A Day At The Range With An Iron Curtain Classic.
As far as the US import market goes, SKS carbines once embodied the concept of beater utility rifles—cheap, plentiful, reliable and chambered for the (then) ridiculously affordable 7.62×39.
How a couple of decades have changed things. Back in the early or mid-’80’s, anyone referring to any SKS as a “classic” would be laughed out of the room. But two years ago, I was “gifted” with an in-the-box, “Red Russian” Simonov. It had sat, in pristine solitude, safely in its KBI importer’s carton for many years. Pretty as a newly-minted penny, oily and agonizingly clean from its varnished hardwood stock and its blindingly bright bolt to its equally shiny folding knife bayonet. It was accompanied, of course, by an instruction manual, stripper clips, cleaning kit, sling and two white boxes of unopened, corrosive “Short Russian .30” ammo.
Tracking down the provenance of Iron Curtain small arms is part art form and part science and not for the easily frustrated. From what I was able to discern by the simple expedient of reading the rear receiver housing, mine was produced at the Tula Arsenal in 1953. And since there are about a million guys (at last count) who know far more about the various permutations of Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov’s signature creation than I do, I’m not gonna go any farther.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was going to do with it. But since giving up limited storage space to a “Safe Queen” of somewhat less aesthetic appeal than, say, a National Match Springfield ’03, was out of the question, I was going to have to come to some sort of reckoning with the thing.
The burning question had been gnawing at me for months. Was I going to take it out to the range? Or leave it greasy, yet unsullied, for future trade-bait?
The only other vintage Soviet firearm I own is a Tokarev TT-33 pistol, of which I’m rather fond, although I must admit its screamingly flat-shooting 7.62×25 cartridge is responsible for most of its appeal.
AcuSport (distributor, GPS Tactical)
One Hunter Pl.Bellefontaine, OH 43311 (800) 543-3150 www.goutdoorsproducts.com
The GPS Tactical Backpack is tailor-made for hauling essential range items.
Thirty-caliber blasts from a mid-’50’s past: Thomas Mackie hoists the all-American M1 and the Russian-made SKS (above). Exhibit A (below): As clean and pristine an SKS as you’re liable to find in the real world. Date of manufacture? 1953. Source? Russia’s Tula Arsenal.
While I explained things to my shooting buddy, Thomas Mackie, he took a long look at the SKS. During Thomas’ time in Vietnam he became quite familiar with it (along with the AK-47 and RPD), but to this day he prefers the M1/M14 system above all others (the AR in particular). He hefted the SKS and sighted at an old Quaker State calendar on the wall of his shop. “Most of the ones I saw,” he said, “were Chinese and had a whole lotta miles on them. This one’s a lot nicer.” As he examined it more closely, I began to see the wheels turn. It didn’t take him long to get to what was on his mind.
Turns out Thomas had acquired an H&R-contract M1 Garand that had been made within a year of my SKS. Both were at the tail end of their respective production eras, the M1 obviously representing the more elderly gas-operated system. Thomas had an idea. Why not shoot them side-by-side to see how they compared? He’d use some 1954-vintage FN service ball ammo he had. I could use anything I wanted—the loser would have to buy lunch.
Although I had a pretty fair idea what the result was going to be—at least in terms of bench-rested 100-yard accuracy—it sounded like fun. Thomas even sealed the deal further by proclaiming, rather disingenuously, “I haven’t touched the Garand—don’t have the foggiest idea how it shoots.” So, hoping against hope, I rounded up targets, ammo and chronograph and off we went.
The power gap between the Fiocchi 123-grain FMJ 7.62×39 ammo I selected and Thomas’ 150-grain ’06 stuff was, as you might guess, chronograph-proven: 2,347 fps vs. 2,679 fps. This disparity naturally manifested itself in the recoil characteristics of both rifles, although neither was anything to dread.
Well, OK. Reliability was a tossup. No hiccups from either. Accuracy advantage? M1. And how! Five shots into a hair over 1-1/2 inches for a “Best of Show.”
With the SKS/Fiocchi combo I managed to put three shots into 3 inches, with the other two blowing things out to, well, let’s just say a somewhat larger spread (OK, if you must know, slightly north of 5 inches).
Although lot of this was due to the M1’s superior sights (not to mention its more-manageable trigger), the SKS just wasn’t built—or intended—for the type of long-range precision work the M1 was (and obviously still is) capable of. Let’s see: world-class main battle rifle vs. reliable, cheaply-made transitional carbine. Case closed.
All in all, I’m glad I shot the SKS. Had fun with it, cleaned it, didn’t ding it and stayed away from that nasty corrosive ammo. Thomas laughed at my fastidiousness in that respect. “You know, they chrome-lined the bores in those things. Don’t be such a sissy!” It was almost worth having to feed him lunch when we were done.
Three shots at 100 yards. Unfortunately—or should we say inevitably—the SKS laid the last two considerably rightward of this cluster. The rather rudimentary open sights are a bit tough to resolve.
The dead-stock M1, using vintage surplus ammo, turned in a way-out-of-the-ordinary
5-shot group. The aperture sight made things a lot easier.
At Home On The Range
I’ve used nearly every kind carrying conveyance in the world as a range bag. Cloth, paper, plastic, leather and of course, the inevitable wonder fabric, Cordura. One thing I’ve learned, however, is that a range bag has got to look like a range bag—to the point where you’d never think of using it for anything else. And to be clear, the worst “anything else” would be as an airline carry-on bag.
Has anyone else ever hurriedly bolted out of a security checkpoint line after discovering a handful of cartridges in some discreet little zip pocket left over from your last shooting session? On the Richter Scale of Pucker Factor, that rates in the low 9’s. Not fun. The fact a lot of range bags happen to make very good carry-on bags is no excuse. It’s also a pretty inadequate explanation as well, should you ever find yourself up close and personal with a TSA agent over a half-dozen rounds of previously undiscovered hardball.
Anyway, to get to the point here, one of the best “range bags” around isn’t really a bag at all. It’s the GPS Tactical Backpack. Made of 1000 Denier HD material with a Teflon coating, it’s got three handgun storage cases, a dedicated handgun compartment with locking zipper, four outside zippered pockets for ammo and assorted gear, a triple-stitched MOLLE webbing system, a padded waist strap and an external bungee hookup for carrying targets. On top of that, there’s a pull-out rain cover for those days when the weather isn’t cooperating with your shooting session. The backpack system for the range makes sense, particularly if you’ve got to lug a lot of gear on foot. And it’ll leave your hands free for other essentials. Like, say, a rifle or two.
By Payton Miller
Shooting Facilities provided by:
Angeles Shooting Ranges
12651 Little Tujunga Road
San Fernando, CA 91342 (800) 499-4486