exploding target; USFS bans them in the northwest

A man attending a bachelor-bachelorette party in Minnesota was killed June 15 by an exploding target. After someone shot the device, shrapnel struck 47-year-old Jeffery Taylor in the abdomen causing him to collapse. KARE11 reported “he was driven to a nearby location where the Rushford Ambulance and Mayo One helicopter were waiting to transport him, but Taylor was pronounced dead on the scene.”

Exploding targets have become popular in the last year with target shooters who get a thrill from seeing the explosion when their bullet hits its mark. The devices are sometimes called “binary exploding targets”, since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed by the target shooter. After they are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and is subject to the regulatory requirements in 27 CFR, Part 555. The manufacturers of the devices 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. But at least one company has recently started offering targets that will explode when hit with a much less powerful .22 caliber rim-fire rifle.

In addition to the fatality, we are aware of at least two other incidents where exploding targets caused injuries. In October of 2012 Ronald Rofshus was building one of them in Minnesota when it exploded, blowing off his hand and causing severe burns. On October 7, 2012 in 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.

Safety alert exploding targets
Safety alert exploding targets. Minnesota DNR

Obviously exploding targets are not only a hazard to our lands, but also to shooters and others who may come in contact with them. Kristin Benson, the Safety Administrator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, developed a Safety Alert to warn people about some of the hazards. Minnesota has no restrictions on the use of exploding targets.

The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets on national forests in Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas according to Forest Service spokeswoman Sarah Levy. A violation of the recently implemented ban in Washington and Oregon is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations, or by imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.

The Bureau of Land Management bans them during certain times on their land in some states — not only the use but the possession of the devices.

They are also banned or soon will be when new legislation takes effect on state lands, at least under some conditions, in Washington, Utah, Oregon, and Idaho.

With a quick Google search In October we found 23 wildfires that investigators attributed to exploding targets. Another search today found four more since then or that we did not include in the first list, bringing the total that we are aware of to 27:

  • March 17, 2012, South Dakota. The Beretta II Fire burned 25 acres south of Rapid City near Beretta Road off Highway 16. It took more than 100 firefighters, two air tankers, and a Black Hawk helicopter to put it out.
  • May 4, 2013, Washington. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources determined that the 200-acre Dog Mountain Fire in Lewis County near Riffe Lake was started by an exploding target; 100 firefighters and two helicopters suppressed it. An article at KING5 reports that two other fires in the state this year were also caused by exploding targets.

The Rapid City Journal wrote an editorial July 9 calling for a ban on exploding targets, disagreeing with Denny Gorton, the president of the South Dakota Firefighters Association who was quoted as saying, “I’m not sure we’ve been able to show enough of a correlation to get it regulated or outlawed.”

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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.

One thought on “Man killed by exploding target; USFS bans them in the northwest”

  1. Then again, there are the exploding / flame-throwing rounds, one of which Steven Craig Shiflet used to start the Sunflower Fire in Arizona last year. Token fines and “community service” are not enough. If you start deliberately or negligently start a forest fire, you need to be held monetarily accountable both for the value of the destroyed property, as well as the cost of fighting the blaze. And, should anyone be injured, or die, while fighting the fire you set, then that ought to tack on charges of assault / manslaughter, as appropriate.


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