Forest Service bans exploding targets in Idaho, Montana and Dakotas amid wildfire concerns

The U.S. Forest Service has banned exploding targets in northern Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and portions of South Dakota because of wildfire and public safety concerns.

Northern Region Forester Faye Krueger announced Tuesday the regional closure that immediately prohibits exploding targets on national forest lands.

Some target shooters use the exploding targets because they contain chemical components that mix when struck by a bullet and create a loud bang and big puff of smoke.

But the Forest Service said exploding targets the past two years have started at least 16 wildfires in Western states that cost $33 million to fight. Agency officials also have concerns that the explosions launch debris that can injure bystanders.

"Exploding targets pose a very real safety threat to visitors and our employees," U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell said in a statement.

The order includes all 12 national forests and grasslands in the agency's Northern Region. The fine for using the banned targets is up to $5,000 and six months in jail.

The closure falls under national regulatory guidance for safeguarding natural resources and public safety, Forest Service spokesman Phil Sammon said.

"We want to eliminate as much as possible those human-caused wildfires," Sammon said. "The fact that we have the closure order is an indication that (exploding targets) are being used more, getting to the point we need to take this step."

Rick Gallia, one of the owners of Riverman Gun Works in Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho, said the shop sells about $100 a month worth of exploding targets at about $4 a target. "This is Idaho, everybody goes out on the forest and shoots," he said.

But he also said it wasn't a big part of his business.

"I'm not a big advocate of the stuff," he said. "I'm amazed it's legal anywhere. You can put a pound of that together and blow up a refrigerator. It's powerful."

Brandon Charvat, owner of Mandan Sporting Goods in Mandan, North Dakota, said it's mostly used on private land in that state. He said for many it's a novelty, but care needs to be taken.

"I've had customers of mine — they were blowing up washing machines and stuff like that," he said. "There was a kid who got hit with flying debris, but they weren't using it safely either."

Brandon Westland of Bozeman Tactical in Bozeman, Montana, said his shop wouldn't lose money because he doesn't sell exploding targets.

"Ammo is expensive enough," he said. "I don't think I'd be purchasing any exploding targets."

Exploding targets are already banned on the remaining Forest Service land in South Dakota from an order last year.

The southern half of Idaho is in the Forest Service's Intermountain Region, where managers this week are considering a ban on exploding targets, spokeswoman Charity Parks said. The region also includes Utah, Nevada and portions of western Wyoming.