Use of exploding targets still a concern on Pawnee National Grasslands

WELD COUNTY, Colo. - Dozens of gun enthusiasts flocked to the Pawnee National Grassland for the holiday weekend, but 7NEWS found they weren't all aware of the ban on exploding targets.

Although exploding targets were already banned on the grassland, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Attorney in Colorado announced a wider ban on the targets in early August. They cited data linking exploding targets to at least five wildfires on National Forest System lands since 2012.

While 7NEWS was speaking with a Range Rider on the 193,000 acre Pawnee National Grassland Monday, reporter Lindsey Sablan heard one of the exploding targets erupt.

Sablan asked the shooter, "Didn't realize all the rules, did you?"

"No, no, no not at all," replied Tim Thornton, of Eaton. "I didn't know that explosive item is no longer able to be used out here."

The devices are sometimes referred to as "binary exploding targets," since they are completely inert until two powders are mixed by impact of a bullet. After the powders are combined, the compound is illegal to transport and is classified as an explosive by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

Thronton explained he was a military veteran and a gun enthusiast who was out shooting with his cousins. He said the exploding targets are easy to get.

"Pretty much any place that sells any kind of firearms carries it," he said.

Thornton put his exploding targets away after Sablan informed him of the ban, but it's the lack of awareness that worries the people who spend their days in the grassland.

"It's a little scary to see it," said Dana Bowman, a range rider for the Crow Creek Grazing Cooperative. "That gentleman had no clue that it's illegal to be out here."

Sablan asked Bowman what comes to his mind when he hears the sound of an exploding target.

"Fire," he responded. "Fire is what I see and as dry it is, it can sure catch on fire pretty easy. There's a lot of fuel out here right now."

Another shooter on the grassland Monday, Ken Thompson of Greeley, said he sought a list of banned items before stocking up to bring his two sons out for the day.

"I did my research before we started coming out here and realized there's no tracer, flares, bullets, exploding targets because you don't want to set the grasslands on fire," he said.

Tracer bullets were blamed for starting two fires on the Pawnee National Grassland in February of 2013. One became the Coal 2 Fire, which burned 62-acres. The second fire started within an hour of the first and burned just over one acre on private land.

Under federal regulations, the use of incendiary ammunition can be punished with a $525 to $5,000 fine.

"People got to know where they're at, what they can do, wherever they go," Bowman said.

Targets approved for use on the grassland are made of cardboard, paper, clay or metal.

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