Surplus Sunday

The SKS - A Day Late and a Dollar Short?

by Joe Riva

The SKS is a military rifle that was introduced at a time where the Soviet Union was also working on another rifle that quickly superseded it, the AK47. Similarly to how the United States had adopted the M-14 rifle and then quickly replaced it with the M-16 (although not removing it entirely from their arsenals). What was the SKS and is it still relevant in today’s world? 

From a quick overview the SKS is a 10 round semi-automatic rifle chambered in the 7.62x39. It was produced initially by the Soviet Union, then subsequently the majority of if not all of the communist countries. Introduced in 1945, though missing out in World War II, the SKS was meant to replace the Mosin Nagant , the Soviet Union’s main serving rifle since 1891, which it did but not for long. As mentioned before the AK had been adopted shortly after and went past its initial role of replacing the Soviet’s supply of submachine guns. Where did this leave the SKS in the Cold War World, seemingly being phased out as adopted from the Soviet Union. 

The Soviets were quick to set up production plants for the SKS in all the various communist countries of the time. Some countries embraced the rifle, like China in particular who was using the rifle in the more traditional Soviet role as the main service rifle up until the late 1970’s. China’s experiences against the Vietnamese in the Sino-Vietnamese War had highlighted why the AK platform was superior to the SKS at the time.

Pictured above - A Variety of Chinese SKS Rifles

Outside of military use, the SKS became popular on the civilian market as a cheap surplus rifle. Rifles at one point could be had by the crate load. With ammo so cheap, it seemed like dealers were paying you to take it off their hands. Albeit a bit of an exaggeration, the rifle and ammo was and still are very affordable. The rifle is a nice starting point for not only collecting but shooting in general. 

One thing people often overlook is their training and being able to afford ammunition for the rifle to do that is important. Bearing that in mind, this writer had collected surplus firearms and picked up a Type 56 SKS several years ago for roughly $350. Being particular on which model to find for the collection, a Russian or an early Type 56 needed to be had for a reasonable price. Patience more then paid off as the rifle had no arsenal markings, just a serial number indicating the rifle was an early one, commonly called a “Ghost Gun” (not to be confused with the modern term “ghost guns"). A Type 56 SKS “Ghost Gun” is an SKS produced in one of the first years of production on tooling made or set up by the Soviets. Contrary to what some think, many Chinese firearms were made very well.  This particular rifle was a bit rough for wear but like some surplus rifles it should be. When it comes to collecting surplus, be patient and don’t settle for something less.  

Pictured above - A Variety of Chinese SKS Rifles

Is the SKS a practical rifle in today's world, outside of collecting? Depending on who you talk to, on the surface affordable ammunition, semi automatic, 10 round capacity fed from an internal box magazine. The rifle is essentially legal across the whole United States. Some people choose to modify them, which ruins the collectibility of the rifle, often opting to use a duckbill style of detachable magazine. At that point, just spend the extra bit of cash and buy an AK. Without modification though, the SKS does still have its place as a perfectly serviceable second line rifle or a decent survivalist rifle. On the down side though, the rifle without modification has no detachable magazine, not optics friendly, and from a military standpoint does not have select fire.

To this day the SKS is still an affordable rifle, depending on the model they are well under a thousand dollars. Similarly to other surplus firearms they are often covered in cosmoline and need a good cleaning, but that helps the user learn the rifle’s internals. Even in recent years with the pandemic, the 7.62x39 ammo has been relatively affordable and available. Most gun owners should seek out an SKS for their collection, for all the aforementioned reasons. Simply put they are just fun, interesting rifles. Question is what is it like to shoot? Keep following for part 2. 

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