The Truck Gun

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Guest Posts, Preparedness, Rifles, Shotguns

It is funny how we sometimes let fashion take the place of utility. I am glad I have reached a certain age where comfort is more important than ego.

The Beretta Storm carbine in black on a white background, facing left.

The author has the greatest respect for the Beretta Storm carbine. It has proven accurate and reliable. In .40 caliber Smith and Wesson, the Storm is very impressive.

Oh, I have a well-developed sense of self, and pride of ownership in a number things, and I do not let it rule the day. My 20-year-old truck exhibits perhaps a square-inch without a ding or scratch and the odometer is rapidly reaching 300,000 miles. However, it has been well maintained and is as comfortable as an old shoe. The 4WD Ranger is saved for weekends and Pretty Girl’s use. When it comes to firearms, I enjoy a good 1911 and a Winchester ’95, although they are not often found behind the seat of the old truck.

When I mention “truck gun,” I think we all know what I mean. It may be useful and it will get the job done but it isn’t pretty.

Do You Want Your Best Looking Gun Tumbling Around, Getting Dinged Up?

A lot of interesting conversation may revolve around the truck gun. It seems some base their choice upon an apocalyptic nightmare that never comes. I fear some seem to hope for such an occurrence. Having traveled a bit, and lived through harrowing times, I pray for peace and quiet. Just the same, I like something to fill my hand if need be. I have always kept some type of truck gun. As a cop it was the “trunk gun,” and for many of you it will be a trunk gun as well. However, today I am seeing folks engage in the practice who were not once “gun folks.” Events such as Katrina and other natural disasters, mixed with a bit of mob rule, have convinced these good folks that a spare tire and a gun are a good combination.

I agree.

Blond haired woman in a turquoise shirt and white shorts shows off the Para Commander .45 while leaning against a gray truck.

Well it is a truck and it is a gun—the author’s favorite truck and favorite girl. The Para Commander .45 is pretty good too.

Not long ago, I took my daughter and her cousin on a pleasant trip. As we loaded the truck, my daughter thought nothing of the Remington 870 I placed behind the seat. The magazine and shell carrier included a mix of Buckshot and Fiocchi Aereo slugs. Her cousin gave me an inquiring look. I told her, “I like to stay at the top of the food chain.” Truck guns once hung on a rifle rack in the rear window of a truck. Those days are gone as we may as well hang a sign on the gun saying, “steal me.”

If the truck is dedicated to the farm or ranch, fine, but otherwise the firearm should be deployed in a low-key manner. Personal defense wasn’t the issue for the most part. These firearms were used to take out pests and varmints and occasionally a predator that would take the chickens or calves. Occasionally, livestock had to be put down. A good .22, a shotgun or a .30-30 were common. There firearms remain more useful to most of us than an AR 15 rifle or a pistol caliber carbine. I really do not care to leave my $2,000 rifle in the trunk of a vehicle and you probably won’t either. But a handy .30-30 will solve a lot of problems and take game efficiently. And never discount a .410. If you have used a .410 slug on coyote, you know exactly what I mean. A thinking person today may just deploy the SKS rifle instead of a .30-30. Load it with Hornady’s accurate JSP loading and you will have a fine combination.

Will a .410 do the business? The author finds the .410 a great truck gun and the Mossberg a good choice.

Will a .410 do the business? The author finds the .410 a great truck gun and the Mossberg a good choice.

Another reason we do not wish to keep a nicer example of the gunmaker’s art stashed in the trunk is wear and tear. These things tend to get beat up, dinged on the vehicle door as they are deployed and generally mistreated. The trunk gun needs to be a model of reliability and low maintenance. This leaves out a number of the modern self-loaders. Optical sights do not survive well bouncing in the trunk of the Highlander. Resistance to corrosion is another factor. It gets damp and humid over the course of our four-season climate. An occasional wipe down shows respect for a reliable friend but the trunk gun isn’t going to get a lot of attention.

A black Rock Island .45 with a wood grained grip, pointing to the right on a white background.

The Rock Island .45 is the truck gun of 1911s.

The trunk gun, like my short barrel Remington, should be short and fast handling. A carbine rather than a rifle is indicated if you deploy a cartridge gun. A shotgun should also be short and light if that is your pick. A good .22 rifle such as the Ruger 10/22 is a versatile and viable choice useful in many situations. The caliber of the centerfire would depend more upon available ammunition than anything else. Any good centerfire beginning with the .223 Remington is viable given a good marksman. The .30-30 is useful and while I shy away from pistol caliber carbines, the .357 Magnum Rossi carbine has much to recommend. The Remington pump action rifles in .223 and .308 Winchester are wonderfully accurate but perhaps a little more expensive than the concept allows. They sure are good guns however.

When we look at truck guns, we realize that we do not need match-grade accuracy, we simply need something that will get the job done. Fast handling and quick into action, the lever action carbine has much to recommend. So do the pump-action shotgun. Personal defense becomes more important in times of crisis. Human predators and animals as well seem to thrive on natural disruptions. If you are armed with a handgun, you have thought ahead but the long gun will be a better choice if you face multiple assailants and if they are heavily armed. If something is standing in my way of getting home, I want a reliable and powerful firearm capable of tilting the odds in my favor. When traveling, I usually take the more modern four door truck. It isn’t a problem to store away a long gun and a bandolier of ammunition. My area, and my predilection, means the shotgun is a first choice. My example is a rifle sighted Remington that is useful to 100 yards with the Fiocchi slug. I have sometimes deployed a Ruger 10/22 with Ruger’s ultra reliable 25-round magazine. This is a true precision rifle in good hands that will take game and drop a bad actor with an eye socket hit. I like a slim and lightweight rig, although I am not planning on hiking with the gun.

Some Other Trunk Gun Options

The Ruger Standard Model .22 with a white grip lying on top of a light brown holster on a white background.

This Ruger Standard Model .22 will handle a lot of chores. It is a good truck gun for those opportunities for plinking or taking small game.

There are many different choices and many are as good or better than mine. As long the firearm doesn’t have extraneous and fragile gear hanging off of it, and it may be deployed quickly, it is a good choice.

As an example, I have recently finished a test and evaluation of the Rock Island Armory 12 gauge shotgun. With a durable finish, heat shield, synthetic speed feed stock and modest price tag, this is a best buy in a truck gun. I like my old Remingtons, but recently broke a trigger pin during a hard tactical course. The arsenal is aging and the RIA 12 gauge just may take up residence in the Ranger. Utilitarian is good, but I really would prefer something more than a single-shot shotgun or rifle.

Among the reasons is that I will never keep a long gun in the truck with the chamber loaded. However, the Rossi single shot features a transfer bar firing mechanism and it is safe to do so with this firearm. Never keep the chamber loaded in old style single-shot shotguns! While OK for field use, I simply prefer more than one shot at the ready.

Safety is important. It only takes a moment to make a bolt gun, lever-action rifle or a pump-action shotgun ready. It is quickly done as you bring the piece to the shoulder. I keep my long guns behind the seat in a padded Uncle Mike’s bag in the appropriate size. With the end unzipped the deployment is slowed, but little.

If I had a real need for an AR-15 rifle in the truck— and anything is possible—then I would want a good one. This means the Daniel Defense rifle for me. Absolutely reliable, accurate and fast handling, I have not found another AR-15 that suits me as well as this one. Loaded with my favorite all-around load, the 60-grain JSP, this rifle could solve a lot of problems, including getting me home. I keep it loaded with military test proven magazines. However, I have not seen the need for such a deployment yet. And, while I have a bias for any type of glass on a truck gun, I have used the simple and reliable Bushnell First Strike on both the Daniel Defense rifle and the Raptor shotgun. I like it, particularly in dim light.

The Handgun as a Trunk Gun

Handguns as trunk guns often have a different meaning. These are often a less expensive or less valued handgun that may be left stored in the vehicle, as when one is at work or traveling. They are not so expensive that their loss would be an economic hardship. The handgun as a trunk gun is a fertile field for discussion. Canvassing my friends, I was surprised to find two Tokarev TT 33 clones in the group.

A Black Tokarev Zastava on a mottled gray background.

Quite a few savvy shooters pack the Tokarev as a truck gun. The top runner for performance is the Zastava version.

One friend runs a pawnshop and occasionally shoots the more interesting pistols that come through. He enjoyed the 7.62mm Tokarev a lot. He reasoned that if he needed a gun on the road it might be best to have a piece with good sheet metal penetration. I cannot fault his choice. Another acquaintance has dropped numerous coyote with the same type and caliber. Another friend keeps a Zastava 9mm version of the Tokarev as a truck gun. This is a pistol with a longer grip and greater magazine capacity than the original. I have tested an example and found it accurate and reliable. The slide-mounted safety is among the few of the type that is handy and works well. At less than $300 new, this is a great truck gun.

Two handguns, one on top of the other on a gray hunter's shirt as a background.

These are very capable handguns but not terribly expensive. Standard calibers work just fine as truck guns.

Others mentioned an eclectic assortment of handguns ranging from a ragged old .32 Smith and Wesson to a Polish Radom 9mm. My personal choices include a couple of capable but inexpensive handguns. It depends upon what chores I have planned for the day and where the day may lead.

One of the finest truck guns I have ever owned is inexpensive, but I would hate to part with it. It is a modern, fixed-sight, four-inch barrel Ruger GP 100. This is a tank of a revolver.

  • It is more accurate than I can hold and snag proof like no other revolver.
  • There are no adjustable sights to snag, and there is no hammer.
  • The hand filling Hogue grips diminish recoil.
  • The 125-grain JHP breaks at about 1350 fps from this revolver. If the Pretty Girl and I were in bear territory I might go heavier in weight, but this load is pretty darned powerful.

I like the Ruger a great deal. I keep it in a rug behind the truck seat: Legal in my state and it goes without saying check legalities, in your home state and city!

The truck gun is sometimes left in the truck and at times carried. Among my favorite styles in a carry gun is a short barrel .45 ACP. Testing and evaluating handguns with an open mind has indeed broadened my mind and tastes past the 1911. Among the most useful, ergonomic and generally friendly defense guns in the battery is a humble Taurus PT 145 Millennium. This beast holds 10 rounds of .45 ACP in a comfortable grip. The pistol has never failed to feed, chamber fire or eject. I was lucky enough to find an example with night sights. This model is now discontinued, and I would be lucky to be allowed $200 on a trade in. However, the Taurus .45 carries light, hits hard and is one of the most useful light guns I own.

Whatever you keep in the truck, practice! The author’s favorite truck gun is the Remington 870.

Whatever you keep in the truck, practice! The author’s favorite truck gun is the Remington 870.

I could go on, but these few firearms illustrate the spirit of the truck gun. My choice is good for my needs, and hopefully yours will fit your needs just as well. Humble, little appreciated and vital, the truck gun is an important part of Americana.

What is your favorite truck (or trunk) gun. Share your preferences in the comment section.

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

Tags: , , , ,

The mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, "The Shooter's Log," is to provide information-not opinions-to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!