2nd Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

"I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few politicians."
- George Mason (father of the Bill of Rights and The Virginia Declaration of Rights)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The SKS..the poor man's AK...certainly not!

Note:  Wow, talk about forgotten posts...I started this over 2 years ago and never finished it.  Just rediscovered in in my drafts folder.  This is so old the gun I reviewed is no longer owned by the owner so you will have to forgive any lapses in my memory as I finish off the post.

 Never a front line weapon by the Russians, like most of their small arms, the SKS was pressed into service with insurgent forces throughout the middle to later parts of the 20th century. Here its shown in a well know phote being used by "Charlie", a member of the Viet Cong against Americans in Vietnam.

Probably one of the most ubiquitous of Russian arms in the 20th century NOT have seen actual main line combat with the Russians, the Samozaryadnyj Karabin sistemy Simonova, more commonly referred to as the SKS (luckily for us non-Russian speakers!) never less played an important piece in small arms development in both the Eastern and Western forces during the the Cold War.   Developed in WWII too late to see much service against the Germans, the carbine never really took off in its country of origin.  The design, by Sergei Siminov, was quickly eclipsed by the AK-47 and never saw any serious use by Russian troops in any conflict of note.  It did serve as a secondary weapon for the Russian military for many years (reserve forces, state police units, auxillary units, military training schools and the like) and can still be found being used as a ceremonial arm in official military functions as the straight form of the rifle lends better to ceremonial handling than does the AK, much like our 3rd Infantry Old Guard still carry the M14 on guard duties at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

A small glimpse of the evolution of Russian arms: (Lt to Rt.) Mosin-Nagant M44 Carbine, 1954 vintage Russian SKS, Sportorized Romanian WASR-10 AK pattern rifle.

The carbine is directly based on the AVS-36 rifle previously designed by Simonov. Whereas the AVS-36 was designed for the full powered 7.62x54R round and was known to be finicky in operation and intolerant to dirt, the SKS is chambered in the 7.62x39 intermediate round and is known to be quite hardy in the field when it comes to operation.  They say that the over powerful nature of the round caused issues with reliant operations, but I wonder if the rimmed case of the 7.62x54R had something to do with that reliability issue in an auto loader?  Many SKS remain to this day after over 50 years of service do to the normally high level of workmanship and quality that the carbine was produced to.  I know, not normally something you think of when you hear "Russian", but the Ruskies were capable of building some quality weapons when they set their minds to it.
Where the AK was designed as an "assault rifle" from the ground up...the SKS was designed more like a traditional long arm of its day capable of semi automatic fire, which at the time of its design was a major step forward for the Russians in a battle rifle.  Unlike the AK, which uses stamping to a large degree, the SKS is fabricated using forging and machine milling, both which make a stronger, more durable product overall.  It uses a short stroke gas piston system instead of the long stroke system employed on the AK, both systems have proven reliable over years of service and is just another difference between the two designs.  Another major difference between the two most people notice is the feed systems.  The AK uses the (in)famous 30 round, removable steel or polymer "banana mag" (I normally hate using that term but here it fits in the differentiation between the systems).  The SKS is equipped with a fixed 10 round box magazine fed via stripper clips fed from above the action and guided by slots milled into the front of the bolt.  Some versions of the SKS produced around the world (the Chinese "Paratrooper" model for example) were modified to accept detachable magazines and many large cap add on mags exist for it.  For what it is, the 10 round mag is dependable and proven and adding a longer mag may cause issues with your weapon.  A 10 round capacity was quite a leap from the Mosins in use of the time (twice the capacity), but again show a design difference from someone (Simonov) incrementally improving on conventional practices and Kalishnikov who started from scratch and came up with a design (or so we are told).   Of course those extra rounds were needed in a rifle designed to primarily fire on fully automatic fire compared to the semi automatic rate of the SKS.

Feeding a SKS was primarily designed to be done with stripper clips, notice the feed guide at the front of the bolt.  Rounds can be loaded manually as well into the internal 10 round box magazine.

The bottom of the fixed magazine may be opened to safely unload the rifle without having to cycle the remaining rounds through the weapon.

The really revolutionary thing about the SKS was that it was the first major Russian arm to be chambered in the, then, new 7.62x39mm cartridge.  One of the first "intermediate" rounds designed to be used by Infantry forces its basically a chopped down full power 7.62 (.30 to us Westerners).  Its intended use was to be withing about 400 meters, less than half of the round it replaced and its energy reflects this as well.  Where a 7.62.54R round weighing 150gr. generates about 2,600 ft/lbs at the muzzle, your typical 123gr 7.62x39 will produce around 1,550ft/lbs.  Of course at the muzzle either of these rounds would be catastrophic to the target, which is the point.  The Russians strategy in WW2 often involved massing overwhelming numbers of troops onto much better equipped but numerically smaller German positions to win a battle.  The uses of a full powered, bolt action rifle in this endeavor was often a waste.  The 7.62x39 round was almost custom designed for this type of close in fighting and uses less resources per round than did the 7.62x54 for the same effect.  This thought process went on for many years in the former Soviet Union after the lines were drawn in Europe as the Cold War awaited the arrival of the 3rd World War. I often thought how funny it was that we basically adopted the doctrine of the Germans - who we defeated - used in WW2 against the Communists...that of quality over quantity.   The use of intermediate rounds soon became commonplace among world armies and the US eventually adopted the 5.56x45 round as our intermediate round of choice.

 The 7.62x39mm intermediate rounds (right) compared to the 7.62x54R round that it replaced as the main battle round of the Russians.  The 7.62x54R is still in use as a machine gun and sniping round.

Some people claim the 7.62x39 round is inaccurate compared to the 5.56 and that simply is not true.  The truth is that the simplistic nature of the sights on an AK or SKS combined with the weight of the round makes it more challenging to use.  The standard sights on US rifles have been peep and post type sights which are more accurate for most people than the notch and blade design on the SKS and AK rifles. In addition, the lighter and faster 5.56 round shoots a flatter, more predictable trajectory which makes hitting your target easier.   On the other hand the 7.62x39 round slows down much quicker and drops sooner than the 5.56 round making calibration of open sights for it much more difficult.  I have heard that the 7.62x39 behaves a lot like a .30-30 round commonly used in deer hunting.  I don't have any experience with the .30-30 but the rounds both look to have fairly similar specs on paper.


The small rear notch and front post on the SKS are simple and robust, unfortunately they challenge the shooter sometimes at getting the most out of the 7.62x39 round they help target.

For the shooter the SKS presents a rather straight forwards and utilitarian design and control layout.  The weapon is loaded as described above after the charging handled is pulled to the rear and locks in place.  The handle then retracted and released to chamber the first round.  The safety sits withing the trigger guard itself and the sights (while not the best as noted above) are simple to use and easy to train on.When empty the rifle does lock the bolt open, unlike an AK, and alerts the operator that its time to reload.  A bayonet is built into the majority of SKS models and their derivatives and range from traditional blades to spikes.  Again, with a design philosophy rooted in the swarm and attack mode, the use of a bayonet was seen as a given in its use.  While not as simple as an AK, the disassembly of the SKS is rather straightforward and is mastered after only a few attempts.  Like the AK, the SKS includes a recess in the stock to store a cleaning tube to be used for cleaning and maintenance as well as a cleaning rod under the barrel. 

The safety in the "safe" position on the rifle.  You can use your trigger finger (if you're right handed) to flick it off, unlike the AK where your entire hand must move.

Slash, cut, chop and even julienne!

SKS Field stripped...really just one additional part to take out more than an AK...

Typical cleaning kit contents.....

...which go in the butt of the rifle stock

Like most other Russian/Soviet arm designs during the Cold War, the SKS was distributed throughout the world and the designs and machines to make them were also widely distributed as well.  The SKS was makes in most former client states in the Soviet Union as well as other countries as well.  Each countries variant normally has some common as well as some unique design features in it when encountered in the marketplace.  For example, Yugo models generally have grenade launchers included, but do not have chrome lined barrels...Albanian have longer stock and most Chinese models often simplify the manufacturing process by featuring stamped parts in lieu of milled components. 

The model I inspected was a Russian 1954 made at the Tula Arsenal (Star with arrow marking), the Russian SKS's of this period are often regarded as the high water mark of its design.

So what does the SKS really have to offer shooters?  The SKS is a sought after weapon for many different type of shooters:

  • The collector seeks it out for its reasonable price and unique niche in firearms history.
  • The hobby shooter seeks it out for its reasonable price and abundant ammo supply.
  • The prepper seeks it out for its reasonable price and reliability.
  • The sportsman seeks it out for its reasonable price and effective hunting round against game.

See a trend there?  One of the biggest things about these carbines is that they are affordable!  Right now you can pick one up for normally under $400 and usually less.  When they first came onto the markets in droves when the iron curtain fell they were almost given away.  I remember at drill one day back in the 90's when I helped run a small armory in Northwest Ohio one of our troops pulled his car up the back of the armory and was trying to sell SKS's that he picked up at a gun show for $50 a piece for $75.  I had to tell him to stop because, well thats obvious, but man... in hind sight I wish I had $75 on me that day!!!

Here's a little vid I have up on YouTube for a while shooting that same SKS.

The SKS is on my wish list as of today.  I just want to find the right one.  The one I reviewed was Kev's '54 Tula Ruskie and he offered to sell it to me before he got rid of it... I should have somehow made that happen.  Maybe not with the C&R license (hopefully) on the way in 6-8 weeks I will have more access to getting one.

Until next time...DASVIDANIYA!

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