This rugged, reliable, inexpensive rifle filled a gap and proved a concept.
It’s hard to develop a solid reputation when, for a brief period, your very existence is squeezed in between the M1891/30 Mosin-Nagant and the AK-47 Kalashnikov, but the SKS-45 did make a successful debut with Soviet troops along the Eastern front in 1944. Russian small arms historian, D.N. Bolotin wrote, “Experience at the front soon revealed the positive qualities of the Simonov carbine; it was simple, light and maneuverable and easily mastered during training. It was also convenient to fire, useful in a bayonet assault and could be easily reloaded.”
He continues, “After the Kalashnikov assault rifle had been adopted with similar ballistic characteristics to the SKS and far more effectual combat properties, the Simonov carbine was discarded…” Bolotin’s comment about “…more effectual combat properties” highlights two of the SKS’s limitations: the lack of a detachable magazine and the lack of selective-fire capability
According to Bolotin, both the SKS-45 and the AK-47 were both officially adopted in the same year—1949. Tough luck for the SKS but good luck for us since many milsurp SKS’s did not see any, or hardly any, combat deployment.
After having been on the receiving end of a million or more milsurp SKS carbines, the fact is that most of us didn’t get our first glimpse of the SKS and its 7.62×39 cartridge until the Vietnam War (1962-1973) when China and the USSR kept the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army well supplied with SKSs. Before that time, Simonov’s mysterious carbine, and the cartridge it chambered, were shrouded by the fog of the Cold War.
Remember, Western intelligence did not learn much of anything about the AK-47 until the Soviets opened up with it on the Hungarians in 1956. Up to that time, Soviet troops surreptitiously carried their AKs around in canvas cases and policed up every piece of fired brass lest it fall into the hands of foreign intelligence. The now common SKS remained a rare and exotic Soviet firearm in collector circles for many, many years after its adoption.
Manufactured by Russia (SKS-45), China (Type 56 Carbine), North Korea (Type 63), East Germany (Karabiner-S), North Vietnam (SKS), Yugoslavia (M59/66), Romania (M56) and Albania (Independence), the SKS has appeared in many models and variations in the milsurp stream—some strictly in refurbished military dress, others in appearance and manufacture strictly for the sporting export trade.
Handy, rugged, reliable, affordable, the SKS is a jewel of a milsurp.
The SKS stock is short and Holt added a thick, aftermarket pad to
increase the LOP to 13-1/2 inches for more comfortable shooting.
The Soviet Union and China were the most prolific manufacturers of the SKS. It is estimated that between those two nations, over 4,000,000 SKS carbines were manufactured with China being the leading producer and exporter.
In the United States, the tidal wave of SKS milsurp imports and ammunition began in 1984 with the positive revision of the 1968 Gun Control Act. That tidal wave became a trickle when in 1994, by Executive Order, President Clinton stopped the importation of small arms and ammunition from China and in 1996, obtained a voluntary restraint agreement with Russia, stopping the further importation of the SKS.
The last great cache of SKS’s arrived on our shores from former Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavian Models M59/66 and 59/66A1 are considered the most advanced of the SKS semi-automatics with grenade launching capability and night sights. Both models are still widely available and relatively inexpensive. My recommendation is “Get ’em while you can.” These windows of historical arms collecting opportunity are brief and increasingly so since there isn’t much, if anything, left out there in the milsurp world that hasn’t been discovered and brought to market.
Then again, I’ve been wrong before. By the time you read this, there may be a new cache of SKS rifle’s hitting our shores. If so, grab ’em.
The SKS pictured here is an early Chinese model made to military specifications and released as a sporter with a small, but surprisingly clear and reliable, 4×20 scope held in a Chinese copy of a Soviet-style, quick-detachable mount. With its beautiful, reddish-brown, catalpa wood stock, it’s an eye turner. The metal components are milled, not stamped, and the blued finish of the carbine is almost up to modern sporting rifle standards. Because I use it for informal target shooting and ammunition testing, I’ve removed the original cleaning rod and Soviet style knife bayonet as well as replacing the metal buttplate with a thick rubber recoil pad to increase the length of pull to 13-1/2 inches.
On the secondary market, you will find a wide variety of SKS model variations available. The Chinese were particularly creative with their “sporting models” designed specifically for the American trade. Navy Arms once offered a “Para” model with a 16-inch barrel; a “Cowboy” model with a 16-inch barrel, no bayonet and a scope; a “Sharpshooter” model with a bipod and a 2-3/4X scope. There was even an otherwise stock SKS modified and adapted to the AK-47 detachable magazine.
Speaking of magazines, the fixed SKS magazine holds 10 rounds and can be charged most easily with a 10-round stripper clip that slips into the face of the bolt carrier. At the highpoint of the SKS trade, the Chinese offered a 20-round fixed replacement magazine and a 5-round hunting magazine. TAPCO currently offers detachable 5-, 10- and 20-round magazines.
There is no end to the selection of accessories still available for the SKS, especially stocks and optical sights and mounts. In fact, in their definitive book, The SKS Carbine, authors Kehaya and Poyer devote six pages to sources for SKS aftermarket accessories. The web also offers up an endless selection of accessories. The companies, ATI and TAPCO, are a great source for SKS upgrades.
Accuracy? The SKS has real potential if fed with quality ammunition. Years ago, we discovered that Chinese and Soviet-bloc steel-core military ammunition would consistently outshoot commercial HP and SP ammunition. It still does. The performance of old stocks of steel-core Norinco and East German ammunition can clearly be seen on my 50-yard test target when compared to four of the leading commercial brands currently on the market. Unfortunately, steel-core, surplus ammunition rarely shows up anymore.
You can put together some great handloads using .310-inch or .311-inch diameter component bullets weighing between 122 and 130 grains. I particularly like 25 or 27 grains of AA 1680 powder torched off by CCI’s No. 34 military primer to avoid the possibility of a slam-fire.
On the other hand, with commercial, steel cased, Russian sporting ammunition selling for $5 to $7 for a box of 20 rounds, it almost doesn’t pay to fuss with handloads. If your SKS will generate 2-inch groups at 50 yards and 3- to 4-inch groups at 100 yards, you already have a great plinker and even an adequate, deer size, big-game hunting rifle with inexpensive commercial ammunition.
Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov was one of Russia’s premier weapons designers. His 7.62 Samozaryadnyi Karabin Sisyemi Simonova Obrazets 1945g (7.62 Simonov System Selfloading Carbine Model 1945) was officially adopted by 21 countries and supplied by its makers to “liberation” armies around the world only to be firmly replaced by the AK-47 in 1953. Historically significant, the SKS was the first, front line weapon to be chambered for the 7.62×39 cartridge.
Handy, rugged, reliable and still inexpensive, the SKS is a jewel of a milsurp.
By Holt Bodinson
The “upside down U,” a Cyrillic letter below the 100-meter mark (above), actually identifies a battle sight setting of 300 meters. The handy safety lever is on “Safe” when raised up inside the triggerguard (below).
The SKS magazine is easily charged with a 10-round stripper clip.
The SKS Carbine by Steve Kehaya and Joe Poyer, 4th Edition, softcover, 200 pages, North Cape Publications, Inc. P.O. Box 1027, Tustin, CA 92781, $19.95, www.northcapepubs.com, (800) 745-9714. (This is the bible for SKS collectors and shooters.)
Soviet Small-Arms and Ammunition by D.N. Bolotin, hardcover, 264 pages, ©1995, Finnish Arms Museum Foundation. Out-of-print. Try www.abebooks.com.
Advanced Technology International (ATI)
2733 W. Carmen Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53209
P.O. Box 2408, Kennesaw, GA 30156
Action: Gas operated, semi-auto
Barrel Length: 20.47”
Overall Length: 40.16”
Weight: 8.8 pounds
Sights: front: hooded post; rear: 1,000-meter tangent
Stock: Various hardwoods; Vietnamese: red polymer
Price: Yugo M59/66 or M59/66A1: $300 to $380