By Mark V. Lonsdale
Warning: Be sure to check out state and local laws and ordinances when storing or transporting firearms in a vehicle.
Let’s first define a truck gun. For anyone who has worked on a ranch, it’s a handy rifle that can be used when needed to control pests such as coyotes or wolves. It is not your best long range hunting rifle or prized safari rifle, but a less expensive utility rifle. It is selected for a balance of size, caliber, economy, and rugged reliability, and one that you don’t mind getting a little beat up.
For those old enough to remember, in rural areas, 40 years ago, it was not unusual to see a gun rack in the back window of many pickup trucks. Teens could even take their rifles and shotguns to school so that they could go hunting right after school. Some high schools even provided secure storage for rifles and shotguns while the owners were in class. This was back when there were no “gun free zones” and no mass school shootings. Go figure!
Unfortunately society has changed, and not for the better. It is now unwise to have firearms in plain sight unless on private property or headed out to hunt. So a “truck gun” now is more a carbine sized rifle that is more easily hidden behind the back seat of a pickup.
Probably the most ubiquitous carbine for the past 100 years has been the 30-30 Winchester or Marlin – and these are still viable candidates. But given the choice, many shooters prefer bolt action rifles which offer a wider variety of calibers. Even though I own and use two lever actions, I still prefer a bolt action rifle for every day carry.
Without getting into an exhaustive list of rifles, Remington and Ruger both offer light hunting rifles with 20” barrels in a variety of common calibers. One consideration I give to a truck gun is the availability of ammunition anywhere in the country. Along with 30-30 and 30-06, and without getting into the belted magnums such as 300 Win Mag, the most common light rifle calibers are .308 Win, .243 Win, .223 Rem, and now 6.5 Creedmoor. We are talking ammo that you can buy at not only gun shops but farm supply stores, gas stations, and bait shops in many outdoor-centric rural areas.
Two rifles that meet my requirements for a truck gun are the Ruger M77 Scout in .308 Win. and the Marlin 1895SBL in 45-70. With a lifetime of shooting .308 Win. in the military, for tactical training, and in long range competitions, the handy 18” barreled Ruger Scout met my requirements for a rugged little rifle, complete with detachable 5 and 10-round magazines. It also reminded me of the WWII British .303 Jungle Carbine which I had enjoyed shooting in my teens. Topped with a scope the Ruger can reach out to 500 yards with ease, but is still primarily a short to mid-range rifle.
Ruger M77 Scout in .308 Win. with both 5 and 10 round magazines. Scope is a Leupold VX-3i 4.5-14x40mm with CDS dial calibrated for 100-600 yards. Running Black Hills 180 grain AccuBonds.
For a saddle gun I first selected a lever action Marlin 1894 in 44 Magnum, but was less than impressed by the power and performance of what is essentially a pistol caliber. So when Marlin came out with the 45-70 Guide gun I was at the front of the line. The 45-70 is not a long range hunting cartridge, but inside 200 yards the Hornady 325 grain FTX bullets hit hard. With the appropriate bullet it could also be used for any dangerous game from grizzlies to Cape buffalo.
Top: Marlin 1894 .44 Magnum. Lower: Marlin 1895SBL Guide gun in 45-70 with an intermediate eye relief Leupold scope. Both are a handy 36″ long
An additional popular truck gun is one of the many “black gun” AR clones in .223 Rem. 6.5 Creedmoor, or .308 Win. If ranching on the border, or areas that may be frequented by drug runners, border smugglers, or pot growers, then the high capacity AR offers more rounds, plus a number of external options including scopes and light mounts.
To conclude, the ideal truck gun is like the ideal every day carry (EDC) handgun or knife. It should be ruggedly reliable, reasonably accurate, and of a convenient size to where it is not a hassle to take it everywhere. Most modern pickup trucks have enough room behind the back seat to stow a rifle or shotgun. Remember, never leave guns, wallets, handbags, laptops, cell phones, or other valuables in plain sight in an unattended vehicle. Finally, be sure you are in compliance with state and local laws and ordinances when storing or transporting firearms.