The bang came through the barrels of a Browning 12-gauge shotgun, mingling the ashes of the departed (or as much as could be tamped into two shells) with his beloved woods. To triggerman Jay "Canuck" Knudsen it was another successful send-off by Canuck's Sportsman's Memorials.
The 50-year-old outdoorsman and outré undertaker has been firing off earthly remains since November. The Iowa shotgun funeral cost $500, but more elaborate arrangements are also available. "We can drop [ashes] from the air," says Knudsen (whose son and partner, 28-year-old Jay Jr., is a pilot), "or put them in a duck marsh. We've even put them in fishing lures so their buddies can take them fishing."
Survivors of those who would like such a memorial are asked to mail a sealed Ziploc bag of ashes packed in a padded box. Knudsen, whose Des Moines home is filled with hunting trophies of his own—including a stuffed albino deer—then adds the ashes to the shotgun shells. Leftover remains are returned or disposed of, according to the survivors' wishes. For those moved to contribute to a friend's farewell expenses, $100 Parting Shot gift certificates are also available.
An advertisement by Knudsen in an outdoorsmen's magazine drew more than 300 inquiries, and so far he has answered the call 18 times. "One lady, after her husband died, learned of his indiscretions," he says. "She offered us $1,000 if we'd let her pull the trigger. Another widow liked keeping her husband's ashes on the mantel but was put off by traditional urns. "I suggested a beautiful hand-carved, painted duck decoy," says Knudsen proudly. "She loved it."
UNDER RAW, GRAY IOWA SKIES THEY gathered in the forest clearing—the deceased's widow, his friends, even his hunting dog. The dearly departed had once tramped through just such woods on similar mornings, and so it was here they had come to see him off with a bang.