Shoot the deceased ... in tribute

Shoot the deceased ... in tribute
Shoot the deceased ... in tribute

What if you could hunt with your deceased buddy? Or what if, when you're gone, your friend, son or daughter could hunt or shoot with you?

Now that's all possible, thanks to a new Alabama company called Holy Smoke.

Started by a couple of still-on-duty Alabama game wardens, the company loads ashes of the deceased into all forms of firearm ammo -- an idea that has turned out to be wildly popular. The company, which launched just last week, has its phones ringing off the hook, and has been piling up interview requests from all over the U.S. and as far away as the U.K. and Germany.

Clem Parnell and Thad Holmes thought of the idea when they were talking one night about the passing of a relative, their own demise and burial vs. cremation. Holmes said he wanted his ashes tossed in a river or spread through the woods. Parnell then uttered the fateful words:

"You know, I've thought about this for some time and I want to be cremated. Then I want my ashes put into some turkey-load shotgun shells and have someone that knows how to turkey-hunt use the shotgun shells with my ashes to shoot a turkey. That way I'll rest in peace knowing that the last thing that one turkey will see is me, screaming at him at about 900 feet per second."

And Holy Smoke was born -- though really not that quickly because they spent a couple years studying the idea and preparing for the company's launch. They had to plan carefully because, after all, they're dealing with human remains.

Parnell said, "We use friends who have been reloading for 20 years, and because we have to keep everything reverent, we had to pick and choose Christian-oriented people to handle this. Not everybody who loads or reloads will touch ashes," he explained, "they just don't like it. But if you have good, sound values and Christian minds, you don't have a problem with those things."

That's just one of the things they had to consider. Another is the fact that unlike all other reloading, in this case all the equipment has to be thoroughly cleaned after every order is processed so remains are not mixed.

That's why it costs quite a bit more than buying ammo at a gun store. The base price is $1,250 for a case of shells or 100 rounds of rifle or pistol cartridges. A "mantle-worthy," handcrafted wood box is another $100.

For many, that's a small price to pay for a loved one. Parnell shared a story: "We just took an order from a lady for pistol ammo. She wanted 9mm because that's what she and her daughter shoot, and it was her [late] husband's wish that someone would come up this idea [so they could shoot his ashes]. She gave us a call and she was just thrilled."

Cremated human remains typically weigh about 3.5 pounds. Holy Smoke requests 1 pound to make its product. That much ash wis enough for a case of shotgun shells (250) and many bullets, the exact number depending on caliber.

A case of tribute shells means a bunch of friends can go out dove hunting or to the range, and have a whole day of shooting, "a celebration day," Parnell said, "which is what this is about.

"We're not talking about interfering with mourning," he said. "This is after."

Remains in ammo introduces some interesting issues. Parnell said that if the ashes are in shotshells, they will not go into a game bird. But "if it's a reloaded .308 hollow point, it's a different story. Ashes are nothing but carbon, so it's not a health issue, but a competent hunter will shoot [an animal] where they're not going to be eaten anyway."

Right now, it takes about 48 hours to turn around Holy Smoke ammo from the time the company receives the remains. And yes, they also will reload the remains of treasured canine friends.

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