Every year while hunting spring gobblers I find balloons. They aren’t hot air balloons. Those are an amazing sight, it would be exciting to ride in one, and they’re environmentally friendly. They aren’t the balloons a clown twists into the shape of an animal. Those are such fun for kids. The balloons I find are those shimmery metallic Mylar balloons with special occasion messages on them — “Happy Anniversary,” “I Love You,” “Get Well,” “Congratulations,” “Happy Birthday,” and similar well wishes.
Mylar is a thin nylon film covered by a non-stretchable aluminized plastic membrane, a material developed for the space program in the 1950s. Mylar balloons became a novelty in the 1970s and an improvement over latex balloons because they are virtually impermeable to gas and will stay aloft much longer.
Who doesn’t want longer lasting balloons for birthdays, graduations, and lots of other occasions? When no longer needed, many are released in into the wild blue yonder, especially during the months from Valentine Day through graduation and the wedding season. And that’s the problem.
While the messages Mylar balloons carry are always positive, the balloons themselves are harmful. And we’re finding them more and more. This spring I found six littering the landscape, and I saw a Facebook post with a picture someone took of 30 he found.
Thousands upon thousands of these balloons are out there. Filled with helium, they drift high in the sky where winds carry them hundreds of miles until they come down just about anywhere. You’ll see them scattered along roadways, deep in the woods where you’ll find almost no other rubbish, and everywhere between.
These balloons are not biodegradable and will be there 100 years from now. Ironically, people who let these balloons go are likely some of the very same people who believe hunters negatively affect our environment. Yet hunters are picking up those people’s trash hundreds of miles from where they let it go. We play a tiny role in cleaning up after them, but we can’t keep up and we can’t reverse the damage they do.
One survey of islands on Virginia’s Eastern Shore documented up to 40 balloons per mile of beach. Countless Mylar balloons end up in our oceans and wash up on shores of other continents. They’re not just an eyesore. They also harm marine life. Turtles, fish and other animals sometimes mistake the shiny material for the reflective scales on a baitfish, and choke on them.
Most people aren’t aware these pretty foil floaters conduct electricity and sometimes tangle into power lines. They cause explosions and power outages across the country numbering in the thousands every year, and have started fires that have burned tens of thousands of acres.
Some locales have banned the balloons, but I favor education and responsibility over legislative bans. This graduation season, or whatever occasion you celebrate, go ahead and buy Mylar balloons. When the party is over they will still be lighter than air and it would be fun to watch them drift up, up and away until they are nothing but a speck in the sky. But that speck will cause trouble hundreds of miles downwind because what goes up into the wild blue yonder does not stay in the wild blue yonder.
So when you’re finished celebrating with your Mylar balloons, don’t release them outdoors. Instead, puncture them to deflate them and then put them into the trash. Then I, or the hunter who found 30, won’t have to carry them out of the woods. More important, you won’t be the reason for a power outage somewhere, and you won’t cause an animal to choke.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.