There are plenty of forum postings and articles online on the subject of “trunk guns,” but I haven’t seen one that is survival or SHTF specific. Many postings on SurvivalBlog detail a prep list and/or their B.O.B. list their firearms but rarely describe those carried in a vehicle on an ongoing basis.
This is where the legal disclaimer comes in, right at the beginning. I’m not a lawyer or firearms-related legal expert. Do not assume anything mentioned herein is legal where you live or travel, I take no responsibility for illegal acts that stem from this article. MOST parts of the country allow for the transport of cased, unloaded long guns by anyone age 18+ and handguns by those 21+ (and many states require handguns to be secured). MOST concealed pistol permits allow the owner of the permit to transport handguns loaded on their person in a vehicle, or secured in a very specific way when away from the vehicle. If your travels take you to schools or federal installations a 24/7 trunk gun is not going to work for you. If you share your vehicle with friends and/or family members that don’t meet the guidelines you’re asking for trouble. Look up the applicable laws and stay in compliance! While we are all preparing for times when chippy laws like these do not necessarily apply, we must respect the laws on the books. Part of this article will cover how to camouflage your trunk gun from prying eyes while still keeping it simple to remove from your vehicle and go.
With that in mind I will do my best to cover all the bases. For those of you in areas where firearms can be openly transported — in “gun rack country” — wonderful! Most of us, this author included, do not. Likely some parts will not apply depending on which extreme applies.
So what is the purpose of the trunk gun? First I want to cover what, for the purposes of this article, it isn’t. It isn’t to sit in your trunk to augment your pistol in case of some crisis like the Virginia Tech shooting or the very recent Tucson, Arizona shooting. In neither situation was a trunk gun employed nor I can’t think of the last time one was used in a reactive situation by a non-LEO. Again, speaking of legalities, I believe it is a terrible idea to become a “citizen first responder” with a long gun; you’re more likely to be seen as a threat by lawmen when they do arrive. On that note I totally agree with what the young man, Joe Zamudio, did when responding to the Tucson shooting — go to Condition Red, put his hand on his legally carried handgun, take it off safe, and approach the Bad Guy (BG). As it turned out, he didn’t have to engage with his handgun because others had taken care of the BG. Had he gone for a legally-stored trunk gun he would have had to 1) open his trunk, 2) uncase the firearm, 3) load the firearm, and most importantly 4) walk toward a live shooting scene carrying a long gun and not in a recognizable uniform — a really bad idea!
I digress. The main purpose of a survival trunk gun should be as a tool to get you to your home / retreat in the event of an emergency. Through this article I want to walk through scenarios to help determine which gun or guns is the best fit.
Here’s the meat and potatoes. The point system I use looks a lot like something out of Boston’s Gun Bible by Boston T. Party (Kenneth W. Royce). This is because I like that system!
There are four categories of firearms I will cover here, in order of depth from greatest to least:
- Centerfire rifles / carbines
- Centerfire handguns
I want to show some common examples of each category, I can’t possibly list every suitable trunk gun here. Each will be judged in the following categories from 1 to 10, with 1 being Poor and 10 being Outstanding.
- Size: This evaluates the transportable size of the gun vs. the usable size — many guns can be broken down smaller for transport. It will become more apparent in the when and how portions, but having the ability to keep and transport a gun in a small package is a big plus. For comparison a Mosin-Nagant bolt action rifle would get a 1 while a compact pistol would get a 10 (yes I know there are tiny .25 ACPs and NAA .22LR revolvers, but I don’t consider these “trunk guns”).
- Firepower: Can the gun deliver powerfully and quickly? Can it be reloaded quickly? Some of this is subjective but centerfire semi-autos will get good marks where rimfires, bolt actions, and small caliber handguns will not. For comparison a single shot .22LR rifle would get a 1 while a semi-auto .308 with a 20 round magazine would get a 10.
- Price: What would this gun cost to obtain, and perhaps more importantly cost to replace in case of loss or theft? Trunk guns are much more exposed to loss than those in your safe at home. A few of us can take losing a $3,000 black rifle, the 99.99% of us that can’t need to explore other options. That $3,000 rifle gets a 1 while the $99 Mosin-Nagant gets a 10.
After each gun I’ll list these three categories like this with current average price at the end in parentheses: 10/10/10 ($99). It will become clear that some “junky” guns will get higher scores than you might expect, that’s because I am weighting price equal with firepower — I mean how can a Kel-Tec SUB-2000 out-do an M1A SOCOM? Well, I can buy several SUB2Ks with the price of one new M1A. If you have the cash, then cross off the Price category and go for it!
Someone will ask, “Why not effective range?” The point is this is a defensive firearm that will probably get used at close range if at all. I truly believe that most modern firearms will outshoot most users especially in a hairy situation. If you believe that a sniper duel is in your future, or you are 100% sure you’re able to outshoot your guns, I doubt you need this article to help you in your decision.
Centerfire Rifles / Carbines:
I want spend the most time on these as, where legal, they are in my opinion the best fit for a trunk gun. The high level of firepower and ease of aim are the big factors. Most of these are “duffle bag” ready (less than 30” OAL — explored more later). This is not even close to comprehensive but broadly covers common trunk guns.
Kel-Tec SUB-2000 in 9mm or .40 S&W. Can be folded to just over 16” (although not in firing configuration). Uses common pistol magazine depending on version. If you carry a Glock in 9mm or .40 this would be a great choice if you want something on the small side that uses the same magazines as your handgun. The 9mm with a 33 round magazine or .40 with 31 rounds is nothing to sneeze at which gives it a 7 (more like a 6 with standard capacity magazines). 7/7/8 ($300) Score: 22. Other pistol carbines are usually right in there on the firepower mark but are more expensive (except for the Hi-Point of course).
.44 Magnum lever action. OAL for 20” barrel (10+1 capacity) is around 37”, 33” for 16” barrel (8+1 capacity). Big bullet that’s very effective at close range, good capacity. Not as speedy as a semi-auto but light and handy. 16” 5/5/6 ($500), 20” 4/6/6 ($500) — each totals 16. These numbers are going to be pretty much the same for .357 or .45LC lever guns.
.30-30 lever action. OAL for 20” barrel (6+1 capacity) is around 37”. Inexpensive and also the least likely to arouse suspicion. 4/5/6 ($500) Score: 15.
AR-15 / M4gery in .223. With a buffer tube cannot be folded down, but some gas piston ARs can take a folding stock. Great firepower at close range, high capacity with 30 round magazines (or higher). Plenty of options available to suit tastes, but decent quality comes at a price. Most 16” barreled examples have an OAL in the 37” range while folding stock versions are about 26” and can be fired folded. For folding stock 6/9/3 ($1200 or more) Score: 18; collapsible stock 4/9/4 ($900 or more) Score: 17.
Kel-Tec SU-16 in .223. Most of the advantages of the AR (semi auto,used standard AR magazines) without the high cost, and more lightweight to boot. All models can fold up by removing a non-captive pin (don’t lose it!), but only the “C” variant can fire while folded. 6/9/6 ($500) Score: 21.
Mini-14. Like the above easy to fold with the right stock (and can fire folded) and not very expensive. 6/9/5 ($650) Score: 20.
Carbine-length .308 semi-auto (PTR-91K, FAL carbine, M1A SOCOM, AR-10 carbine, Kel-Tec RFB). PTR and FAL can easily take folding or collapsible stocks, M1A can but examples are expensive, AR-10 is okay with a collapsible, RFB is a bullpup already with a short OAL. The .308 semi-autos offer ton of firepower in a small package. The big downside is the expense. Assuming the smallest configuration: PTR-91K 6/10/3 ($1200) Score: 19, FAL carbine 6/10/3 ($1200) Score: 19, M1A SOCOM 5/10/2 ($2000 — remember that fancy folding stock) Score: 17, AR-10 carbine 4/10/3 ($1500) Score: 17, RFB 6/10/2 ($1800) Score: 18.
AK/SKS in 7.62x39mm. Short OAL with folding stocks, great close range firepower, cheap price. If pistol caliber carbines aren’t your bag, you don’t like plastic guns like the Kel-Tec, and the other semi-autos are out of your price range these are probably a great fit. Of course, they are probably the most likely to arouse suspicion from anyone seeing one in your trunk! AK 6/9/6 ($500) Score: 21, SKS 6/8 (magazines)/7 ($350) Score: 21 as well.
Scout-style bolt action .308. This could be any short barreled (20”) bolt action rifle. Not likely to arouse suspicion in your trunk, but low capacity and difficulty to reload hurts it as a survival trunk gun. Folding stock? Don’t think so. 3/5/5 ($600 or more) Score: 13.
Surplus bolt action (various calibers). I will list the Mosin-Nagant in 7.62x54R and the inexpensive Yugo 24/47s Mauser in 8x57mm. Totally NOT concealable except in an obvious and long rifle case, but very cheap! Mosin-Nagant 1/5/10 ($99) Score: 16, Yugo 2/5/9 ($200) Score: 16.
In some places it’s legal to pack an unloaded shotgun around, but a rifle is prohibited. This would make the scattergun your best choice. Even where rifles are legal, you may be more inclined toward a shotgun — I won’t try and dissuade you — or you simply have an inexpensive shotgun taking up room in your safe. A setup with interchangeable rifled slug barrel, a long bird-shooting barrel, and short defense barrel is a great combination. The weakness is transporting them from your vehicle — most full-stock shotguns are too long for the average “duffle bag.” I personally do not like pistol-grip shotguns but if you do they are very compact.
Double Barrel “Coach” Gun in 12g. Inexpensive but only two shots and OAL of 36” make this only an “okay” choice. 4/5/7 ($350) Score: 16.
Pump Action in 12g. Assuming an 8 or 9 shot defense-oriented gun like a Mossberg 500/590 or Remington 870. With a folding stock or pistol grip it’s easy to transport. 6/7/6 ($400+ with a folding stock) Score: 19.
Semi-auto in 12 gauge. Assuming a defense-oriented gun like a Remington 11-87 Police or Benelli M4. While most models can take a collapsible stock I don’t see too many folding stocks for these. 4/9/4 ($750 or more) Score: 17.
Saiga semi-auto 12 gauge. The models with the aftermarket folding stock are the best for what we’re looking at here. Unloaded they are easy to transport in the trunk or in a bag/backpack. With a 20 round drum they provide amazing close range firepower — but with the new stock and drum magazines these become very expensive and very heavy as well. 6/10/2 ($1,600) Score: 18.
Depending on the laws in your area, your comfort with long guns, etc, a pistol may be the best choice. The strategy of legally carrying a small handgun and having a larger one in your trunk is solid. Even better — augment that trunk long gun with a capable handgun. As I mentioned before, the laws concerning the transport of handguns are often very different than rifles and shotguns — read up!
Semi-automatic centerfire pistol. I’m just going to column list some of these rather than spend time going through each one by one.
Glock 17/20/21/22 8/6/6 ($500) Score: 20 (you could substitute nearly any double stack handgun in the same price range here)
Quality 1911 .45ACP 8/5/4 ($800) Score: 17
AK Pistol in 7.62x39mm 7/8/6 ($450) Score: 21; 75 round drum 7/9/6 ($450) Score: 22.
AR Pistol in .223 7/8/4 ($800) Score: 19
MAC-10 Clone 9mm 7/7/6 ($450) Score: 20
CZ-52 7.62x25mm 8/5/8 ($250 surplus) Score: 21
Makarov 9x18mm 9/4/8 ($250 surplus) Score: 21
Full sized double action revolver. Again going to column list. If you’re going to use a pistol caliber lever action as a trunk gun one of these in the same caliber would be a great companion.
.38 Special 4” barrel 8/4/8 ($250 used) Score: 20
.357 Magnum 4” or 6” barrel 8/5/5 ($600) Score: 18
.44 Magnum 6” barrel 7/6/5 ($600) Score: 18
I’m not going to spend any time debating individual models of rimfires (specifically .22 LR). It’s more about what you believe your path from your vehicle to your home / retreat will be like. If it could turn out to be a very long trek where you’re going to have to forage and hunt to stay alive, a rimfire rifle like the ubiquitous Ruger 10/22 and a brick of 1,500 rounds may be perfect. As for firepower, it’s a tough call but in a fight with two legged critters I’d much rather have an accurate 10/22 than, say, a snubnose .38.
Keep as much ammunition as you are comfortable carrying — there is no set amount. Regarding optics, I lean toward scopes and not red dots / holographic sights as these take batteries. Nothing worse than needing your trunk gun and finding all of your old batteries have died! Yes I know the Trijicon ACOG is a great counter to this problem but due to expense I think they are beyond the trunk gun concept. If you’re comfortable with a $1,200+ optic in your trunk then that’s great.
Here I’ll cover how to store your trunk gun(s). First I’ll reiterate that 1) be legal and 2) lean toward safety and security versus ease of access. If you live in a state/area where you’re not able to legally carry a loaded handgun, ease of access may be on your mind — but if you’re being carjacked or attacked near your vehicle, I can’t see a legally secured trunk gun being of any use (remember that scenario described earlier — only your loaded and ready firearms are useful, the stowed ones are not).
The best storage method both conceals your trunk gun and creates the image for those that dig deeper that you’re headed to the range later — I am assuming here that you don’t like in “gun rack country.” Let me explain. If you have one of those long, solid stocked trunk guns you’re probably stuck with an actual rifle case; if so I recommend hiding it under other bags or items. If you can fold or break down your trunk gun, or it’s a handgun, I firmly believe a dark colored athletic-style duffle bag is the best way to transport it. First of all, it’s unobtrusive (stay away from the camo bags), and easy to complete the look with a towel and/or a pair of old sneakers next to it. When you need to get your trunk gun and go, I would slip my small rafting B.O.B./G.O.O.D./survival bag on my back and my dark gray duffle on my shoulder — the trunk gun is on the top with ammo & other accessories below. I pack clothes and other soft items around it to reduce the noise signature.
While overseas I ran into a number of private security professionals that carried H&K MP5Ks (9mm machine pistol) in small black cases slung over their shoulders. These were very discreet and gave them much more close range firepower than any concealed handgun (save maybe a [registered full-auto] Glock 18). I am aiming for [the semi-auto equivalent of] this concept (no pun intended) with transporting the trunk gun. I can’t say enough that running around with an uncased long gun is a bad idea, especially right after a major emergency like an earthquake or local civil disturbance that renders the roads impassable (otherwise you’re driving home). Not only are you probably breaking the law [in many jurisdictions], you have become a target for lawmen and unwittingly a Bad Guy. Don’t do it! If your route takes you through the wilderness then your carry method might change but stay legal whatever you do.
So when do you actually use your trunk gun? Displaying a firearm when and where it’s not warranted can get you in a lot of legal hot water and be very embarrassing — but the flip side is even worse, the BGs get the drop on you. I can’t possibly describe every situation but simply reiterate that it’s a defensive firearm — it’s there to give you added firepower and/or dissuade the BGs. I am working on a follow-up article on self defense which should go into greater depth on this subject.
Final thoughts: I would love to get some feedback on this! Much of it is “brain sweat” and by no means do I think of myself as an expert, you are definitely not going to hurt my feelings with any counterpoints or criticism. I’m not 100% happy with my firearms evaluation either; by my point system the Kel-Tec SUB2K and AK pistol are the best trunk guns by size, firepower, and value which I know many will totally disagree with — although the AK rifle, SU-16, and SKS are in a virtual tie and I would say are the three best choices where firepower and value are concerned. A $400 folding stock AK or AK pistol with a 75 round drum is quite a package. I’d also like to hear from any current or former LEOs on this subject, it’s my personal experience that the law enforcement community is not a fan of the trunk gun, even where legal. I have done my best to describe how the trunk gun is not a tool to “help” lawmen take care of BGs before the first patrol car comes on the scene — any additional thoughts, stories, or insight would be great.
Some additional links:
The is also a good archived thread on Warriortalk.com. It’s kind of “hairy chested” but that’s the point — most of these guys prove why the trunk gun is not a good tool to respond to a local crisis (attack) but needs to be used for personal defense (especially the first post, I don’t much about Gabe Suarez other than he’s a well-known self-defense instructor, but his logic is solid.
JWR Adds: In my estimation, carbines chambered for pistol cartridges are over-rated. Ditto for “pistol” versions of semi-auto rifles (such as Kalikovs and “Pistol” marked AR-15s that are sans buttstocks.) I would much rather have a folding stock AK, a Kel-Tec SU-16, or a collapsing stock M4gery for a trunk gun. They are much more accurate to shoot than just “cheeking” an over-grown pistol.
I’d also like to mention that choosing the right state to live in, will have a huge impact on your safety. With a few exceptions (like Arizona), the states that recognize your right to carry a loaded weapon on your hip or in your vehicle are also the states with the lowest violent crime rates. This reminds me of a joke that Rush Limbaugh recently told in his radio show:
“A guy makes a rolling stop at a stop sign and gets pulled over by a local policeman. Guy hands the officer his driver’s license, insurance verification, plus his concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit.
“Okay,” the officer says, “I see your CCW permit. Are you carrying today?”
“Yes, I am.
“Well then, you’d better tell me what you’ve got.”
The motorist says, “Well, I got a .357 revolver in my inside coat pocket. There’s a 9mm semi-auto in the glove box. And, I’ve got a .22 Magnum derringer in my right boot.”
“Okay,” the officer says. “Anything else?”
“Yeah, back in the trunk, there’s an AR-15 and a 12 gauge shotgun. That’s about it.”
“Sir, are you on your way to a gun range?”
“Well then, what are you afraid of?”
“Not a d**ned thing!”