Almost every weekend, Colby Hett of Marion gets together with friends to practice shooting rifles, and they have a blast. Literally.
A few of the rounds they squeeze off are aimed at exploding targets made of a mixture of aluminum powder and ammonium nitrate, sold under the brand name Tannerite.
The powders don’t have explosive potential until they’re mixed. Unlike conventional explosives, the mixture can’t be detonated with a fuse or fire. But when hit with a rifle bullet traveling 2,000 feet per second or faster, Tannerite explodes with a bang, flash, and smoke.
“It gives you a target to hit,” Hett said. “When you’re 200 yards away, it’s easier to see you’ve hit the target.”
But Hett admitted it’s not just a targeting aid.
“It’s mainly just entertainment,” he said. “We only do it a couple times. We probably do more big bangs than little bangs. It does make for about $8 a shot. We’ll go through a couple hundred rounds a weekend, but only a couple of pounds of Tannerite.”
Hett works at The Lumberyard in Hillsboro, where he encouraged owner Jon Hefley to start selling Tannerite.
“I was probably kind of a heavier influence, and it’s gone very good for us so far,” Hett said.
“Every week I’m having to order it in,” he said. “We make five or six sales a week. I’ve been bringing in one case a week, but I’m going to start bringing in two. Especially with deer season over, guys are going to find other things to play with.”
Like other explosives, Tannerite has practical applications, such as blowing up tree stumps. Hefley said most of his customers aren’t interested in practicality.
“No,” he said, “just to watch stuff blow up and make a hole in the ground.”
Tannerite isn’t classified as a regulated explosive, so sales don’t have to be tracked, Hett said.
While Hett and his friends use it as intended, an Internet search yields hundreds of videos of Tannerite blowing up such things as outhouses, washing machines, and old cars. One shows an old barn being destroyed by a 164-pound Tannerite charge.
“There’s always going to be some idiot trying to do something different,” Hefley said. “That’s what I worry about. If somebody got hurt, that would bother me terribly. Right now, nothing like that’s happened.”
Hett said he and his friends keep a safe distance and blow things up that won’t damage anything else. But he understands the appeal some have for larger explosions.
“I know there have been people who have done cars,” he said. “I think that’d be kind of fun.”