September 23, 2010
Some of the author's favorite truck guns include (top to bottom) his Blaser R-93 in .308, a Grizzly Custom scout rifle in .308, and Kimber's little Montana in .223.
If, like me, you spend a great deal of time bouncing around on a ranch or in the back country, I'd wager you keep some sort of long gun handy. I carry one because I never know when I might need it to drop a marauding pig or predator, take out a cull buck, or confront a group of "foreign exchange students" crossing the South Texas ranch I hunt in pursuit of the good life. I don't have a problem with most of them, but an increasing number of violent criminals are walking across these days, and you can't be too careful.
I refer to these firearms as truck guns. By truck gun, I don't mean a road hunting rig; true hunters don't drive around and shoot big-game animals out the truck window. Rather, I am talking about the kind of tool you keep behind or between the seats just in case. Be it a rabid raccoon, a quick morning hunt on the way to work, or dealing with some slimy scoundrel with bad intentions, a truck gun can solve just about any problem that requires the precise application of copper-jacketed lead.
Selecting a truck gun is simply a matter of taking your environs into consideration. Folks in the eastern states often lean towards pump or lever guns for the heavily wooded areas typical of that area. A good bolt action is almost a lock out West, where the shots are long. When I choose a rifle for a trip to the lease, the first things I take into consideration are what I may need to shoot and the distances at which I am most likely to shoot it. For example, my off-season gun is usually a .223 bolt gun because predator control and self-defense are the main reasons I'll chamber a round that time of year. If I do see a boar that needs shooting, a 69-grain MatchKing behind the ear will write "paid" across any pig's account.
The gun I choose during deer season is usually chambered for a more powerful cartridge, but it will share certain traits with my off-season rifle. Chief among them are a short barrel and lively handling qualities. That's because a short-barreled rig is much faster and easier to bring into action in the close confines of a truck cab. Compact size and lively handling also help get the gun on target quicker, a must when trying to get a shot on a wily coyote.
Whether I'm tracking a client's wounded deer, culling, or hunting, my rifle of choice is usually some sort of .308 bolt gun. The short-action cartridge is easy on the shoulder, and it's powerful enough to drop any deer. The compact guns I prefer are as handy in the brush when I'm rattling whitetails in close cover as they are in the truck.
Selecting the right cartridge for your truck gun is pretty straightforward. Simply decide what you are most likely to use your gun for and pick a cartridge to match. For varmints and predators, a fast .22 centerfire is a good bet. I like the .223, but the .22-250 or .220 Swift may be a better choice if you live in the wide-open West. If bigger game is on the menu, a little more power is in order. I am fond of the .308 for such work, but whatever cartridge you like for deer will work just fine.
A custom Marlin in .45-70 (top) was Greg's favorite truck gun when he outfitted in the Piney Woods of East Texas. Now he carries a short T/C in .223 (bottom) quite often when only predators are on the menu. Both guns are fast and easy to bring to bear from the cab of the truck.
With the exception of my peep sight-equipped lever guns, most of my truck guns are equipped with optics. I prefer a compact scope in the 2-7X or 3-9X range with an objective lens in the 36 to 42mm range. A little more magnification is okay if you live where the shots are long, but you don't need a bug-eyed monster with a 56mm objective. Keep your scope turned down to 3 or 4X for rapid target acquisition. If the shot is long, you'll probably have time to dial up more power if you need it, but you'll appreciate that wide field of view when a coyote jumps up right in front of you.
I've carried a veritable smorgasbord of truck guns over the years. When I hunted a great deal in the Piney Woods region of East Texas, I packed a peep-sighted lever gun. I started out with my old 1940s-era Winchester Model 94, but switched to a Marlin Guide Gun in .45-70 for its increased power and penetration because blood trails are a must in the deep woods.
When I started outfitting in South Texas where the shots are longer and the deer are bigger than in East Texas, I decided to go with a flatter-shooting cartridge than the .45-70. I quickly settled on the .308 for its combination of power, accuracy, manageable recoil, and excellent performance from the short barrels I prefer.
I usually pack one of two .308s these days. My main gun is a Blaser R-93 Professional with a short barrel and a Zeiss 2.5-10X with illuminated dot reticle. The Blaser is lightweight, compact, and incredibly accurate. The Zeiss scope's dot reticle is super fast on target in any light and more than precise enough for anything I'll ever do with that gun. Its compact size makes it easy to handle in the truck and a pleasure to pack in the woods.
My other .308 is a custom scout rifle built on a Model 70 action by the folks at Grizzly Custom. Though its low-power scope limits its range and its forward placement is not ideal for low-light work, its compact size and light weight make it a joy to carry. I don't hunt with it much, but I use it to trail wounded animals often because its forward-mounted scout scope makes it exceptionally fast on target.
Last season, I was guiding a friend who wounded an elk with his semiauto .308. We'd been trying to find the wounded bull for the better part of an hour when we jumped it at the edge of some thick brush. My buddy raised his long-barreled AR, but he couldn't find the elk in his scope. Just before it disappeared, I threw my little scout rifle to my shoulder and dropped the trotting elk with a quick neck shot. I might have been able to pull off that shot with a conventional rig, but the scout setup made it easy.
One of my favorite .223s is the ultralight, little Kimber Montana. The compact, featherweight rig weighs next to nothing with its little Leupold 2.5-8X, but it's deadly accurate and fun to shoot. My new T/C Venture Predator in .22-250 topped with a compact Nikon 3-9X is another excellent off-season rig.
Your ideal truck gun will be determined as much by your budget and taste as by where
and what you shoot with it. I've seen everything from surplus Garands to Mini-14s and ancient, well-worn lever guns pressed into such service. They'll all get the job done, but I'll take a svelte turnbolt every time.