Top 5 Truck Guns
Affordable rifles under $500 (almost) you can keep in your truck or 4x4.
Let's address the elephant gun in the room: With maybe one or two exceptions, none of the rifles on this list are typical truck guns. Traditionally a "truck gun" is a shotgun or rifle either of very short scale, with a folding stock, or one that can collapsed into a tight, small package. In any case, a truck gun should be small enough to easily store under or behind a truck seat or stash inconspicuously somewhere else inside a vehicle, and it should be powerful enough to get whatever job you require of it done. This list is a bit unconventional, but it's also being written by a guy who put a Shortstar V-6 in a flatfender, a Cadillac engine in a Ramcharger, and whose main trail Jeep has five shifters. So perhaps instead of "Top 5 Truck Guns," we should've called it something more like "Top 5 Affordable Rifles That Are Useful for Vermin Eradication, Plinking, and Maybe Hunting That Are Legal Almost Anywhere in the USA and Won't Make You Cry if They Get Knocked Around, Dinged, Dented, or Rained On." But that title doesn't exactly roll off the tongue—and it makes you a little dizzy if you try to say it all in one breath. We're not the end-all-be-all in firearms experts, and there are more classic truck guns out there. After all, we're truck and Jeep guys here, and you don't handle every new firearm that comes on the market. So, with that caveat, here are five options to consider that should be legal for most places in the USA for those like us who would rather put the majority of our money into our 4x4s than the firearms we carry inside them.
Marlin 336, 30-30 Caliber
Picture an old pickup with a rifle slung across the rear window in a gun rack, and your mind will most likely conjure an image of an old cowboy lever-action. There are a stupid number of great lever-action rifles that fire pistol cartridges like .38 Special/.357 Magnum, .44 Special/Magnum, .45 Long Colt (the list goes on and on). Or, for that matter, there's a dizzying array of rifle calibers like .308, 45-70, .338 Win Mag, and more. But none is as ubiquitous to the American landscape as the good ol' .30 WCF (Winchester Center Fire), aka, the 30-30. It was introduced as a smokeless cartridge in 1895, and ballistically speaking under 200 yards, the 30-30 cartridge is no slouch. It has dropped pretty much every game animal on the North American continent including deer, sheep, antelope, elk, and even moose. Winchester introduced the 30-30 in its John Browning-designed Model 1894 rifle, which arguably wins the sex appeal competition when compared with the Marlin 336, which came on the scene as an upgraded version of the company's Model 36 in 1948. Whichever your preference, for us the Marlin 336 seems a little easier to find for under $500. The side-eject on the Marlin allows you to run a scope (if that's your thing), whereas the Winchester 94 ejects on the top, and ergonomically we just prefer handling the Marlin over the Winchester. Either is a top-flight truck gun that will serve a more than a lifetime of dutiful use.
What: Marlin 336
When Made: 1948-present
Caliber: .30 Winchester Center Fire, aka 30-30
Common Capacity: 5 or 6 depending on barrel/magazine tube length
Expect to Pay Used: $300-$500
SKS, 7.62x39 Caliber
The SKS, which in commie-speak stands for Samozaryadny Karabin sistemy Simonova (say that three times fast), was introduced to Soviet-bloc forces in the late 1940s and is still in service with some countries today. Over the course of the design's life it's been produced by several nations, each modifying the design slightly to suit different needs or address different issues. There are really too many variants and differences to discuss in a short paragraph, but no matter which SKS model you select, whether Russian, Chinese, Yugoslavian, Romanian (the list goes on), reliability and ease of use will be strong suits. That is, as long as you leave it stock and don't bubba it up with aftermarket stocks, magazines, and other doo-dads. The SKS has an internal 10-round magazine that loads quickly either by stripper clips or you can load individual rounds one at a time. It fires the common 7.62x39 cartridge, which is one of the cheapest intermediate rifle cartridges. And it will ingest any steel-cased, corrosive surplus or "inferior" aftermarket ammo that would give other semi-auto rifles fits. While it's often overshadowed by its more badass cousin, the AK47, pound for pound the SKS offers slightly better accuracy that a comparable surplus AK without the evil boogeyman stigma that comes with the AK silhouette. And bonus, an SKS can often be purchased at about half the price of a comparable AK.
When Made: 1945-about 1979 (depending on country of manufacture)
Common Capacity: 10
Expect to Pay Used: $250-$800 (depending on country of manufacture and rarity)
Lee Enfield SMLE, .303 Caliber
For starters, in this author's humble opinion, there's no greater bolt-action military rifle than any gen-you-wine 1903 Springfield series 30-06, but those are getting crazy expensive these days, and a 1903A3 (our personal preference) isn't exactly a rifle we would want getting knocked around in the back of a truck cab. Although there are some other good war-surplus bolt-action rifles like the Japanese Arisaka, Italian Carcano, and especially French MAS-36, those aren't as prevalent on the used market and don't enjoy the readily available ammo selection of the .303 Enfield, 7.62x54 Mosin Nagant, and 8mm Mauser. Of these last three, the Mauser is the most famous, most copied, and most beloved bolt-action in history, but it also fetches the most money on the used market. And even though anybody who watches Enemy at the Gates on a continual loop lusts after a Russian 7.62x54-caliber Mosin Nagant, the .303-caliber British Lee-Enfield SMLE (short magazine Lee-Enfield) is my personal preference in surplus WWI/WWII bolt-action rifles. Unlike the Mauser-type actions, which cock upon opening the bolt, the Enfield cocks on closing, making operating the action feel a bit more natural. And although it's a fullsize military rifle with a full-power rifle cartridge, the most commonly found No. 1 and No. 4 rifles are still relatively short, as the "S" in SMLE indicates. And finally, the Enfield's removable magazine can be loaded by five-round stripper clips and at 10-rounds holds twice the capacity of the Mosin or Mauser internal magazines. No matter which of these three last bolt-action rifles you go with, you can find plenty of surplus ammo for plinking and all varieties of aftermarket hunting ammo to take any four-legged animal on the North American continent.
What: Lee-Enfield SMLE
When Made: 1912-1945
Caliber: .303 British
Common Capacity: 10
Expect to Pay Used: $250-$800 (depending on version, condition, and rarity)
Springfield M1A, .308/7.62x51 Caliber
There's probably no wartime rifle that's respected and revered as much as the 30-06 M1 Garand, which General George Patton famously called "the greatest battle implement ever devised." Born from the Garand was the M14, which replaced the eight-round internal magazine of the Garand with a removable magazine holding 20 rounds of 7.62x51 NATO as well as other slight design tweaks like a shorter operating rod, roller bolt, and the ability to fire fully automatic. The M14 became the U.S. military's battle rifle from about 1958 to 1968 when it was supplanted by the M16. In the early 1970s Springfield Armory began offering a civilian version of the M14 for the public without select-fire capability, dubbed the M1A. Nowadays there are several different versions of the M1A available from Springfield Armory (none of which are close to $500) including the Standard with a 22-inch barrel, the super-short SOCOM with a 16-inch barrel, and the Scout Squad with an 18-inch barrel. Ours is the Scout Squad with synthetic stock and an Aimpoint optic just for plinking. The M1A has the correct headspacing to run most military surplus 7.62x51 ammo and the strength to handle the slightly higher pressure of commercial .308 Winchester, although with the M1A you want to keep bullet weights below 180-grain. The M1A is accurate out to as far as 800 yards, it's powerful and easy to operate, and to quote a buddy of ours, Ben Battles, who runs On Target magazine, it's kinda like the flatfender of rifles—the more they get beaten up and individualized, the more character they have. We couldn't agree more, Ben.
What: Springfield M1A
When Made: 1974-present
Common Capacity: 5, 10, or 20
Expect to Pay Used: $1,500 or more
Gamo 1,000 fps Air Rifle, .177 Caliber
Call us weirdos. We contemplated putting a California-legal AR15 or Remington 870 shotgun on the list in this place, but truth be told, more than any other firearm we have at our disposal, this non-firearm is our go-to tin can plinker and avocado grove vermin eradicator. We've owned this 1,000-foot-per-second Gamo break-action .177 air rifle for over 16 years now and have put well over 10,000 pellets through the tube. It still locks up tight as a drum, is very accurate, and can drop a charging bunny or stampeding ground squirrel at a ranges of 100 yards. Originally purchased at the local Walmart with a crappy scope for about $99, this particular rifle still has the old-school Gamo metal trigger group. Some newer entry-level air rifles we've seen have a plastic trigger group, which we don't like at all. We suggest going for a steel set if you can find it. Relatively speaking, this type of coiled spring/piston air rifle has a lot of recoil and is fairly hard on scopes. The Gamo scope it came with started drifting badly in short order so we replaced it with a 2-7x33 Leupold VX-1 shotgun/muzzleloader scope, and it's been rock-solid since. While we know guys use souped-up air rifles to hunt game as large as hogs, we don't really think it would be humane to go after anything larger than a squirrel with this particular eradiation device.
When Made: 1980s-present
Common Capacity: 1
Expect to Pay New: $89-$300 (depending on model and performance)