Andy Millsaps, funeral director at Wages and Sons Funeral Home in Lawrenceville, has heard enough unusual last requests that the unique service offered by Holy Smoke LLC does not surprise him in the least.
“I don’t doubt it one bit,” Millsaps said upon learning the Alabama-based company will turn cremated remains into live ammunition.
Thad Holmes and business partner Clem Parnell recently launched what they describe as “a way to honor your deceased loved one by giving or sharing with him or her one more round of clay targets, one last bird hunt, or one last stalk hunt.”
For $1,250, you can have your loved one packed into 250 rounds of shotgun shells, rifle cartridges or pistol rounds. A variety of calibers and gauges is available. It takes one pound of ash to produce the 250 rounds.
Holmes and Parnell contract with professional ammunition reloaders to add a precise amount of cremated remains to each round. The ashes are hand-delivered to the reloaders and then shipped back to the customer as soon as the rounds are finished.
Holmes said his company uses quality ammunition and that the ashes have no effect on round performance.
“It’s just the fact that you’ve got your uncle up there on the shelf or in 'the judge' or in the shotgun that you can use for your own defense,” he said.
The idea for the company originated with Parnell during a late night conversation with a friend about the hereafter. As recounted on the Holy Smoke website, Parnell’s friend said:
"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 will rest in peace knowing that the last thing that one turkey will see is me, screaming at him at about 900 feet per second."
That conversation led to four years of research and planning for the Holy Smoke founders.
“Anybody can go to a funeral and go through the whole process where you grieve, but there is also a time for celebration,” Holmes said. “I’d want people celebrating my life and not just grieving and being remorseful about the fact that I was gone, but celebrating the fact that I had lived.”
The idea of alternatives to burial in and of itself is not new. Millsaps said that although Wages and Sons Funeral Home does not provide a service similar to Holy Smoke or work directly with any company that does, his company does offer other ways to use the remains of loved ones.
“We’ve got a new company called Crystal Remembrances that can put your ashes put in a crystal ball or egg,” he said.
Wages also works with a company that makes it possible to wear your loved ones remains inside a piece of jewelry. Millsaps said he is also aware of another way to “wear” your loved one remains.
“I’ve heard of families using [cremated remains] in tattoos,” he said. “That’s about the strangest thing I’ve ever heard.”
For Holmes, none of these held any attraction. Holmes said the service offered by Holy Smoke is “a way to avoid having your remains stuck on a mantle somewhere” or worse. Holmes recalled the time a relative of his was cleaning out a loved one’s home and found a box in the attic that contained the remains of a distant family member.
“She was still in a box in a paper bag that had been sealed up and put into a cigar box,” Holmes said. “It was her ashes and she had been stuck in an attic for who knows how long. That’s kind of anti-climatic, you know what I mean?”
By taking advantage of Holy Smoke’s unique service, loved ones can avoid such an anti-climatic end and literally go out with a bang.
“A lot of people just think this is the greatest thing in the world. We also have a lot of people who think we’re crazy,” Holmes said.
The naysayers are missing the point, Holmes explains.
“We’re not in competition with Walmart on selling ammunition,” he said. “We’re not a retail outlet. We don’t do that. This is a way to express or celebrate your life. As far as I’m concerned, that’s what I’d want to do.”