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Truck Guns – Things to consider before tossing a firearm in your rig

by David Fortier   |  September 19th, 2017 0
Truck guns are as old as trucks themselves and can be a very handy tool to have in  certain situations. Think about what you  really need first. Photo by Lukas Lamb.

Truck guns are as old as trucks themselves and can be a very handy tool to have in certain situations. Think about what you
really need first. Photo by Lukas Lamb.

Growing up in rural Maine in the 1970s and 1980s, a rifle was as common in a pick-up as a tire iron. A Model 94 .30-30, pump shotgun or .22 rimfire tossed in the “window rack” of a Dodge, Chevy or Ford was viewed as just another tool.

Firearms and trucks simply went together, and nobody gave it no mind. While the world has changed a great deal since the 1970s, my view on having a firearm handy remains the same. I still believe a firearm can be a useful tool and that it’s better to “have one and not need it than need one and not have it.” The question though, is should you have a firearm in your truck, SUV or car? Only you can answer that.

If the thought interests you, the first thing you must consider is the legality of transporting/storing a rifle in your vehicle. Keep in mind, laws vary greatly from state to state and sometimes even from county to county or in differing cities. So the first thing you must do is check your local/state firearms regulations. The research spent here will both inform you and keep you out of trouble. Take your time and be thorough.

Some states allow rifles to be loaded during transport, some do not. Some states require them to be cased with ammunition separate. Firearm laws fluctuate widely, so it’s important to know and understand your local and state firearm laws and abide by them.

For example, what I can do legally here in Kansas will get you arrested in other states. You need to keep this in mind traveling out of state as well. So, start by doing a web search on the laws of your state and then any states you might travel through.

By web search I mean visit the state government websites dealing with transporting firearms. Don’t just trust what you read on a forum or blog. You need to be well versed in what the laws are before you begin.

Once you know how you can legally transport different types of firearms in your vehicle you can then decide what is best for you. In some states transporting a rifle, shotgun or handgun is no big deal. In others your CCW will cover a handgun but a long gun must be cased.

The two schools of thought on truck rifles can be clearly seen with this chopped Berthier in 8mm Lebel and a tricked-out AR carbine. Which is right for you?

The two schools of thought on truck rifles can be clearly seen with this chopped Berthier in 8mm Lebel and a tricked-out AR carbine. Which is right for you?

Certain states get much more restrictive. Depending upon the legalities of your state you should decide whether you desire to have a long gun or a handgun, or both in your vehicle.

In my opinion a truck gun is a special animal. It spends most of its life bouncing around in a vehicle waiting patiently until it’s needed. They tend to lead hard lives, so they have to be able to shrug off any abuse inflicted upon them. Then if called upon, they’re expected to work every time you pull the trigger. A truck gun doesn’t have to be pretty and it doesn’t have to be expensive, but it needs to work when duty calls.

There are two very different schools of thought when it comes to truck guns. The traditional rural blue-collar view of a truck gun I grew up with is for it to be simple in form and cheap. Notice I didn’t say “economical,” but rather “cheap.”

Cheap being important as often it was simply tossed onto the floor to bounce around with the tools and trash. Such a piece was expected to get dinged and scratched. Changing environmental conditions would typically lead to a light coat of rust as well.

So truck guns typically were inexpensive and ugly to start with. Having little value removes any sting if some bottom-feeding scum absconds with it and your Hi-Lift jack some dark night.

Traditional truck guns include poorly sporterized military rifles, inexpensive .22 rimfires, older “budget” sporting rifles in poor condition, police trade-in revolvers and budget shotguns.

For a time, the ever-popular Chinese Type 56 SKS carbine was the king of truck guns. These were inexpensive to buy, fired economical ammunition and were a tough and reliable design that was difficult to hurt.

Shotguns can fire a wide  variety of ammunition types  including birdshot, buckshot, slugs and signaling flares but they lack the range and precision of rifles.

Shotguns can fire a wide
variety of ammunition types
including birdshot, buckshot, slugs and signaling flares but they lack the range and precision of rifles.

However, in recent years even the SKS has climbed in value and price. Single-shot and inexpensive pump-action shotguns have also long been popular due to the variety of ammunition they can fire. A common 12-gauge can fire not only birdshot, buckshot and slugs, but even signaling flares.

An excellent example of a traditional truck rifle was carried by a colleague in his old Chevy pick-up. It consisted of a horribly “sporterized” Italian Modello 1938 Carcano carbine chambered in the oddball 7.35x51mm cartridge.

To claim it was “ugly” would be an understatement. It had been “Bubba-ized.” With the stock hacked and the metal rusted there really wasn’t any more damage you could do to it. Such a piece is worth so little it is unlikely to be stolen.

While it was chambered for an oddball cartridge, he had a healthy supply of Italian ball ammo loaded in clips. Although ugly, with a rough action, it went bang and hit where he was aiming. I simply shook my head when he showed it to me.

The second school of thought is to have a quality rifle you like and respect available in your vehicle. Something you wouldn’t hesitate to reach for if the chips are down.

Like many of you, a hacked Carcano, butchered Mauser or a beat-up SKS would be on the bottom of my list if choosing a rifle to protect my family with. So then, why would I keep one in my vehicle “just in case?”

Why not have a modern rifle with the features you want? Maybe you don’t leave it in the truck overnight and maybe you keep it cased to protect it. The end result though is a much more effective piece if the chips are down.

An example of this type of truck rifle would include Modern Sporting Rifles like ARs and AKs, as well as high-end sporting rifles.

Thanks to the recent presidential election, AR-15 rifles are currently very inexpensive. Factory-built rifles can be had at bargain prices and you can build your own for even less. Thanks to the current low prices, even if you are on a tight budget, it is possible to buy or build an AR just for your vehicle.

It seems as if Palmetto State Armory for example, has one jaw dropping deal after another on their website. An AR-15 type rifle or carbine makes for a great truck gun. While AK-type rifles have climbed in value, one of these would also be very well suited for this job.

An AK with an under-fold or side-folding stock makes for a very compact package that’s easily stored even when space is at a premium. They are simple, reliable, easy to run and “accurate enough.” Better still, magazines, parts, accessories and quality ammunition is readily available.

Whether you go the “pawn shop special” or expensive route, a truck gun should possess a few traits. First off, it should be reliable. It’s especially important to check older guns for issues.

Along with a firearm you should consider storing a good trauma kit in your vehicle, just in case. The life it might save could be your own. Photo by Alfredo Rico.

Along with a firearm you should consider storing a good trauma kit in your vehicle, just in case. The life it might save could be your own. Photo by Alfredo Rico.

I’ve encountered all manner of problems with classic military bolt guns. Age, use and abuse can take their toll, on even very reliable designs. I’ve seen Mausers with weak mainsprings, Mosins with feeding issues, Enfields with broken extractors and MAS 36s with broken firing pins.

All of them looked good to go at first glance. Only a trip to the range revealed their flaws. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because your pawn shop special is a member of the So and So family that it has to work. Take it out and verify that it does operate correctly with no issues.

Once you are sure it goes bang every time, you need to verify it hits where you aim it. If it wears iron sights or some type of optic, you need to decide on how you want to zero it. Should you zero a rifle at 25, 50, 100, 200 or 300 yards? What about a handgun? Do you even need to check a shotgun?

I suppose I am a product of New England, but even living in Kansas where the land is flat and the distances are long, I still typically zero a rifle at 200 yards. I also think it is very important to pattern a shotgun with the loads you intend on using.

Different types and brands of buckshot can pattern very differently from one another. Slugs may not have the same point of impact as buckshot. So it’s important to figure all this out before you need to use it.

If the piece feeds from detachable box magazines make sure you use good quality magazines of known reliability. Always remember the magazine is the weak link of any repeating or autoloading design. I also suggest having a spare or two handy.

If it’s a traditional military bolt gun that can be loaded with stripper clips, I recommend having a few loaded and available. They will speed loading and make storing and carrying spare ammunition easier. Reloading with stripper clips is very fast with a bit of practice. I’ve ridden in many pick-ups where the ammunition was carried in the ash tray or scattered about the center console. Try to be a bit more organized with a system.

I also suggest good quality new production ammunition. Don’t just buy the cheapest load you can find, either. If your piece is being carried for coyote eradication, hunting and personal protection, then a proper modern expanding bullet is in order.

In the case of my friend with the Carcano, he carried vintage Mannlicher clips loaded with original 1938 dated 7.35mm ball. Ammunition this old, especially when you don’t know how it was stored, can have all sorts of problems and may misfire when you need it most. So spend $20 to $40 on quality ammunition.

When I say reliable, that also extends to any widgets you add to the rifle. This would include a mount for an optic, the optic itself, a white light, bipod or anything else you might bolt on. Some readers will be in the “iron sights only and nothing but a sling” club. This keeps the rifle simple and robust.

If you wish to add an optic or other accessory, just make sure they are quality items not likely to fail. Bouncing and vibrating around during a life spent in a 4×4 can be hard on an optic.

Personally, I prefer a red dot over irons and think a sling and white light are a must on a rifle intended for self-protection. In certain states though, a white light can get you in trouble with spotlighting/poaching ordnances. This is just something else to keep in mind.

I prefer something fairly compact for use in and around vehicles. The shorter the piece is, the easier it is to get in and out of vehicles with. Storing a compact piece is also much easier than a longer piece. Due to this I prefer shorter 16- to 18-inch barreled carbines. Folding stocks offer a distinct advantage. Collapsible designs help to reduce length, but not as much as a piece which folds.

Being able to take down a piece, such as removing an AR’s upper receiver from its lower, can also aid stowage. Ruger, Henry and Marlin all offer take-down .22 rimfires that are very popular.

John Browning also designed a number of take-down pump action shotguns during his career. While some models like the Winchester M12 and M1897 fetch high prices, others like the Stevens 520/620 series can often be found at bargain basement prices. Take-down guns store very easily, but they require extra time to reassemble before they can be put into action.

When it comes to caliber, it depends upon what your particular needs are. If self-protection is the only concern, then a 9mm Parabellum, 5.56x45mm or 7.62x39mm may be more than adequate. You might prefer something which packs more punch if big game is in the mix, particularly bear/moose.

The 6.5x50mmSR Arisaka, 6.5x52mm Carcano, 6.5x55mm, 7x57mm, 7.5x54mm French, .303 British, 7.62x54mmR and 8x57mm can all give yeoman service if loaded with proper bullets.

An oddball military caliber like some of these might work if you don’t plan on shooting the piece frequently. In the days of my youth I packed a French M1892 Berthier carbine in 8x50mmR Lebel in my Chevy half-ton with handloads. I bought it at a gun show when I was 14, never had a problem with it and still own it today. While 8x50mmR Lebel is a real oddball, it is still in production with Prvi Partizan doing short runs now and again.

My only comment here is if I am going to pack a long gun, I want an honest to God rifle and not a pistol caliber carbine. I already have a pistol on me, if I am reaching for a long gun it means I want all the benefits of a rifle including, terminal/exterior ballistics. I’ve talked to many folks who are very concerned with overpenetration. In my opinion, range and penetration are the great virtues of a rifle. It allows you to shoot through things.

Folding stocks, as seen on this Kalashnikov, greatly reduce overall length, making storage easier, yet an be easily unfolded for use in an emergency.

Folding stocks, as seen on this Kalashnikov, greatly reduce overall length, making storage easier, yet an be easily unfolded for use in an emergency.

However, if you are one of those who wring his hands at the thought of a rifle caliber long gun I suggest simply selecting the right ammunition. As just one example, Hornady’s .308 Win. 110-grain TAP load will offer a dramatic step up in performance over a handgun, yet offer greatly reduced penetration. Use your head, do some research and simply select the right load for the job.

If you intend on leaving a rifle in your vehicle full time, you should do what you can to prevent theft. I live in rural America with very little crime, but even so we need to be responsible.

To start, I do not recommend having gun stickers on the exterior of your vehicle. I also suggest using common sense and not leaving a rifle in plain view. Window tint can also aid in keeping prying eyes at bay.

You should also consider ways to physically secure it. This could be as simple as a length of steel cable bolted to the vehicle at one end and secured to the action of the rifle with a padlock. Or it could be more elaborate.

There is a myriad of options for securing a gun in a vehicle at price points on both ends of the spectrum. A quick internet search will bring up a variety of ways to secure a firearm. Again, this is not rocket science. Pick one which best suits your particular needs.

Some will say storing a firearm in a vehicle is wrong and asking for it to be stolen as you leave it unattended when you are not in the vehicle. My answer is, you leave your firearms unattended when you leave your house. Others will say there is no viable need for a truck gun as you will never likely use it. The only firearm you need is your carry pistol.

My friend with the old chopped 7.35mm Carcano would disagree. It saved his life one day during an assault and proved yet again it’s better to have a cheap gun than no gun.

I grew up in a time and place where truck guns were just a staple of life. They were looked upon as simple tools to ride in the window rack or behind the seat. Like a spare tire, they were seldom needed but you were glad to have them along just the same. I’ve carried a variety of rifles and shotguns over the years, but today prefer a Modern Sporting Rifle, typically an AR. What works for me though may not be right for where you live and your particular needs.

A truck gun is a personal thing, like the truck itself. You just need to decide what best fits you. If you have any thoughts or comments drop me an email at David.Fortier@Outdoorsg.com.

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