Monday, October 31, 2011

The Devil's Tramping Ground

There are three paranormal legends in North Carolina that have stood out in my mind since I was a child. One was the Brown's Mountain Lights.  Another was the Maco Lights.  The third, the Devil's Tramping Ground (also called the Devil's Stomping Ground).

The legend is there is a spot in the woods outside of Siler City where no vegetation has ever grown.  Even the United State Geological Service has surveyed the land and composition and cannot determine why nothing grows there.  Supposedly, the Devil makes an earthly appearance there nightly, and as he 'tramps' around, any vegetation dies.

In the late 80's, a boy scout troop was said to have camped there.  When they awoke the next morning, their tent was moved to the other side of the opening-with the scouts still in it.  Other strange occurences include items disappearing if left there overnight.

This last weekend, my family visited the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.  This is an annual trip in which all of the cousins' families attend the zoo together.  Usually this is the last time we see each other until Christmas.  Since the spot of the Devil's Tramping Ground is not far away, I made a detour on the way home and...

We knew we were headed the right way when:

After driving a few miles on Devils Tramping Ground Road we came across this:

This is where the entrance to the path that would lead to the tramping grounds was located.  A closer look at the painting on the road:

So of course, my wife, kids and mother got out of the vehicle and proceeded to search the site where the Devil is said to romp around:

We could see something ahead in the clearing.  As we entered the site:

No vehicle was parked on the side of the road where you could enter the site other than ours.  Yet here was an empty tent.  Yes, completely empty; no sleeping bags, chairs,  NOTHING.  The fire in the circle was still smoldering and smoking.  The tent looked as though it had been exited quickly:

I do not know who was there, but we did not hang around to meet the Devil or to see if anyone came back to get their empty tent...

Happy Halloween!

PS, this is an entirely true story.   A couple of other notes about the trip to the Devil's Tramping Ground.  I set the navigation to head home when we left.  It took us in a circle of about 6 miles and brought us right back by the street sign marking the Devils Tramping Ground Rd.  Yep, that was highly unusual.  Then, while downloading the pictures from the email I sent to myself from the phone, the pictures of the path and of the actual sight did not download all the way.  Only the top portions (about 25% of the picture) would download.  After several attempts in downloading each did I finally get the full picture.  Each of the other photos downloaded on the first try.  Does this mean anything?  Probably not, but it is interesting at least.  At first we did not think much of the empty tent, except on further evaluation, notice how it looks as though it was exited very quickly.  Yes, truth is stranger than fiction sometimes.

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Top Hunting Blogs for 2011

Each year, several websites/blogs will announce their top blog sites in various fields of interest.  I am proud to announce that both Bill Howard's Outdoors and Give Em The Shaft were recently selected as top hunting blogs for 2011.

While I know this is not the Emmy, Oscar, or Pulitzer award, it does still humble me to know that what I do is not completely lost in la-la land.  I appreciate all my readers both past, present, and future.  I hope that at some point I am able to strike a cord that inspires, teaches, reflects, or just provides a simple little grin.

Please share and/or comment on anything you see on these pages and I will continue to try to keep you informed and entertained.

Again, thanks!

Congratulations Bill,
Your Blog has been selected as one of the Top 60 Hunting Blogs for 2011!
The Team here at VeteransBenefitsGIBill has spent the year searching the
Internet for the best Hunting Blogs, analyzing them based on their post
content, layout and user feedback, and we are excited to award you with
our seal of approval as one of the best Hunting Blogs on the web!

The Top 60 Hunting Blogs

Presented by, your guide to Post 9/11 GI Bill Military Education Benefits.

Hunting is far more than a ‘hobby’, and far closer to a way of life. From scouting out the area to finding your prize after making the perfect shot, hunting is more than a cheap thrill. Since hunting skills are gained mostly by experience, you can read all of the books you want, but it will never prepare you quite like a day spent out pursuing game. But that’s not to say that isn’t worth reading about!

These days, you can find a wealth of hunting information online. The internet has become a treasure trove of valuable information that can help you improve your hunting skills and connect you with other hunting enthusiasts. From novice hunters who are documenting their journey into the sport, to expert hunters who are fully qualified to offer training and tips, a wide variety of people at different skill levels are now sharing their love for hunting with millions of others around the world.

Hunting Blogs are excellent sources of information when it comes to searching for hunting tips, getting information on this season’s best locations, and reading stories of other people’s hunting experiences. Need to find a new gun? Want to know the best place to hunt in Montana? You can find all of this information and more on the blogs found below, the best of the best hunting blogs currently online!

Here at Veterans Benefits GI Bill, we know that hunting enthusiasts are always searching for the latest news and information about the sport, so we’ve scoured the web to bring you the absolute best Hunting Blogs currently online. If you’re looking for any hunting-related information, you’d be hard pressed to need to search beyond the 60 Blogs we’ve compiled below.

We are thrilled to share the list of winners with you, and we hope you find them as entertaining, insightful and helpful as we did.

Congratulations to our winners!

The Top 60 Hunting Blogs for 2011

Veterans Benefits Information
Military Education Benefits
Post 9/11 GI Bill Education Benefits

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Let's Go Scouting!

Troi Shade, Matthew Edmundson,
and Cooper Howard (back to front)
 during the hike to High Rock.

I promise to do my best to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people, and to obey the Law of the Pack.

As a child, that promise really meant something.  It fit right in with the Pledge of Allegiance and The Star Spangled Banner.  It built character, pride, values and achievement.  It was an exciting time.

At least once a week, we would see the Cub Scouts and the Brownies dressed in uniforms at school on the day of our den meetings.  We were all proud to be scouts.  We followed our promise, always trying to do the right thing.  We studied what electives and achievements we could accomplish so we could get new belt loops, badges or beads.
Daddy and son with their Camp Charles
Family Camp badges. (Yes I am happy,
it is just very difficult to press that dang
button on the camera with one hand and
hold the badge with the other!)

When camp came around, we learned things that we otherwise would have never been exposed to, and we usually did it with our parents there as well.  We were happy our parents were participating with us.  It was one of the few times we wanted our parents around.

My youngest son Cooper is a member of Pack 89.  We went on our first Cub Scout Family Campout a couple of weekends ago.  Me and Cooper and several hundred other young Cub Scouts and their parents and leaders.  Recipe for a migraine?  Quite the contrary.  Everyone had an absolute blast.

The scouts were able to participate in such activities as shooting bb guns, archery, slingshots, fishing and hiking.  We watched a great movie under the stars about the pinewood derby (Down and Derby) and finished off the evening roasting s’mores over the campfire.  We settled in to the tents shortly after.  Even with the cool weather in the 40’s everyone followed another scouting motto: Be Prepared.

S'mores over the campfire, a true scouting tradition!

Scouting often provides our first real taste of the outdoors.  Remarkably, with all the people at the camp, no one ever had a cross word, an altercation, or got mad about anything.  Sometimes the lines for some of the activities were long, but even with the young age groups, patience prevailed.  Patience was tested mind you, but yes, in the end, it prevailed.

Maybe us adults should look back on those days of our youth and remember the joy we had sharing the outdoors, sharing our relationships with our friends and our elders, and experiencing life.  You know that pledge at the beginning…even as adults, even if you were never in scouts, is not a bad thing to follow.

To learn more about scouting and if it is right for you, visit

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

LifeStraw Water Filtration System Winners

Thom Rauch of Ashland, Wisconsin and Moose McLaughlin of Raleigh, NC are the winners of the LifeStraw water filtration system.  Congratulations!

If you didn't win, don't fret.  Visit and you can purchase one for under $20!

Read the review here:  LifeStraw Gear Review

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gear Review: ScoutLookWeather

So, here I am, 4:26pm on a Sunday, sitting in a climbing stand on the edge of the woods.  Typing on a netbook.  Crazy right?  Well, I should have about an hour before the first deer sneaks her way out of the darkened tree canopy and finds her way into shooting range for my quick and silent compound bow.
The reason I am working on this now is twofold.  One, I need to get this product review done, and two; this is the perfect time to write about what is going on with this particular hunt.
GPS systems became a great tool for the outdoors person several years ago.  Utilizing the array of satellites put in orbit by the government in order to help one find his position globally protected the hiker, hunter, or fisher from getting lost.  They developed from a display showing longitude and latitude so you could find yourself on a map, to displaying satellite and terrain images.  Along the way, the more bells and whistles the GPS system had, the more expensive the unit would cost.  Downloadable maps, some ranging several hundred dollars in cost, were neat features, but unless you were a diehard outdoorsman that traveled to exotic and unfamiliar locations, they were questionable as to whether they were worth it.
Now I like to have the tools necessary for me to be successful and safe, but I do not want to carry around a small army’s worth of supplies on my excursions.  With the GPS functions of the current smart phones, I quickly adapted to several applications available on it instead of carrying around excessive amounts of electronics.   Free mapping and weather programs were great, as I could not only pinpoint my location, but I could see weather as it developed so as not to get caught off guard on an approaching rain shower or storm.

Screen shot from indicating
stand locations, expected deer movement, and scent cone.
The orange arrows were added by me to show movement.
A couple of weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to test and review a website and smart phone application called ScoutLookWeather.  It seemed interesting enough, so I agreed.  Before downloading it on my Android based phone, I checked the website:  The website was easy enough to get a grasp of without a lot of instruction.  After the download, the application worked the same way as the website.  Also, I noticed it had immediately synced between the website and the phone application.

There she is!
After checking the app, according to my scent cone (a green cone that indicates where your scent will travel based on current conditions) I should hunt the northern stand on the property.  My scent would travel right into the path the deer usually take to the field from the southern stand.  So, that is where I am hunting.
Sure enough, I had a deer come out to my left about 6pm.  After the deer paused and offered a broadside shot just 15 yards from the stand, I released the arrow for the kill.  While waiting in the stand, 10 minutes later 3 more deer came out to my right but came no closer than 40 yards from the stand.  I also noticed looking back at the southern stand, several deer in the field where I expected them to come out also.  If I had hunted the southern stand, those deer would likely have caught my scent in the slight breeze.

Blood soaked arrow does
not mean easy to trail!
Hard to follow at night with only this much sign spaced
several yards apart.

While the shot was true, the deer retreated hard into the woods.  I had a hard time finding bloodshed, but after a 20 minute or so search, I spotted small drops of blood.  The track was on.  I used the way marker feature on the ScoutLook app, using the GPS from the phone to indicate the blood trail.  I proceeded to do this each time I lost the trail so I would have a reference point to come back to.  This was extremely handy as I was in the thick brush and swamp, and light was non-existent except from my LED Lenser headlamp.  After following the trail approximately 150 yards, I lost the blood.  It was now around 9pm and I was crawling on all fours in order to track the blood I did find for the last 30 minutes.  I decided to resume the search in the morning, as the shadows from the brush limited my site lines.  Using the satellite imagery feature of ScoutLook, I made my way back out.  If not for that, this could have easily been one of those cases where the hunter gets stuck in the woods overnight.  Again, limited vision, a low concealing canopy of trees, and not so much as a single star shining through offered no help in keeping my bearings.

Blood trail way markers set
on ScoutLook.
The next day, I worked my way back into the woods, following the blood trail markers I had placed on ScoutLook.  This worked well, and I found the trail I needed to find.  After a couple of more hours, I finally found the deer.  This would never have taken place if I had not used ScoutLook for way markers the evening before.

Decoy set-up for incoming waterfowl
as indicated by ScoutLook.
ScoutLook is not only good for the application I tested it for, but it offers a set-up style map for waterfowl hunting, it can be used for hiking and other outdoor activities, it has a drift-point for fishing, and even has a golf mode to help with wind direction on the links.  It provides a cache for photos while in the outdoors, and it will have a log book style feature in the future.  One feature I did not have to use on ScoutLook is a radar map of your area.  This is great for when inclement weather is in the forecast.  It will allow you the opportunity to enjoy your activity until the very last moment.

This result would never had happened without ScoutLook.
Your results may vary!
Screen shot of inclement weather on ScoutLook.
Overall, ScoutLook appears to be a winner.  ScoutLook is easy to use and figure out how to use (no manual-just help screens), is cheap ($1.99 over Android Marketplace, but is available on IOS also), and syncs automatically with the regular website so you can check your locations online and on your phone.  Again, $1.99 for what some GPS systems would charge $199.00 for.  The only thing I could not test, and could not find a direct answer on, was if ScoutLook will save your location maps in areas where only GPS (no cellular) service worked on the smart phone.  I know it will save your markers, just not sure if the maps must download through the cell service each time.  I will continue to use ScoutLook and I look forward to using the log book feature in the future.

Another review of ScoutLookWeather can be found HERE on SoCalBowhunter.

 Want to read more reviews?  Bill Howard's Outdoors Reviews and GiveEmTheShaft Reviews

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Outdoor Blogger Network Celebrates 1st Year!

The Outdoor Blogger Network is celebrating its 1st anniversary October 18th.  A network that has brought hunters, fisherman, photographers, hikers, kayakers...virtually all outdoors related activities and interests into one common area...

Congratulations Joe and Rebecca for bringing this baby to fruition and making it something great!

From all of us outdoor bloggers who appreciate your efforts!


Continuing the Heritage-More Obstacles

Note: Please feel free to share this post with anyone that enjoys hunting, fishing, or the outdoors.

Last year, North Carolina registered 505,530 licensed hunters.  This was the most since 1994 and continues a trend in which each year since 2002 the number of licensed hunters has increased.  While it is encouraging to see our numbers go up, they still fall behind in the overall picture as far as percentage compared to population growth.
Getting our youth, as well as adults, in the outdoors to participate in activities such as hunting and fishing is imperative to keep the heritage alive.  As mentioned in the past, there are far more distractions and other activities for the population these days than in the past.  Television with hundreds of channels, game consoles and systems, and computers all compete to keep our youth occupied. 
Please read the previous post Heritage of the Outdoors.
Other factors challenging the outdoor heritage are environmental groups distaste for hunting and fishing.  I use environmental groups loosely.  Let me explain a little before continuing with the point.  Hunters and fishermen/women provide funds for wildlife conservation, gamelands, studies, even preservation areas, amongst other programs through purchases of licenses, stamps, excise taxes through the Pittman-Robertson act, memberships and donations through conservations groups such as Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl, Quail Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Boone and Crockett, Pope and Young, and many more than can be listed.  In other words, outdoorsmen and women provide the majority of funds to protect both wildlife and land.  They are the true environmentalists.  Meanwhile, other groups seeking to stop hunting and fishing, claim to be environmental organizations.
Back to the point.  As recently as August 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was petitioned to ban all lead products used for hunting and fishing under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA).  The EPA responded they did not have authority under the TSCA to activate such a ban. Currently there is a bill asking for the EPA to be granted that authority.  Kind of a back door approach to allow the EPA to be given power to ban ammunition without having it go through Congress.
Referenced in many of these reports are the effects of lead shot on mourning dove populations.  Lead was banned for waterfowl back in 1991 due to effects on the duck, geese, and swan populations.  Researching studies on dove myself, there are studies saying dove populations have been effected by anywhere from .2% to as high as 6.4%.  I believe the difference in percentages may be based on locality.
It is estimated there are between 1.2 and 1.6 million dove hunters in the United States accounting for 19-21 million birds harvested each season.  The ammunition of choice is lead shot which accounts for 75% of shotgun shells sold each year.  Here is where the assault on potential new hunters, as well as existing hunters comes in.  A box of 25 shells of 7 ½ lead shot, the typical purchase for dove ammunition, costs roughly $6.  On opening day of dove season, a hunter, especially a new hunter, can easily shoot 100 shells equating to roughly $24 worth of ammunition.  The primary alternative to lead is steel shot.  In comparison, a box of 25 shells of steel shot costs roughly $25.  This equates to $100 worth of ammunition.  This does not include any shells used for practicing by shooting skeet or clay pigeons.  The large increase in costs would severely deter new hunters.
Shotshells would not be the only ammunition regulated either.  Most hunting cartridges consist of a lead projectile.  A young hunter’s first rifle is often a .22 caliber.  Ammunition is cheap, so the youth can become familiar with the operation of the rifle by shooting many times.  A box of 100 .22 cartridges runs approximately $7.50.  Changing the composition of the bullet could increase the cost by 4 times that amount.  Again, the increase would likely eliminate many new hunter's first excursion, or at least repeated excursions into the outdoors.
What we must do is look at this issue as a whole.  If we go to an overall ban on lead, the numbers of hunters will surely decrease, causing us to lose massive amounts of funding through license sales and excise taxes (Pittman-Robertson Act).  These funds will either no longer provide the conservation efforts needed for our environment or they will have to be supplemented from other avenues in government (overall taxes).  Also, with a decrease in hunters, less game will be taken.  A raise in limits on game would not provide enough control, as the ammunition would still be too costly to take only a limited numbers of game animals.
Wildlife biologists are charged with the task of determining the mortality rates of the different game animals, and if lead is effecting populations such as dove to a detrimental level, then limits should be adjusted downward.  However, it was not long ago dove limits were increased from 12 to 15 birds per day, indication the population has grown rather than decreased.
Perhaps the answer is not to ban all lead ammunition and fishing equipment.  If there are areas in particular that are affected in an adverse way, the local/state governments can and should regulate accordingly.  But to ban all, may have an effect that is much more detrimental than the effect of lead.

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Heritage of the Outdoors

While in a state of reminiscence, a friend and I were talking the other day about not so long ago if you had dress shoes that had worn down, you could find a cobbler and have them repaired.  They would put a new sole and heel on and the shoes would be as good as new.  You could also find a seamstress or a tailor to make adjustments to clothing, or even make clothes for you.
I can remember my grandmothers and mother sewing and knitting.  My grandmother would make huge beautiful afghans for us.  When my cousins and I graduated high school, we could expect an afghan in the colors of the colleges we were attending.
Times have changed.  I overheard a young lady who had been married for several months tell her friend how excited she was that she had just made her first home cooked meal.  “It was kind of like my grandmother used to do, but not quite as good” she told her friend.
As technology has grown we have lost some of our abilities and know-how.  Those old memories that bring the small grin on your face thinking of them; they are part of our heritage.  You cannot find a cobbler anymore.  You can get your clothes altered, but it usually involves the dry cleaners and no family member would know how to use the sewing machine or even where to find one.  Afghans take up so much time, they are considered a treasure now if it was handmade.  Even the meal made from the beaming new bride, well that explains a lot about where our society is going.
While we are experiencing more hunters and fishers each year, it is not growing as fast as the population increases.  This means while the overall numbers go up, the percentages are either stagnant or decreasing.  Our technology has pulled the youth of today inside the home, and while they are proficient with the computer and game consoles, they lack in knowledge of the natural world.  Patience, once seen as a virtue, is now a waste of time with our instantaneous gratification from other man-made resources.
The challenge of our current outdoors population is to introduce and teach others the joys of the outdoors and nature.  It is easy enough for someone to get excited seeing a deer from several hundred yards away with every eye from the herd looking toward you.  But get that same person in the woods with several deer within 20 yards without the deer knowing you are there, seeing the deer behave naturally; that is the true experience.
If you have not experienced the real outdoors, or have not experienced it since those good 'ole days from your youth, take time to get out and join nature in its habitat.  If you do hunt and fish, find someone who has not experienced it, whether young or old, and share the excitement of your passion.  The fast paced world of today tends to make our lives speed up as well.  Slow down and live.  Understand what God has provided for us and pass the knowledge of our past generations forward so our heritage continues in practice rather than in history books.

If you enjoyed this story try:

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Gear Review: LifeStraw Water Filtration System

LifeStraw Water Filtration System
I keep a backpack I use on those ‘special’ hunting trips where I may be gone from home for several days in the wilderness.  I keep things such as an extra fall restraint system (in case my safety vest were to either get damaged or get used for its purpose, I do not want to vacate my hunt), an extra trigger release, several food items, flashlight and batteries, fire starter, paper maps, and…you get the idea.   It’s my survival pack in many ways.  One thing I keep in the pack is an emergency water filter system.  The one I use filters up to 20 gallons.  By my calculations, that will get me by for close to three weeks if something were to happen.

Why would I need a water filtration system?  One thing to keep in mind if you were to truly be in an emergency survival situation is you have to stay alert and sane.  Food, water, and shelter are the necessities.  While food can be taken either by hunting or by picking proper plants, and shelter can be made, water is a little different.  Yes, I can find a stream in the mountains.  What I cannot do is see whether the water is safe to drink.  I can build a sill, but the water supply can be very limited in dry situations.  And remember the alert and sane part?  If you become sick from water born bacteria and you are lost or stranded, how alert and sane do you think you will be?  Hence the need for water purification.  Options include tablets or filtration systems.  I like the filtration systems due to the number of uses.
I was recently contacted by Ben Seaman of Eartheasy.  Eartheasy is the official launch partner for LifeStraw in the U.S.  LifeStraw is a water filtration system for use by hikers, hunters, campers, and emergency preparedness.  LifeStraw was first introduced in 2005 and accumulated many accolades and awards for its uses in disaster situations and third world sanitary conditions.  Ben asked if I would like to review the product for its U.S. launch and after a little research, I was more than anxious to test the LifeStraw.  Like I mentioned before, I keep a water filtration system currently.
Be sure to follow this blog for your chance to win a Lifestraw from EarthEasy!
First, some technical information from LifeStraw and Eartheasy:  weighing only 2 ounces, LifeStraw can filter down to .2 microns which includes 99.9999% of bacteria (such as salmonella and vibrio cholera) and 99.9% of protozoa (such as entamoeba histolytica).  It cannot filter heavy metals or viruses or desalinate water.  Here is what I find impressive; LifeStraw is tested to filter 250 gallons or more!  The filtration system I have only does 20 gallons.  In other words, LifeStraw could be used to filter water for nearly a year for a single person in an emergency situation.
Now, there is the hype from Eartheasy and LifeStraw.  Of course, this is supposed to be my review, which means my tests would have to be run.  Since I keep the system for hunting, I decided to test the LifeStraw in situations I could encounter while on a hunting excursion.

First thing, the LifeStraw packaging is TOUGH.  I thought it would be a ‘tear open’ type wrapper.  Nope, needed a knife.  I suppose this is good to prevent contamination prior to first use.  I tried it in regular cup of water first.  When trying to get the water through the straw, it takes some powerful sucking initially.  Once I had water flowing though, it was pretty easy to continue drinking.  The main reason I tried it on a regular cup of water was to see if there was any taste associated to the LifeStraw.  Water tasted the same whether drinking from the cup or through the LifeStraw.  Once you are finished drinking, it is recommended to blow back through the straw to clear the filter.  Again, this took some power.
The second part of the test was to drink from a nearby stream.  The straw worked the same as when drinking from the cup.  I could taste the stream water.  Tip: Do not lie next to the stream bed in order to drink; you get wet!  It is recommended to use a cup to dip into the stream or body of water and use the LifeStraw in it instead.  Here is where my other negative shows up.  The LifeStraw has a larger diameter than a standard plastic bottle opening (the type that a soda or bottled water comes in).  It fits fine in the larger diameter hiking type bottles.  I usually use bottled water and put those in my backpack.  Remember the knife I used to open the wrapper.  It was used to simply cut the upper portion of the water bottle off, creating an improvised cup.
So to recap the negatives: The wrapper is tough to open, the water tastes the same going in as it does coming out, and it is larger than a standard bottled water bottle.
With that being said, the positives completely outweigh the negatives.  The LifeStraw has been tested to a MINIMUM of 250 gallons, can be stored a MINIMUM of 3 years, and is in the same cost range (under $20) of filtration systems that provide much less filtration volume (again, the one I own is good for only 20 gallons).  It also filters out more bacteria and protozoa than my current system. In fact, even the water purification tablets did not clean the water as well as the LifeStraw (research from reading the specs on a couple of water purification tablet bottles).   I find it as a must buy.  In fact, the LifeStraw will replace the water filtration system I currently have.   Not only is it great for the outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing, and hunting, it provides a great tool for disaster relief and emergency management.
Hey, you may want to get one for each member of the family.  It will be more than handy during the coming Zombie Apocalypse and after all, 2012 is just around the corner.

LifeStraw can be purchased from EarthEasy here.
Read Bill Howard's Outdoors: Zombies, the Rapture, and the Outdoors

Want to read more reviews?  Bill Howard's Outdoors Reviews and GiveEmTheShaft Reviews

Bill Howard writes a weekly outdoors column for the Wilson Times and Yancey County News and the bowhunting blog site He is a Hunter Education and International Bowhunter Education instructor, lifetime member of the North Carolina Bowhunters Association, Bowhunter Certification Referral Service Chairman, member and official measurer of Pope and Young, and a regular contributor to North Carolina Bowhunter Magazine.