The Simple 4×8 Raised Bed

Value up front: Here is a drawing link to a raised bed design I made and use. It is cheap, easy to build, and easy to order from just a few local lumber store parts.

This bed costs a whopping $76.43 in April 2020 dollars from McCoy’s lumber (my preferred store). The bed has a few interesting features:

  • $76.43 price per bed
  • Only 4 parts to order: 2x10x8’s, a 4x4x12, 3″ screws, and 2 24″ rebar pins
  • 1.6 cubic yards of space to fill
  • 29.5 square feet of planting space
  • Treated lumber will last for a decade or more. As long as the treatment is not CCA (contains arsenic), the general consensus is that treated lumber is safe for gardening.
  • 4×4 nubs can be used to attach watering, trellising, row covers, etc
  • Bed can be easily taken down and re-assembled at another location

Tips for Raised Bed Gardening

  1. My number 1 tip is to get Brett Markham’s book Mini Farming and simply follow his recommendations (I’m not an affiliate and get no money from this).
  2. Fill the bottom of the raised bed with old dead wood and logs, then fill the rest with topsoil and mushroom compost (50-50 mix). Don’t use suburb soil to raised beds, the soil is terrible. However, it helps if you turn over the soil under the bed, but it’s not strictly necessary.
  3. Put the bed on top of level ground. There is no need to dig the bed into the ground or anything.
  4. Amend the soil with mushroom compost or home-made compost each year.
  5. Check your local extension office for information on how and when to plant. The extension offices are one of the few government agencies that typically put out good information.
  6. Use wood chips, leaves, brown paper, cardboard, or compost as mulch.
  7. Water plenty, raised beds drain and dry quickly.
  8. Use the cloth bags (search your local garden store or Amazon) for growing root crops: that way gophers cannot get to them before you do, and harvest is as easy as dumping the bag out and grabbing the roots.

Deciding on the Best Bed

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new era of food insecurity in the West. While people are not yet lacking for calories, they have less choices at the store. Many have responded by starting gardens. I heartily agree with gardening. The yield is knowledge, healthier food, and time outdoors. Gardening makes for a more healthful life. My own motivations for gardening occurred before the pandemic: I was dissatisfied with the produce at the store, and concerned about future supply chain problems.

When I started gardening years ago, I began with raised beds and had immediate successes, along with failures. I have experimented with many methods, including raised beds, traditional tilled fields, no-till garden, raised rows, cloth bags, and trellising. For beginners, raised beds are by far the best value-added method. To that end, I’ve decided to compare raised bed types. I did this for myself: I wanted to know the best practice for rapidly augmenting my growing capacity if need-be.

To that end, I’ve posted the comparison for the reader’s review. I’d draw your interest specifically to the pricing on the bottom. First is cost per ft^2 (CPF), then CPF over years of use, then CPF over total performance.

TypeUnits5 30Gal Cloth BagsJustin Rhodes Raised BedsJustin Rhodes Raised Beds TreatedCinder BlocksGalvanized Horse TroughsSimple Treated Wood
Overall Inner Sizeft2’ Diameter4’ x 8’4’ x 8’2.67’ x 8’2’ x 4’4’ x 8’
Square Footage Perft^23.14323221.33832
Square Footage TotalFt^215.7323221.33832
Volume PerYd^30.161.981.981.580.591.83
Gardening Performance0-10466544
Immediate Usability0-5511141
Longevity Years0-104361086
(CFP) Cost per Ft^2USD$$2.48$10.31$12.38$5.11$12.38$2.39
CPF / Longevity~USD$$0.62$3.44$2.06$0.51$1.55$0.40
CPF / Performance~USD$$0.11$0.47$0.56$0.22$0.46$0.13

Basic Night Vision Outfitting and Employment

I’ve received numerous requests for guidance in the past few days from people wanting to beef up their nighttime defensive capabilities. I’ve spent years using various night vision, thermal, and IR designation systems (NODs) in crummy locations. This article is for people just getting started, or without a lot of money to spend on this stuff. I’ll try to be concise. Here goes:

Seeing Versus Engaging

You need to consider the difference between seeing things with night vision, versus successfully engaging them. A simple hand-held or helmet-mounted device is beneficial for situational awareness, but a “stock” daytime firearm just isn’t really compatible with such a device. You have three options to get your gun in the night fight:

  1. A weapons mounted night vision device (behind or in front of the daytime optic), known as a “clip-on”
  2. A dedicated weapons-mounted, zero-able night vision optic
  3. A weapons mounted laser combined with a helmet-mounted NODs

Number 1 “clip on sight” is typically expensive and used for precision rifles. That way, the zero’d sniper scope remains mounted to the rifle both day and night. These are great. They can extend the range of your daytime long gun out to 500+ meters on a nice night. The bad news is that they are expensive, and you either need a helmet mounted NOD or a friend to cover the short range problem.

Number 2 dedicated optics are somewhat immature technology. Some of the best examples of this are the scope series by ATN. The bad thing about them is that they are software reliant, so if the electronics shit the bed you are in trouble. There are non-software options, but they are either very old or very expensive. If you are comfortable with technology, the ATN isn’t too bad for day/night use in the $700 range.

For the new night vision user, I recommend option 3. It’s fairly inexpensive to get a helmet mounted NOD setup and a weapon mounted laser. Your situational awareness is good with this setup. While the range of the laser isn’t great (figure 30m for pistol and 200m for carbine), it’s a lot better than the range of a non-NOD equipped adversary. This setup is a game changer. I’ll give you a few basic rules for what to buy, and then a basic first setup:

  1. Do not buy any NOD less than Gen 2+. They just aren’t good enough. Gen 3 or 4 tubes are quite good. Gen 2+ tubes will work well with good illumination from the moon or ambient light.
  2. Make sure you buy the correct mounting parts to get the tube on your helmet, or other “hat.”
  3. Make sure the weapon laser you buy is IR. Not red, green, or whatever else. Color is IR.

Starter Night Vision Setup

The Night Optical Device

  1. A single PVS-14 is a good bet. Go to Optics Planet, or Amazon, and search “PVS14”. AGB Global sells a Gen 2+ tube for $1,929.00. Buy the best you can afford.
  2. To mount it, you need a J-arm and a skullcrusher at a minimum. These two items, at time of writing, are $88.99 and $119.99 respectively.
  3. Total cost to see at night is $2,137.98.

The mounting scheme here is Head–>Skullcrusher–>J-Arm–>PVS-14. See Below:

If you are using a helmet, or a Crye Nightcap, you will also need a swing-arm and adapter plate or shroud. The benefit to this is that you can easily swing the NOD up and out of your line of sight. Also, the Nightcap and similar products are more comfortable. Search these items on Amazon and OpticsPlanet. There are many options. Make sure that the helmet or Nightcap is compatible with what you select. The mounting scheme is:

Head–>Helmet/Nightcap–>Adapter Shroud–>Swing Arm–>J-Arm–>PVS-14. See Below:

The Laser

  1. For pistols, I really like the TLR-2 IR version. It’s $309.49 today. You’ll also need to get a custom holster made to hold the pistol and light. The light is white light, unfortunately. The laser is clearly visible to 50 meters.
  2. For carbines, I use the Steiner OTAL-C. It’s $498.99. The effective range of this laser is at least 200 meters. I haven’t gotten much time on it, but from what I see so far it’s a good purchase.
The Steiner OAL is very small, and does the job.

You need to zero the laser after mounting it. One way to do it is the old fashioned way: shoot at a zero target, and make corrections. I don’t like this method. The laser is off-center with the weapon, unlike an optic, so you get a crossing of the optic line of sight, laser line of sight, and bore line. This leads to unpredictable zero at greater ranges. This method is painful at night. It’s hard to see the zero target.

The better method is called a “co-witness” zero. Co-witnessing means that you look through your zero’d and confirmed daytime sights with your night vision device. Use the broad side of a building for this exercise, after clearing the weapon. Turn the laser on. Now, adjust the laser over to where you want it in relation to the daytime sight. Think about where the laser is in relation to the bore, and offset it appropriately. For example, my Steiner laser is just to the right of the bore. So, I put the laser dot slightly to the right of my daytime zero point on a 100 meter target. That way, I won’t get the laser crossing to the left at longer ranges. This doesn’t matter as much if you co-witness at 100 or 200 meters, but co-witnessing at 25 meters will require that slight offset to avoid a cross.

A Very Inexpensive NOD Option

For those who really need to pinch pennies, there is another NOD option. It’s the SiOnyx Aurora, for $399.00. This is actually a handheld IR camera, that is about the size of a PVS-14 tube. I have looked through the camera, and used it with my weapons mounted laser. I found it to be nearly as good as the Gen 2+ units, at a much lower price. To make this hands-free, you need several custom adapters.

Image from the Etsy store of Kiloohm. I have not tried this out. Buyer beware.

The mounting scheme is as follows:

Head–>Helmet–>Helmet Mount Shroud–>Norotros Rhino 2–>Norotos AKA2 PVS-15 Socket–>Wilcox PVS-15 Shoe–>Kiloohm Adaptive Mount–>Aurora.

All of that stuff totaled up is roughly $1000.

How to Make Your Own MGRS / USNG Maps

To do good land navigation, you really need the MGRS grid overlay. UTM is too clunky, and Lat/Long is just a total non-starter. The civilian version of MGRS is called USNG, the only difference being that there are spaces at natural points in the grid. For example, if the MGRS grid is “13SDC23564332”, the USNG is “13S DC 2356 4332”. Simple enough. Unfortunately, it has traditionally been difficult to get MGRS maps outside of the military and whatever areas they deemed fit to print maps of. Enter GISsurfer, a free service based on GIS that allows users to create their own MGRS maps. You can even overlay satellite and roads if you wish. Let’s jump in: 
      1. Go to GISsurfer.
      2. Click “Menu”
      3. Click “UTM MGRS/USNG Lat/Long”
      4. Click either “MGRS” or “USNG” Screen Shot 2019-11-16 at 7.03.40 PM
      5. Zoom to wherever you want a map.
      6. Select other GIS options, such as satellite, roads, contour lines, or the like. You end up with a map, in this case zoomed up so that each gridsquare is a kilometer. Nice.
      7. The final step is to save the map. On an Apple, I can choose File–>Print, choose paper size and layout, then “Save as PDF.” Your mileage may vary.
Happy hunting, and remember your panic azimuth.

Homemade Rifle Barrels Using Electro-Chemical Machining

This is a followup on yesterday’s post. While I surely have the technical ability to pull this off, I just don’t have the time. I’m curious to hear from any readers who have experimented with this.

Gear Review of the P-14 Gen II+ Night Vision Monocular

3.8 / 5.0

Pros: Excellent value. Near parity with PVS-14 during high illumination. Can use AA or CR2 battery. Couples well with IR lasers for night shooting.

Cons: Only partial PVS-14 BII compatibility, and no company-provided BII.

Bottom Line: This is night vision for the masses. I liked it enough to buy the test unit.

The PRG (Potomac River Group) P-14 flashed across my radar one morning as a deal on Dvor, $750 for Gen II+ night vision. I was intrigued, along with quite a few other people. A few emails later and PRG sent one my way to test. My testing consisted of walking around, shooting, and taking pictures through the unit. What else could you do?

Looks like a bargain basement PVS-14, and pretty much is (in a good way)

As an experienced night vision user can see, this unit is meant to occupy the same niche as the PVS-14, except for the frugal. With the typical PVS-14 costing $3000, the P-14 is very attractive at $1000 or less. Of course, the market is full of cheap night vision that is so ineffective as to not be worth it at any cost. I have used numerous of the sort of units people buy for $500 or less at sporting goods stores, and found that they are worse than paperweights — the user can’t see anything, but they destroy the wearer’s natural night vision for the following 30 minutes or so.

The P-14 boasts some impressive features. Gen II+, a very low price, made in the USA, automatic brightness, an IR illuminator, and at least the appearance of PVS-14 compatibility. What’s the catch? Well, that’s the point of my testing and review.

P-14 Performance

The last time I wore anything other than Gen III was 14 years ago when I briefly used PVS-7s in a schoolhouse setting. For Gen II+, I read what to expect from other night vision experts: near parity with Gen III under good illumination, and near uselessness under low light. That is exactly what I found.

On a walk through the woods with 0% illumination, I had to use the IR flood light to make any sort of movement. The unit alone was almost worse than nothing. I couldn’t make out branches about to swipe me, yet the night vision eye was useless.

Toyota pickup under partial illumination from ambient light. 40 meters.

On the other hand, during 100% illumination (full moon), the P-14 image quality was only slightly worse than the Gen III PVS-14. On that particular night, I could make out trees, terrain, structures, and animals at several hundred meters. Additionally, shooting with the P-14 was a breeze. A friend and I used a Streamlight TLR-2 IR laser on a 9mm XDM. Shooting 8″ plates with this combo was almost comically easy. At one point my friend had a target at 10 meters and another target at 50 meters and alternated most of a 19-round magazine between each target without miss.

Pup at 25 meters. Treeline is at 150-200 meters.

When I wore PVS-14s on a near nightly basis, I didn’t worry much about the illumination level. If it was good, that was all the better. With the P-14, the illumination level, and the moonrise and moonset matter. That isn’t PRG’s fault, it’s just a fact of life for Gen II+ tubes. However, potential buyers should be aware of this performance gap between Gen III and II+ tubes.

House and barn at 250 meters.
Creek crossing at 25 meters. Poor focus. Far treelike is on the order of 500 meters.

The P-14’s automatic brightness feature works well. Though I prefer manual brightness control in general, I never had a problem with the unit not adjusting well. Additionally, the onboard IR flood light did a good job of illuminating the immediate area.

PVS-14 Compatibility

When I saw the pictures, I was really hoping that the P-14 would act like a drop-in replacement for the PVS-14. That way, those of us who own PVS-14s can also have the P-14, and both units can use common basic gear. The P-14 works with PVS-14 gear to a large extent. The J-arm screws in to the P-14, but it doesn’t keep the unit from swiveling. As long as it’s tightly screwed, it’s not a problem. The P-14 doesn’t have the same automatic shutoff that the PVS-14 has when the unit is swung upward by the user.

It fits my existing PVS-14 gear reasonably well.

The P-14 works with my DSLR camera adapter for PVS-14s, but only if I add a bit of padding to the eyepiece ring. The eyepiece ring of the P-14 is just not quite big enough, so the adapter tends to work loose off of it. It is in no way a deal-killer, but I’d rather the ring just match the PVS-14 standard. Why not?

P-14 Quality

The P-14 does not feel like flimsy junk. I think it could take a little kicking around. It’s stamped Made in the USA. The rep told me the unit is made in Arizona. I’m not sure precisely what that means. While I think PRG is a company with integrity and does make the units in Arizona, that doesn’t necessarily mean all the glass and the tube is also made in the USA. I have no idea where each component is made.

I walked in the unit during a light mist without trouble. There is some distortion at the outside edge of the lens. Overall the quality seems to be present. Time will tell.

One Caveat…

I am fairly enthusiastic about the P-14, so much so that I went ahead and bought the test unit to serve as a backup or loaner. My one caveat is that I can’t vouch for the reliability of the P-14, nor the tube longevity. Tubes are known to last anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 hours, and I have no idea how long this will last. I will certainly update the review if it fails prematurely.

Precision Rifle Matches

I’ve been shooting local precision rifle matches to hone my craft. I completed the second match two weekends ago. If you are near Navasota, Texas, check out TX Precision Matches. They hold matches the second Saturday every month. Shooters need $50 and 100 rounds.

The shooting is challenging, and humbling. The target size is 1-4 MOA, with 2.5 MOA or so being the average. The match features 8 stages. Each stage is 105 seconds, and 8-12 rounds fired. The match typically runs from 0830-1500. The target range is from 350 yards to 1100 yards, with a typical target being at 500 yards. Most shots are from non-prone positions.

TX Precision indexes shooters’ scores off of the leader in your division. The leader gets a 100%, and other shooters get percentages of the leaders score. If the top score in a given division was 60, and a shooter scored a 45, then his score is 75%.

I can’t recommend enough that you go to these local matches to skill build. The shooters are incredibly helpful, and will shepherd first timers through the whole match. Come prepared to be humbled. You probably won’t score well your first few outings. No, it doesn’t mean you suck. It also doesn’t mean that the sport is stupid. It’s a great chance to learn alternate positions, rapid wind calling, and applying the fundamentals under severe time stress.

The divisions are Marksman, Expert, and Pro for bolt guns. Gas guns are a separate division. A look at the scores shows why. I’ve always known from personal experience that bolt guns are more accurate than gas guns, but the low gas gun scores surprised me.

Carbine Drop Charts

Here I will post hold over/under charts for common carbine calibers. The point here is so that users can stretch the range on SBRs, submachine guns, pistols, and carbines. For more information on muzzle velocities out of various barrel lengths, check out Ballistics By The Inch. Of course, I modeled the trajectories in Sendit Ballistics.

9mm, 16″ Barrel

This chart is for a 124gr 9mm fired out of a 16″ barrel. The zero is 25, with re-zero at 80 meters.

5.56mm, XM193, 16″ Barrel

This chart is for a 55gr 5.56 fired out of a 16″ barrel. I used a 30 meter zero, because it re-zeros at 300 meters.

Sendit Ballistics

Check out Sendit Ballistics for iOS if you are interested in an accurate, simple bullet trajectory calculator. I keep an updated page on the app here. The app is so accurate because it models the most important 3 degrees of freedom with painstaking detail. The app is designed for the field user, with a simple interface, range card mode, low light mode, and rapid corrections with minimal information. It is free to 400 meters, and only $4.99 to infinity.

Mountain Guerrilla: Drill-Building for Skill-Building

Balance in training is key. You should drill fundamentals and incorporate more realistic and force-on-force work. Be wary of trainers that suggest ditching square ranges. Likewise, understand the square range is crawl/walk; you need further drills for the run phase.

MG Article


It’s become something of a cliché, in the training world, to point out that “Life isn’t a square range!” The implication—and sometimes it’s not even implied, but violently explicit—being that if you’re doing fundamentals work with your weapons, you’re going to die, because your training isn’t “real” enough. I’ve always found this ironic, since in my experience, the ability to actually hit what the fuck I was shooting at, on demand, as many times as I needed to shoot it, was THE defining factor in success in a gunfight. Where did I learn to do that? On the fucking “square range!” Admittedly, they were actually, usually rectangular, but…