Long-range target shooters are perennially challenged. With a squinted eye, spendy spotting scope, or long anxious walk down the firing range, they discover either punctured paper and a bull’s-eye or an unharmed target. An earthy poof of dust, of course, nulls the need to examine the target–um, that’d be called a swing and miss.
Dan Tanner wasn’t satisfied with the paper or the poof. With a clever mind and dogged persistence, the Oregonian and Arkansas native set off to create a target that would clearly (and audibly) reveal long-distance rifle hits. Tanner sought out to produce something that triggered the senses of sight and sound but without any byproduct risk of it causing a fire.
So he developed the first binary rifle target. And with a background in mixing elements and catalyzing reactions, it was natural to stir-in a geological “ite” and concoct the name Tannerite, the brand.
It’s good to be first. But along with being an inventor and a pioneer, comes the eventual blow of being copied. Far less ingenious sorts bust out the smoke and mirrors in hopes of capitalizing on innovation with only profit margins in mind. Consumers, ultimately, become the casualty.
Because this dreaded down-spiraling process is underway, it’s prudent to describe, in detail, the original exploding target, Tannerite. We surely can’t guarantee what other ingredients the competition blends in, but we can say with certainty what goes into the first and safest binary exploding targets, Tannerite.
The anatomy lesson
Before discussing the anatomy of a binary exploding target, we should examine explosives and propellants in general. Virtually all explosives and propellants, such as black powder and smokeless powders, are comprised of two components; an oxidizer and a fuel.
In many explosives, such as nitroglycerin, TNT, RDX, and HMX, the oxidizer and fuel are part of the same molecule. These one-part systems are extensively used for civilian and military applications. The second class of explosives and propellants are those in which the oxidizer and fuel are two different chemicals that must be mixed to form an explosive composition. Examples of these include black powder, binary exploding rifle targets, and a variety of ammonium nitrate-containing formulations used in commercial blasting.
Binary exploding rifle targets, intended for use with centerfire rifles, were invented and patented by Daniel J. Tanner of Pleasant Hill, Oregon. These targets employ ammonium nitrate for the oxidizer. Ammonium nitrate is a very interesting chemical as it contains both an oxidizer (the nitrate component) and a fuel (the ammonia component) in the same compound. Fortunately, it is extremely difficult to initiate a reaction (explosion) of these two components, which gives ammonium nitrate the stability to be used in a variety of industrial applications.
Binary exploding rifle targets take advantage of the ability of aluminum to make ammonium nitrate more sensitive to detonation. In the case of these targets, the aluminum can be considered a catalyst which provides a lower-energy pathway to initiate a detonation. The energy required to detonate is low enough to be useful as a shot indicator, but high enough to safely handle the mixed composition. This is the basis for Tannerite brand binary exploding rifle targets.
Detonation of the target is initiated by impact of a bullet fired from a centerfire rifle. The bullet should be approximately 40 grains or larger travelling at 2000 ft/sec or higher. Note that a pointed bullet will be a better initiator than a blunt bullet since the energy provided is concentrated to a very small area. The bullet impact provides sufficient energy to initiate a reaction between the aluminum and ammonium nitrate that results in detonation of the composition. This detonation is a very energetic process and binary targets should be treated with respect. Be sure that all observers are over 100 yards away from the target and that no foreign objects are in close proximity to the target that could serve as a source of shrapnel.
Factors affecting target performance
The major factors affecting binary exploding rifle target performance include the purity of the components, the particle size of the components, the ratio of oxidizer to catalyst, and the uniformity of the mixed composition–Tannerite brand target formulation is precise in all instances. Changes in any of the aforementioned factors will affect the chemical pathway taken during detonation which can result in fires, increased energy required for detonation, and sound amplitude variations. In addition, the stability of the mixed composition could be compromised.
A properly formulated and mixed binary rifle target will provide a loud report, will consistently detonate on bullet impact, will not start fires, and will be safe to handle. The use of impure ammonium nitrate or aluminum, wide variability in ammonium nitrate and aluminum particle sizes, the wrong ratio of aluminum to ammonium nitrate, and poor mixing can lead to targets that may start fires, may be less safe to handle, and have erratic performance. Again, the Tannerite brand target formulation is precise.
Safety essentials when using binary targets
Given the above discussions, we recommend the following guidelines for a safe and fun experience with binary targets.
- Treat all binary targets with respect. Misuse of binary targets could result in serious injuries or death.
- To ensure a homogeneous composition, be sure to use a mixing container–Tannerite comes complete with a mixing container.
- Place half- and one-pound targets downrange at least 100 yards from the firing line before shooting. Place two-pound targets 200 yards downrange before shooting.
- Do not shoot targets with a mass greater than two pounds.
- Remember that the legal use of these targets is as a shot indicator only.
- Mix the targets at the range and shoot them immediately. Do not transport, store, or sell the mixed composition unless you have the appropriate explosives endorsements.
- Always wear shooting glasses and hearing protection when shooting.
- Be sure to use in a remote area only and respect the adjoining property owner’s right to tranquility.
- While Tannerite brand binary rifle targets will not start fires, many knock-off brands of binary exploding rifle targets are poorly formulated and use lower quality materials that may start fires.
- Never place these targets on any surface that could produce shrapnel or within another object.
A plea for common sense
Given the popularity of binary exploding targets, there are a huge number of shooters using these targets in a safe and fun manner. There are, however, users doing unwise things with these targets. Please be sure to use these targets as a shot indicator only, and away from populated areas. Continued misuse of these targets may result in restrictions on their use. The future of these targets is in your hands, so please use them properly.
The Tannerite advantage
We would like to point out that Tannerite brand binary exploding rifle targets are the original and the best available. They are properly formulated, use only the highest-quality explosives-grade ammonium nitrate and pyrotechnic-grade aluminum powder, and will not start fires. The safety of the mixed composition has been demonstrated by MythBusters, and is the best-selling binary rifle target on the market today. Remember that the easiest way to ensure safety is to use genuine Tannerite brand targets. There is a misconception today that the chemical composition used in all exploding targets is a chemical called “Tannerite” and this is not the case. Tannerite is the registered trademark for Tannerite brand binary rifle targets.
We wish you good, and safe, shooting.
Image courtesy Tannerite