LINCOLN — Ashley and Jon Sterkel just wanted to announce with a bang the news that their first child will be a boy.

But the exploding target they set off with a rifle shot on Saturday, complete with blue smoke to signal a male, provided a bigger blast than they expected.

And on Monday it also resulted in a ticket from the local sheriff.

Jon Sterkel, 26, the owner of a tree-care service, said he has shot off exploding targets on his acreage west of Scottsbluff in the past without problems.

On Saturday, Sterkel used an exploding target and a bunch of blue chalk powder to signal that the expectant couple are having a boy. A video of the explosion was posted on Facebook for friends and family, with Jon shouting out, “It’s a boy!”

Three miles away in Scottsbluff though, some residents thought a house had exploded or a car had blown an engine. The Scotts Bluff County Sheriff’s Office got several calls.

Hearing reports on the local radio station, KNEB, and seeing the reaction on Facebook, Sterkel called the Sheriff’s Office to explain. He also posted an apology on Facebook.

“I would like to apologize for all of the confusion,” he wrote. “This was just our way of announcing what gender our baby was.”

By Monday, Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Mark Overman had completed an investigation of the blast and had issued a ticket to Jon Sterkel for setting off an explosive without a required state permit. The violation is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $1,000.

Lt. Jim DeFreece, the bomb squad leader for the Nebraska State Patrol, said it’s a common misconception that because it’s legal to buy and possess such exploding targets it’s also legal to explode them. Such “binary” exploding targets come in two parts that, as separate components, are legal, DeFreece said. But once those two compounds, the fuel and the oxidizer, are mixed, the target becomes an explosive, he said, and a person must obtain an explosive permit from the patrol to detonate it.

In fact, he said, one sporting goods store in Lincoln posts a warning next to the exploding targets that spells out the requirement to obtain a State Patrol permit before using one.

DeFreece said the blast in Scottsbluff was only the second time in recent years that he has become aware of a problem with exploding targets. Several permits for the targets, he said, are issued each year.

Sterkel said he had no idea that what he did might be illegal, but once he found out, he wanted to warn others.

“People need to follow the proper protocol,” he said. “We never knew, and we’ve shot these for years. If you can go to a store and buy it, how in the world can you know it’s illegal?”

Such exploding targets have grown in popularity with target shooters because they provide a spectacular reaction when hit with a high-powered rifle shot and, at long range, show instantly if a target has been hit.

Using them, combined with blue or red chalk powder, to announce the gender of baby is not unheard of, according to one gun shop employee in Omaha. And dozens of YouTube videos attest to their popularity in blowing up all kinds of things.

Sterkel said he was surprised that people in Scottsbluff, a community in Nebraska’s Panhandle, had so much reaction to the explosion. Reactions to the blast on Facebook ranged from “awesome” to it “scared the dog.”

“I love this. Who knew you were announcing it to the entire town. Congratulations,” said one Facebook friend.

“And what were the rest of us to think,” posted one critic. “Fireworks are illegal this time of the year!”

Overman, the sheriff, noted that Sterkel was cooperative and that no one was injured and no property was damaged.

Sterkel said he doesn’t plan another big bang when his son is born. The due date is June 16.

“I think we’ll do something a little more lower key,” he said., 402-473-9584

Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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