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What is Tannerite?

Michael Crites
Michael Crites

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A Guide to America's Favorite Binary Target Marker

Variously described as shot indicators, reactive targets, or a target marker, Tannerite has been around for over two decades and is the most popular way to add an eye-catching “boom” to your range practice. But what is this stuff? And what do you need to know about it?

425 pounds of Tannerite goodness

What is Tannerite made of?

Binary target markers (like Tannerite) are pre-packaged exploding targets comprised of two separate components, by definition–usually an oxidizer such as ammonium nitrate and a fuel such as powdered aluminum or another metal– that are by themselves safe to transport and possess under normal circumstances. 

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Tanerit’s ingredients are inert until mixed.

When mixed, however, they create an explosive material that can detonate if subjected to enough of a shock, such as being hit with a rifle round.

How does Tannerite work?

The result of hitting the mixed components is usually a spectacular flash and boom, roughly akin to a saluting charge from a black powder cannon that you may see at a battlefield reenactment or a memorial event– but without having to buy the cannon.

Keep in mind, though, that not all binary targets on the consumer market are the same, as Tannerite has a patented formula that is specifically designed to produce a dramatic result while being safe to handle and, when detonated, is billed as being less likely than others to start a fire or create a secondary explosion.

Is Tannerite Legal?

First off and upfront, Tannerite, as are most binary explosives, is treated the same as similar compounds such as black powder and smokeless powder and is perfectly legal to own and use for anyone who can legally possess a firearm. 

Nonetheless, it is still subject to certain restrictions, especially when mixed, at which point the restrictions are much more rigid. All of these we will cover below.

Is Tannerite Dangerous?

Beware flying fridge doors

When handled properly and in line with the company’s posted guidelines, Tannerite is perfectly safe. The fundamentals of this are the relative size and adequate distance. 

Recommended Sizing

Tannerite recommends using targets no more than 2-pounds in weight. When it comes to safe distancing, the company stresses that 2-pound targets should be in a remote area at least 200 yards downrange, and targets 1-pound and under should be at least 100 yards away from the shooter and spectators.

Avoiding Shrapnel

Further, to avoid potentially hazardous flying debris, it is best to elevate the target above ground level and not cover it or detonate it nearby frangible materials — such as thin or lightweight metal objects — that can convert to shrapnel when the marker detonates. 

Mitigating Fire & Personal Risk

To cut down on the risk of fires generated in the event, check with local fire agencies to make sure there is not a burn ban in effect, and ensure there is nothing flammable inside the immediate 100–to-200-yard zone around the marker. 

It is not a bad idea to have basic firefighting gear on hand such as a fire extinguisher and shovel, as well as to adequately prep the surrounding area, such as through pre-soaking with sprinklers and clearing brush, beforehand. 

Finally, as with any firearms use, it is recommended to wear and use personal safety equipment such as ear and eye protection during the actual detonation.

How dangerous is it? 

When used properly and within guidelines, Tannerite and binary markers, in general, are perfectly safe. However, make no mistake, explosive devices of any kind can be dangerous, leading to blast injuries and death if misused. 

Tannerite is not a toy, and, like other binary targets, should only be used by responsible adults in small quantities, following established safety rules.

In recent years, there have been several high-profile instances that could have– and should have– been avoided through basic safety protocols, that made the news.

In 2016, a 32-year-old Georgia man shot at a riding lawnmower packed with a mixture of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder from a distance of 43 feet– on film– severing his left leg below the knee when mower parts came flying back directly at him. 

Not to be outdone, an unidentified man packed an old refrigerator with three pounds of binary explosive then fired at it from short-range, only narrowly missing being clobbered by a dramatically flying door. 

In 2018, an Arizona border patrol agent using a target marker at a gender reveal party in an area full of dry brush during a period of low rainfall reportedly sparked a fire that burned 47,000 acres.

What’s the largest Tannerite explosion?

The largest binary explosion we have been able to track down was done by the popular YouTube channel Demolition Ranch in 2015 in Texas where the crew buried 425 pounds of mixture underground in a 50-foot PVC “pipeline” layout then detonated it remotely from several hundred yards away.

Demolition Ranch put 425 lbs of Tannerite to the test

To be clear, the event was in an open field in a rural area and, in the interests of safety, probably should not be repeated.

How do you mix Tannerite?

Mixing Tannerite is not rocket science and is easily accomplished. In a clean working area near or at the shooting range the marker is going to be used at, well away from combustibles, food, pets and children, open the jar of the white granular target compound, take note of its size– 1/2 pound is the most common– and pour it into the empty and clean plastic mixing container that comes with the kit.

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Each container of Tannerite has mixing instructions on the back.

Should you not have an included Tannerite-branded mixing container, almost any well-constructed clean plastic container with a tight-fitting lid will suffice. 

Then, referencing the size of the target compound, tear open and add the appropriate packet of catalyst– they will be marked, for instance, the packet for the 1/2-pound kit reads, “CATALYST 0.5 LB TARGET.” 

Then mix it well by shaking until the two elements are evenly distributed and it looks homogeneous. Look for a uniform color. 

Finally, pour the mix back into the original thin plastic target compound jar—never a metal container– then make sure the lid is screwed on tight. Remember to use it immediately and not to transport it offsite.

Be sure to clean your hands and the work area afterward.

How do you set off Tannerite?

Once you have your marker mixed and ready to go, set it up on the target, then, making sure the area around the target is clear for at least 100 yards in each direction (200 yards on markers over 1 pound), take careful aim, keeping in mind the extreme path and range of the bullet, and fire at the target’s center.

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You’ll want to hit Tannerite with a round traveling in excess of 2,000 fps.

For this purpose, Tannerite jars have a handy high-viz orange label that can be used as an aim point.

Be advised that the compound needs a good jolt to go off, meaning glancing rounds that only nick the container may not impart enough energy to initiate the chain reaction. Speaking of which, the thump needs to be delivered with a high-velocity bullet that has a sufficient amount of force. 

Tannerite recommends a transonic round moving at a speed of 2,000 feet per second or faster from centerfire rifle calibers starting at about .223 Remington/5.56 NATO and going up from there. 

That is not to say that it is impossible to set off a binary shot indicator with a pistol round or a smaller/slower rifle round, just that it is less likely.

Storage Concerns

The ATF considers anyone who mixes the components of Tannerite together to form a binary target marker to be a “manufacturer of explosives” under some federal guidelines. 

Even with that, as long as the mixed Tannerite is for personal use, such as for target practice, isn’t going to be resold or transferred to someone who is prohibited from possessing explosives, and is going to be used immediately on site, no permits or special licenses are required. 

With that being said, should you mix binary markers and choose to not use them immediately, to comply with federal law you would have to store them in an approved explosives magazine with all the recordkeeping and permitting that goes along with it.

However, unmixed Tannerite, still separated into the original granular white target compound and the foil-packed catalyst, can be safely stored up to 10 years—and without having to get the government involved. 

It is best to store it in the same way you would secure ammunition– in a cool, dry place with as little exposure to the elements, heat, water, or chemicals as possible. 

Keep the containers closed and moisture-free. To avoid confusion and issues down the road, keep them in the original marked containers with the date written on the lid when they were purchased.

Can you Transport Tannerite?

The ATF enforces the Safe Explosives Act and other federal regulations when it comes to the safe transport of explosives around the country. 

In a nutshell, without a federal explosives license or permit, it is illegal — not to mention unwise — to wander around the country with unsecured ready-to-use explosives. 

After all, the last thing you want in a car accident is to have somebody with a bunch of potential bombs floating around in their trunk. 

This means that mixed Tannerite or similar binary explosives cannot be transported without the appropriate paperwork or endorsements.

As such, Tannerite recommends that their product should only be mixed at the site it is to be used, both for safety and to comply with federal regs. Of course, unmixed Tannerite, still separated into its two relative inert components, is safe to transport and ordinarily not subject to the same restrictions as mixed binary explosives. 

For more guidance, especially where it comes to local laws, check with your state DOT to make sure.

How is Tannerite Sold?

Tannerite is generally marketed in “Mix It! Shake it! Shoot It” packs with separate containers of the white target compound and packets of catalyst along with a mixing container. 

The most commonly encountered variant is the 1/2-pound target with a silver catalyst packet although smaller 1/4-pound targets and larger 1-pound targets with a red catalyst packet are available as well. 

Less frequently seen are the larger 2 pound “Extreme Range” targets which the company warns should only be shot at from ranges at least 200 yards out– a shot not everyone is ready to make on a coffee can-sized container. 

For those who like to shoot a lot, Tannerite also markets what they term as “Gift Packs” and “Sniper Packs” which include 20 or 40 1/2-pound targets, respectively.

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The 40 target Sniper Pack can save you cash on a per-target basis.

There are also gender reveal packs that will give your gender reveal party some additional oomph, exploding in either a massive blue or pink explosion, depending on the color you choose. These pair colored powder with a 1 lb. Tannerite binary target, all wrapped up in package that will conceal the color until the eventual boom.

It's a boy!

Rimfire Target Options

Apart from the standard, orange-labeled targets the company is best known for, Tannerite also recently started selling a rimfire target.

Dubbed the White Lightning series, these are made by a sub-contractor for Tannerite and do not have the same “insensitive” properties as that product. 

What this means is that they are safe under normal handling procedures — in other words, they pass drop-tests and are safe and will not explode from a flame or cigarette– but they burn faster and could more easily cause fires in dry areas, so extra precautions should be used when hitting the ‘Lightning.

Play it Safe

In the end, Tannerite targets can be lots of fun, particularly at special events or occasions, but a little legwork and homework need to be done beforehand to keep everyone happy and healthy. 

Check your planned range area in all directions for potential hazards long before you are ready to start mixing your marker. 

Review your local laws to make sure there are no ordinances or prohibitions against the use of a reactive target in that area. 

And give a head-up with the outlying neighbors within earshot beforehand to at least make them aware as to what is going on, so they are less likely to call 911 with a report of a mysterious explosion near them. 

In a similar train of thought, preempt such calls by touching base with your local law enforcement to let them know the deal as well. 

Once you have covered this ground for your first Tannerite use, you usually find that the next use will run much easier.

If you have issues with your targets, or if someone such as local authorities has questions you cannot answer, Tannerite has a toll-free number (877-744-1406) and they are very responsive and ready to help. Have fun and be safe!

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