July 09, 2019
For as long as I can remember, my family adhered to the notion to always have a gun close at hand. My grandfather leaned an old .22 against the console of his Chevy pickup. Dad usually had a hand-me-down Winchester Model 97 shotgun rattling around the gun mounts on his Honda three-wheeler for plucking a pheasant here and there to feed his growing family. Later, it was replaced by a 10/22 for skunk and badger patrol. I’ve subscribed to the family tradition and suspect most Wheels Afield readers do the same. If you are going to go afield well-heeled on your next vehicle-based adventure, here are a few firearms worth considering.
Winchester Wildcat .22 LR
If you’re going to have only one truck gun—and what’s the fun in that—a compact .22 rifle would be the most versatile. A reliable rimfire can do everything from ridding a camp of common vermin to putting small game on the spit. It’s also easy to while away the afternoon hours plinking away at reactive targets, all without burning through this month’s ammo budget.
There are many great models on the market—and savvy shoppers would be hard-pressed to find a dud—but the .22 that’s getting stashed along for this summer’s trips is Winchester’s handy new rimfire. Sharing the name of the company’s classic “Wildcat” ammunition, this striker-fired autoloader comes with a button-rifled 18-inch barrel fit with a post front and fully adjustable rear peep sight. An integral Picatinny rail atop the receiver makes scope mounting a simple task.
The entire lower receiver assembly can be removed with the push of a button, and the bore can be accessed from the breech end; both characteristics are conducive to easy cleaning. The lightweight polymer stock has integral sling eyelets and a Picatinny rail section on the forend to allow for the mounting of a bipod. The safety on the Wildcat is reversible for left- or right-handed operation. For ultimate versatility, the Wildcat accepts any magazine compatible with a 10/22.
Rock River Fred Eichler Predator2
Due to the platform’s reliability and versatility, an AR-style rifle makes for a must-consider option when it comes to arming your vehicle. This is especially true for overlanders who may be intimately familiar with the rifle from years of military service and fully understand the platform’s capabilities.
To come up with a true hunting-style AR, Rock River leaned on legendary hunter and outfitter Fred Eichler. The A4-style receiver is forged aluminum and fitted to a 16-inch, chrome-lined, fluted barrel. The Predator2 features a versatile 1-in-8 twist rate that offers the best blend of accuracy with most .223/5.56 bullet weights, but particularly with hunting bullets of 70 to 80 grains in weight. The rifle is chambered in .223 Wylde and accepts both 5.56 and .223 ammunition, including match-grade loads.
What really sets the Eichler series apart is the rifle’s furniture, particularly the distinctive free-floated handguard with coyote-track cutouts. I particularly like Rock River’s A2 Operator stock, which ensures a solid cheek weld for greater accuracy and comfortable shooting whether sitting or prone. The receiver features an integrated Picatinny rail that flows into the handguard, which also has 2.5 mounts around the front for additional optic and accessory mounting options.
Marlin 1895 SBL .45-70
While Ruger’s Mini-14 may be the quintessential ranch rifle today, the lever-action remains the original truck gun. Some sort of lever gun has been stashed alongside the seat of wagons since the middle of the 19th century. By the end of the 1900s, Marlin had tested the market with several lever-action rifles, including the big-bore 1895, chambered in several buffalo-stopping calibers like the .45-70.
Today, the 1895 is available in a number of configurations, but one of my favorites is the SBL designation. The all-weather finish with a laminate stock and stainless 18.5-inch barrel make it ideal to stash behind the seat for serious off-grid adventures. The solid-top receiver and side ejection distinguished the 1895 when it was introduced, and they are still the rifle’s defining features. It comes fitted with a ghost ring, as well as a Picatinny rail to mount a small fixed-power scope or, better yet, a rugged red dot.
While the .45-70 chambering may not be considered a snake-charmer, it still has its uses on the trail. It will put a solid stop to any bear problem or add an elk to the larder. And, frankly, it’s just fun to shoot.
Overlook the fact that the jeep built its reputation in World War II, and the M16 didn’t secure its place in history until nearly 20 years later, in the jungles of Southeast Asia. If you’re rebuilding a classic jeep—or any vintage overland rig, for that matter—the project won’t be complete without the addition of one of the period-correct Retro Rifles from Brownells.
Currently, the company is offering seven different models, from the BRN-Proto modeled after Eugene Stoner’s first AR-15 design to the real original BRN-10 based on Stoner’s original .308 semiautomatic soldier’s rifle. To stand out even more, I’d consider the BRN-601, with its distinctive green stock and handguard, along with the slab-sided receivers that lack the fencing common among later models.
First adopted by the U.S. Air Force, the 601 is a modern copy of the AR-15 issued to airmen shipping out for Vietnam. From the triangle-shaped charging handle to the three-prong flash hider and A1 front and rear sights in between, this retro reproduction is faithful to the original and is sure to start conversations on the range.
Franchi Instinct SL 16-Ga. O/U
When it comes to shotguns, one might think an old beater pump gun would be the best option. And while a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 does have its place in the pantheon of classic truck guns, I’ve started leaning toward double-guns for much of my wingshooting. Plus, you’ve opted for the best accessories for your overlanding rig, so why downgrade now.
Franchi’s Instinct SL is a lightweight over/under that’s ideal for mountain grouse, prairie chickens, and coveys of quail. It sheds most of its pounds thanks to an aluminum-alloy receiver. Even with some center weight removed, the gun balances nicely, if a bit forward. The shotgun comes to the shoulder quickly and has a speedy swing due to the 28-inch, chrome-lined barrels.
Don’t expect fancy engraving, but the SL Instinct does offer some fine AA-grade walnut, putting it a touch above some of the other “affordable” stacked barrel-shotguns in its class. Auto-ejectors, automatic safety, tang-mounted barrel selector, and four chokes round out the package.
The SL is available in 12- and 20-gauge models, both available in 26- and 28-inch barrels and 3-inch receivers. But I have a soft spot for a sweet-shooting 16, and this one is built on a true 16-gauge frame. It hits nearly as hard as a 12, but it carries and kicks more like a 20.
Browning BAR Mark III Hell’s Canyon Speed .308
By nature of the trail, a truck gun’s gotta be rugged and reliable. Few modern rifles have the kind of battle-tested pedigree as the Browning Automatic Rifles, better known as the BAR. While the BAR Mark III is significantly different from the M1918 version so loved by American troops, it still retains the reputation for firing every time you pull the trigger, no matter the conditions.
The BAR Mark III operates via a gas-autoloading system, that not only cycles with lightning-quick repeatability, but also greatly reduces felt recoil, for fast follow-up shots, particularly with heavy, magnum calibers. Modern BARs are renowned for accuracy, much of which can be credited to the seven-lug, rotary bolt that snugs securely into battery with minimal headspace deviation.
There are some fine-looking, walnut-stocked BARs, but for this purpose, I’d opt for the new-for-2019 Hell’s Canyon Speed. Its composite, overmolded stock features a durable A-TACS AU camo, and the barrel and action wear a bronze Cerakote finish that resists wear and, most importantly, corrosion. Dropping the hinged floorplate reveals a detachable magazine. Buy a couple spares and you’ll always have fast reloads at the ready. Of the nine chamberings available, from .243 to .300 Win. Mag., the .308 delivers the optimal balance of power and performance without the punishing recoil.
Springfield Armory 911
Since this article is about firearms bound to be stashed in your rig, you’d think I’d include a full-frame 1911. While I do own several, my grab-and-go choice is generally one of my compact pistols, and what’s a truck gun if not something you can grab and go with when it’s, well, go-time?
Of the many great compact-carry clones on the market, my current favorite is the 911 from Springfield Armory. As the name suggests, it’s built with many of the same features and controls of an original 1911, but in a smaller frame. The stainless-steel barrel and slide sit atop a sturdy 7075 aluminum frame and not the flimsy-feeling polymer that otherwise seems to be the standard in so many of today’s pocket pistols.
Because a gun is only as good as its trigger, Springfield fitted the 911 with a good one. It trips cleanly with a short reset. Interestingly, the trigger shoe itself is not metal, but is crafted from the same G10 composite as the Hogue thin-line grips. Ameriglo green tritium night sights and an ambidextrous thumb safety round out the package.
Kimber K6S DASA Revolver
Gone are the days when it made sense to carry a big iron on your hip. Today’s handguns pack a punch and do so in a much smaller, carry-friendly package. Take the K6S, for example. This little, reliable revolver features one of the smallest cylinders on the market. While most compacts fill up at five cartridges, this .357 has a six-round capacity, because you’ll never regret having an extra shot handy when you need it.
New for 2019, Kimber added a versatile double-action/single-action model to the line, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. The addition of a small, exposed hammer gives shooters increased accuracy, particularly with the light, 3.5-pound trigger pull in single-action mode. When firing in double-action mode, the match-grade trigger trips at an average of 9.5–10.5 pounds.
Available with either a 2-inch or a 3-inch barrel, the stainless-steel setup tips the scales at barely 1.5 pounds. Rounded edges allow for a smooth, snag-free draw, and the ergonomic walnut grips not only look good, but also make this snappy little shooter comfortable to wield.