Trunk Guns

By CTD Blogger published on in Firearms

There is much debate over what makes the best trunk gun so to understand where the concept of a trunk gun came from, let’s go back a few years. Traditionally, farmers and ranchers had a ranch rifle hanging in the back of the pickup truck. The role of the rifle was to enable the easy elimination of varmints or to put down injured horses or livestock. Nowadays, many farmers and ranchers still keep a durable rifle hung in the window or stashed behind the seat for the same reason.

Black Kel-Tec Carbine facing left on a white background.

The Kel-Tec is a modern minimalist design that gets the job done.

In addition to the traditional reasons for toting along a truck or trunk gun, many people in urban and suburban environments see the usefulness of having a rifle somewhat readily available in the trunk of a car for self-defense and general preparedness. For preparedness-minded individuals, the trunk gun is often paired up with a BOB (Bug Out Bag).

Without getting into the specifics or whether you need a trunk gun, let’s discuss the types of rifles that are commonly used as trunks guns. A good trunk gun should be:

  • Supremely reliable
  • Durable
  • Capable of operating in dirty and dusty environments
  • Not particularly susceptible to rust.

Cost is another issue, as a trunk gun may be subject to more wear and tear, and it’d be a shame to have a thousand-dollar rifle beat up from riding behind the seat of your pickup.


Carbines are one obvious option, as the shorter barrel lengths make them easier to transport. The next question is, do you go with a pistol-caliber carbine or a rifle-caliber carbine? We’ve discussed the advantages of having a pistol caliber carbine in the past.

A number of rifles fit this bill ranging from the various lever-action Marlins available in .357 and .44 Magnum to autoloading carbines that share pistol magazines like the Ruger PC9, the Hi Point carbine and the Kel-Tec Sub-2000. The Sub-2000 also has the distinct advantage of folding in half for an overall length of just 16 inches. Both the Hi Point and the Kel-Tec have synthetic stocks which adds to durability.

The Hi Point 995 Carbine is probably the least expensive carbine of this group, although it only uses 10-round Hi Point magazines and does not fold like the Sub-2000. The Sub-2000 can be bought in configurations able to use Glock, SIG, Smith & Wesson or Beretta magazines, including high-capacity 30-round mags. A lever-action in .357 or .44 Magnum has significantly more power than the Hi Point however and without a detachable magazine it is slower to reload.

Stepping up a bit to rifles chambered in larger calibers such as 7.62×39 and .30-30, we have the ever-popular (and generally very inexpensive) SKS and the venerable .30-30.

The SKS is generally fed by stripper clips into a fixed magazine, though some conversions are available to convert them to use detachable AK-47 magazines. Like their pistol caliber shooting brethren, the Winchester 94 and Marlin lever-action .30-30 rifles also have a fixed magazine tube, making reloading more difficult and time-consuming. Because ammunition for the lever-action rifle is generally kept in a bandoleer or sling, we’d have to give the nod to the SKS in this comparison.

While it too has a fixed magazine, high-capacity 20-round magazines and ability to quickly reload using stripper clips give it a slight advantage. While the .30-30 is slightly more powerful than the 7.62×39, we feel the power difference is offset by the ability to quickly reload the SKS.

Detachable Box Magazine-Fed Rifles

Magpul PMAG with dust cover

Magpul PMAG with dust cover

Another option is the detachable box magazine fed rifle. Basically, this group is divided into intermediate and full-size rifle cartridge firing long guns.

AK-47s, AR-15s, Mini-14s and Mini-30s are all fine examples of intermediate caliber rifles. The Mini-14 and Mini-30 are very similar rifles apart from caliber, and Ruger markets both as Ranch Rifles; a clear indication of their intended roles as truck guns. The primary drawback of the Mini-14 and Mini-30 is that they use proprietary Ruger magazines, instead of the more readily available AR or AK magazines.

In the AR vs. AK comparison, we feel that the AK wins out when equipped with a folding stock. The fact that it can easily be bought or outfitted with a folding stock means that the AK style rifle can more easily be stashed in a small trunk or even a duffel bag. The AK is also slightly more reliable and can be abused and neglected in ways that the AR cannot.

If you choose to go the AR route, we recommend getting magazine covers or using Magpul PMags with dust covers, as well as using a muzzle cover to keep dust and dirt out of your rifle and magazines. In fact, the shoo-off muzzle cover is a valuable accessory for any trunk gun.

Full Size Rifles

In the full-size rifle category, your options for a “cheap” box-fed semiautomatic rifle are fairly limited. For example, the CETME, FAL, Saiga and AR-10/LR 308. I’m limiting discussion to these rifles as they are relatively inexpensive, while at the same time very durable.

Century built CETMEs, as well as Saigas in .308, can be found for around $500 and FALs are available for around $650, making these three decently priced rifles. The AR-10 and LR-308 are more expensive, usually just under $1,000, making them fairly expensive for a trunk gun.

Among the other three, the AK-based Saiga is generally the most reliable. While the FAL and CETME are both fine rifles, the FAL has been known to a bit finicky about the gas adjustment and the quality of CETMEs built by Century is questioned by some. All three of these rifles shoot about a 2-3 MOA group, so accuracy is decent enough. AR-10s and LR 308s are more accurate; both are capable of shooting 1 MOA or less at 100 yards. If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck in a durable truck gun, we have to give the nod to the Saiga in .308.

Bolt-Action Rifles

It’s hard to argue against buying a $90 bolt-action rifle. Look around a bit and you’re sure to find Mosin Nagants with an affordable price tag. While they may not be the prettiest rifles, it’s pretty easy to justify spending a small amount of cash on a rifle you can toss behind a pickup seat or in the trunk of your car. Toss in a couple of stripper clips of cheap mil-surp 7.62x54R and you’ve got a really inexpensive trunk gun and more than 400 rounds of ammunition for a good price.

Mosin Nagant M1891/30

Mosin Nagant M1891/30

It may not be the fastest to reload, and if you’re just hauling it around as a “just in case” rifle, it fits the bill just fine. An alternative would be Lee Enfield rifles. The Jungle Carbine model is a short-barreled version firing the British .303 round and is short enough to fit in even the smallest trunks.


Some people prefer shotguns as a trunk gun, especially in areas where it may not be legal to transport a loaded rifle. With their ability to fire a variety of rounds, shotguns can be effective from point-blank range all the way out to 100 yards, or more, with a good slug.

Pump action shotguns are generally the most popular, with the Remington 870, Mossberg 500/590A1 and the Winchester 1300 rounding out the top choices. There are many accessories for these three shotguns, including folding stocks, tactical rails and so on, so you can customize your shotty however you like. Most of these models are also easy to find for less than $300.

Not all jurisdictions allow transporting loaded firearms, and some frown on transporting firearms at all unless traveling directly to or from a range. As always, make sure to observe local laws when considering whether to get a trunk gun.

What model do you use as a trunk gun? What made you choose that one? Share in the comment section.

This article originally published on January 4, 2011.

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Comments (81)

  • Gringo


    I do not disagree with anyone’s choice but share my comments. In the early 1970s, I was a police officer and carried a mini 14 in the car and later as a state park ranger. IT HAS NEVER, EVER, FAILED. Now, on active duty, I never had an M16 fail, never. But, my commercial AR 15s fail when dirty, probably the much tighter chamber, and I see them fail often at my range. Nothing wrong with a pump shotgun either. Now, we travel out of state a lot in an RV…I never carry an AR out of state unless I have a very specific reason. What I do carry is either a Marlin or Rossi 357 or a Win 94, in 30-30. If you shoot anything with an AR out of state, there is an automatic stigma attached. If you are camping, and shoot a bear or a psycho raiding the camp at night, you will have less suspicion. Must my old law enforcement mentality I suppose. FWIW


  • RL Diehl


    After much consideration, I went with the Kel-Tec SU-16. I chose the non-folding stock version because it still fits easily in my trunk and can store 2 10-round mags. This along with two 30-round mags clamped together gives me 80 rounds RIGHT ON THE RIFLE! [BTW, does anybody know of a combat-style sling for the K-T? I can’t find any with a way to attach to the barrel or forend.] Just the ticket for grab-and-go. I had considered a .45 ACP carbine but couldn’t find one that shared magazine compatibility with my 1911. Odd, as the 1911 is so popular. Plus, my environment is the Arizona desert where the ability to reach out beyond 75-100 yards might be a good thing.


  • sonny


    Shocked no one mentioned the mini 14…..with 30 rounds of .223 it is a formindable and very reliable weapon….one of the best for eating any cheap ammo out there…I never had a jam….even with russian ammo..tullu..silver bear ect.


  • Ron


    Yeah, I have some of the 60gr Aquila subsonic. Oddly, I’ve been able to buy Aquila when no other was available.. Mexican origin I suppose. I hadn’t thought about it but my little Nylon 66 is a pistol caliber carbine and with 14 rounds of hot Aquila not a bad choice for a trunk gun. It has a reputation of being very reliable. Come to think of it the Ruger 10/22 is another good choice with an extended mag.


  • Phantom30


    Ron, You’re on the right track. Try the 60gr Aquila subsonic. Its only purpose is for the sniper. Think about it in an AR with a conversion kit. The 1:7 or 9 twist is perfect for stabilizing this round in a short barrel. The sound and recoil are also great for the female side as well at the light weight and compact frame. Remember the 5.56×45 is typically a 55 or 62 grain bullet. But when your shooting subsonic the extra powder capacity is not relevant, so the 22LR 60 gr is an affordable substitute.


  • Phantom30


    Richard from AZ, Your last post was about as fair and balance a response anyone could expect. Thanks. The round as you read was developed for both CQB with subsonic ammo and equal utility for other M4 missions. Its the middle ground between the 5.56 and the 458 SOCOM. This blogging trail has taught me something important about the use of 300 BLK. The rounds must be fully crimped or you could have the 223 miss load and blow up problem because of the commonality between weapons. Crimping adds a small measure of increased safety. I am also going to label my charging handles to clearly show caliber in addition.. And add other markings to the upper receivers.


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