ATF Stops Idaho Dept. of Fish and Game From Using “Cracker Shells”

According to a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, explosive pest-control devices may only be distributed to and used by individuals in possession of a federal explosives license. Non-lethal “cracker shells” are commonly used by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to scare away nuisance animals or drive them from farm areas and roadways. Fired from a single-barrel shotgun, the non-lethal shells create a loud noise intended to frighten animals and scare them away. The shells can project an explosive large distances, so that the explosion occurs at close proximity to its intended target.

According to Brad Lowe, the landowner coordinator for Idaho’s Magic Valley Region Fish and Game office, cracker shells were the “first line of defense when a farmer called asking for help.” Typically, the Idaho state agency would distribute the shells to landowners for use in dealing with nuisance animals such as geese, wolves or elk. But the intervention from the ATF may mean that both distributors and users of the cracker shell loads will now need a federal explosives license.

Said Mike Heckler, a spokesman for Idaho Fish and Game, “This decision is still relatively new to us, so while we are no longer issuing them, we are still looking into if the cracker shell falls under the ‘explosive’ category.” Officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services office also stated that they had halted distribution of the shells.

Explosives are generally regulated under the Safe Explosives Act of 2002 – signed into law by George W. Bush. But defining “explosives” is easier said than done. Agencies that formerly relied on their use are now tasked with weighing whether cracker shells fall under the definition of “explosive” pet control devices. In the mean time, landowners and wildlife officials will have to find an alternative, or take steps to obtain a federal explosive license.

Said Todd Grimm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, “I don’t really know what else people would use. I think we’ll just see more people getting their own explosive license…They were a relatively successful device when used in the right situation, that is until animals figured out they were useless after people shot at them so much.”

Said Grimm, “There’s just nothing quite like it…There isn’t anything out there that can shoot an explosive about 100 yards away. We’re going to be creative to find something else.”