Sunday, March 11, 2012

A New Way to A Smoking Sendoff

An Alabama company wants to help you go out with a bang -- literally. Holy Smoke, a business launched by two game wardens, is offering to load cremation ashes into shotgun shells or rifle cartridges so that a hunter's last act on Earth can include blasting a hole in their favorite prey.

News of their venture tends to garner one of two reactions: Non-hunters think they're joking, while hunters can't wait to sign up.

"The response we've gotten has been huge," said co-founder Thad Holmes. And that's without any advertising. The company was launched in July, but Holmes and business partner Clem Parnell have been so busy with their day jobs that promotion of the business has been limited to creating a website, That turned out to be more than enough.

"We're getting e-mails from all over the world," Holmes said. "The other day, we got one from Bosnia-Herzegovina."

To the best of his knowledge, they have not heard from anyone in Minnesota, but they expect to. "We know there are a lot of hunters up there," he said.

The notion of an avid hunter having his or her ashes scattered via a gun blast is not out of step with what other enthusiasts do, the company argues. Surfers have had their ashes scattered from the top of waves. Golfers' ashes have been sprinkled into sand traps on their favorite course. Backpackers ask to have their cremains left along a beloved hiking trail.

Beyond the company needing to be licensed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, "we couldn't find any laws about this except when it comes to firing the gun," Holmes said. "You have to do that someplace where you have the right to fire it."

The company's website includes a quote from Parnell that when he dies, he wants his ashes loaded into a shell used to kill a wild turkey. "I will rest in peace knowing that the last thing that turkey will see is me screaming at him at about 900 feet per second," he says.

That sentiment, while colorful, isn't entirely accurate, Holmes said. Only a small amount of ashes is loaded in a shell along with the buckshot, and those ashes dissipate in a cloud -- envision a puff of talcum powder -- within inches of the shell leaving the gun barrel.

"The ashes never reach the target," he said. "Every now and then, we'll have someone say, 'Ooh, I don't want to end up eating Grandma.' It doesn't work like that. If you shoot a duck, none of the ashes end up on the duck."

Prices start at $850 for 250 shotgun shells, 100 rifle cartridges or 250 pistol cartridges. An order typically requires about 15 percent of an average-size person's cremation ashes; unused ashes are returned. The process takes two days.

In addition to providing a fitting farewell for a hunter, the company argues that in designing its business, an "important need was for the end result to be ecologically friendly and sound. There is a much smaller ecological footprint caused by our service as opposed to most of the current funeral interment methods," its website says.

Parnell and Holmes toyed with the notion of putting ashes in ammo for four years before they got their company going. Now they're working on variations, including offering symbolic shotgun shells in which there is no buckshot.

"We have a client who wants a 21-gun salute," Holmes said. "We're working on a way to mix the ashes with red, white and blue powder. We figure that would be a pretty neat sendoff."


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